Cruise Line Cuisine: Is it Really Gourmet? (part 3)

| September 25, 2009

Still, no self-respecting chef would ever lend his name to a cuisine that does not enhance his reputation.

What Challenges Confront These Chefs? Consulting chefs are far too busy and famous to work on cruise ships; they cannot even work in every restaurant they own in most cases. Still, no self-respecting chef would ever lend his name to a cuisine that does not enhance his reputation.

Cruise ships present peculiar limitations to these chefs. They have very strict fire prevention and cleanliness requirements monitored by government agencies such as the Coast Guard and the CDC. Open flames on charcoal grills or wood-fired stoves are out of the question. If a ship starts rocking sharp utensils and even deep fryers can become lethal objects.

When a ship carrying 3,000 passengers prepares up to 15,000 meals per day, the chef's challenge is to create recipes that do not taste mass-produced. Some items can always be prepared in advance, but some menu items only taste right when they are prepared a la minute.

The cruise lines employ hundreds of food preparers. In addition to people who create salads, pastry and other items that can be prepared before the meal, there is usually one cook for each menu item that must be served as soon as it is cooked. A modern cruise ship galley can produce thousands of individually prepared portions for each meal on the spot - filets, baked hens, poached fish, lobster, baked Alaska and so on.

Over the years cruise lines have figured out ways to prepare almost any kind of dish, even though it might not always be done the usual way. For example, instead of open-flame ranges cruise ships rely heavily on induction (magnetic cookers) that can warm a pan to 800 degrees in under a minute.

Another limitation of cruise ship food is that ingredients cannot be delivered daily. Most ships are provisioned at the beginning of each cruise - not only for logistic and cost reasons, but for the equally important need to manage quality control.

Cruise ships present significant challenges to these cerative chefs, yet when all is said and done, does this mean they consider cruise ships to be second class venues for food presentation? Apparently not; in his book, "Notes to a Young Chef" Daniel Boulud refers to cruise ships as one of the more rewarding jobs a professional chef can take.

Who are the Celebrity Chefs? Along with my own research, I and asked Matt and Janice for their impressions about each of the cruise line consulting chefs. It says a lot that both of them had some knowledge and impressions about every single one of them.

Number one on Matt's List is Daniel Boulud. When Matt first met Daniel, he recalled he was so nervous he shook like a leaf. Boulud was born on a farm in France in 1955. He worked in his great-grandparents' restaurant. At age 17 Boulud was already a rising star, and by 18 he was working in Paris for Georges Blanc at a Michelin three-star restaurant. Boulud eventually became the executive chef at Le Cirque, one of New York's most famous restaurants. He now owns Daniel in New York - famous for the world's most expensive hamburger at $28.

Sadly, Boulud doesn't currently have a close affiliation with a cruise line. When I asked Cunard I was told his involvement peaked just after Queen Mary 2 was introduced in 2004. When Cunard decided to put a chef "namesake" restaurant on its ships, it chose the American chef Todd English.

"Todd English is a very popular chef," Matt Sigel said, "but he is equally known for his good looks." Todd has a strong following in New England, thanks to a PBS-produced cooking show called "Food Trip with Todd English." When I sailed on Queen Mary 2, I personally thought the food was better in the Princess Grill than in the Todd English restaurant. "A lot of people say that," said a Cunard staff person.

Like many French chefs, Boulud and our next chef both grew up on farms that grew the food they eventually learned to cook. This is one of the keystone concepts in gourmet food: freshness. Whether animal or vegetable, the origin of your ingredients determines the success of your recipe. Matt says he intends to stress this concept during our CruiseMates Culinary Cruise.

It not creates a lower carbon footprint to raise animals under cruelty-free conditions, it makes them taste better. A free-range chicken that has never swallowed a growth hormone or antibiotic will exude more natural juicy flavor than a mass-produced one. Additionally, if you can catch and cook that poulet while it is still fresh even better.

When I visited France, I ate in small-town restaurants with gardens and live animals on the premises, and the meals were amazing. Naturally, most restaurants do not have this luxury, but they do have access to fresh food daily. Even some cruise ships now boast free-range hen on their menus. Naturally, this is something you would want try early in your cruise when it is fresher.

Continue Article >> Cruise Line Cuisine (Part 4)

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Chef Matt Sigel's Cruise with CruiseMates Join us on the brand new Norwegian Epic for a unique culinary CruiseMates cruise Epic 10-30-10. Our guest chef is Matt Sigel, a contestant on season four of Hell's Kitchen on the Fox Network. Great recipes, cooking tips, insight into the life of a chef, discussion of cruise line cuisine and the comradery of your great CruiseMates readers.   Go>

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