Fine Dining Onboard

| August 31, 2007

Without a doubt, some of the best food in the world is prepared on cruise ships. To those who know little about how much effort goes into cruise cuisine, here is a little taste for you.

One of the critical ingredients of any cruise is the food. On a recent voyage aboard the new mega-ship, Emerald Princess, I had the pleasure and opportunity to learn a great deal about recipes, ingredients, and the overall dining philosophy of this ship. This opportunity came in the form of personal discussions with Emerald's Maitre D' Hotel and Executive Chef.

Emerald is a large ship, 113,000 tons and 3080 passengers. It is also a new ship, christened just last May 2007. For a commercially sized ship like this, one might expect the food to be good but maybe not great. Contrary to popular supposition, I found many meals exceeded my expectations. The recipes were unique and inspired, and their execution was nearly always perfect.

Executive Chef - Michele Cozzoli A great meal starts with the expertise of the Executive Chef.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Maitre D' Generoso MazzoneExecutive Chef - Michele Cozzoli   Food-based Decorations

Many of the large cruise lines have a corporate executive chef that makes across the board decisions about the menus for all the ships in the line. Aboard Princess cruise ships the approach is significantly different. Each individual ship has an executive chef onboard who is responsible for the menu from inception to execution. This gives them the ability to tailor it according to passenger input and the particular itinerary the ship is servicing.

Since we were sailing the Eastern Mediterranean you can expect Italian and we got it right down to our Executive Chef. Chef Cozzoli, born in Switzerland, was introduced to the art of cooking by two great teachers, his grandmother who taught him that nothing should go to waste in the kitchen, and the owner of two hotels near a famous Italian vacation resort. It was here that he started his apprenticeship.

After receiving his diploma from the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero di Darfo Boario Terme in Italy and his Diploma of Food & Beverage at The Marine Hotel Association University in Salzburg, Austria, Chef Cozzoli began working at seasonal resorts and was soon promoted to Chef de Partie.

In speaking with Chef Cozzoli we found it interesting that the TV series "The Love Boat" was the inspiration that urged Chef Cozzoli, as well as editor of Cruisemates, Paul Motter, to seek a career aboard cruise ships. Apparently for some, it just gets into your blood. Chef Cozzoli started with Princess Cruises in 1987 as a line cook. After 8 years onboard, he became a Sous Chef. It was the Dawn Princess' inaugural season in 1997 that sailed with Michele Cozzoili as their Executive Chef.

I provide this detail so you can get a feel for the level of professional cuisine behind your meals on a ship like the Emerald Princess!

We attended a delightful "cooking show" in the theater which featured Chef Cozzoli and the Maitre D' Hotel, Generoso Mazzone, demonstrating how to make several dishes from appetizer to dessert. With two Italians and lots of personality, this cooking class became fun entertainment and judging by the packed house in the theater, the word has gotten around that it is a show not to miss. Afterwards everyone was treated to a tour of one of the main galleys off the Da Vinci dining room.

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Cooking Demonstration   Inside the Galley

A Visit to the Galley The Emerald Princess has two main galleys; one for each restaurant and one fully equipped Lido Galley, which services the Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe (the buffets). In addition the room service staff have their own galley, deck 5 has the bakery and pastry galley, as well as other small galleys servicing the specialty areas. Everything is state of the art stainless steel with 250 crew to service the galleys. I was told that other companies have less than 150. The cost, a mere $6,000,000!

Great food starts with a shopping list. A shopping list to service 3080 passengers and almost 1200 crew is a little intimidating to the average shopper. Let me give you an idea:

Between 110-115,000 tons of food are delivered to the ship and loaded on the turn around day. Food is procured from all over the world, i.e. Russian Sevruga Caviar, fine cheeses from Italy, England, Denmark, and France, choice selected beef from the heartland of the United States as well as selected fruits and vegetables from California and Florida.

Food is sometimes purchased locally depending on the port and the quality available. There are eight food preparation stations onboard each with their own team of experts:

  • Fish Preparation
  • Meat Preparation
  • Cold Kitchen (Salads, Specialty Creations)
  • Soups, Pastas and Vegetables
  • Bakery
  • Pastry Shop
  • Fruit and Cheese Pantry
  • Coffee Pantry
  • Average amounts of food prepared daily:
    • Fish - 1500 pounds
    • Poultry - 1800 pounds
    • Beef - 2100 pounds
    • Veal - 400 pounds
    • Lamb - 460 pounds
    • Pork - 1000 pounds
    • Salads - 1600 pounds
    • Sandwiches - 1500 each day
    • Pasta - 500 pounds
    • Vegetables - 2500 pounds
    • Potatoes - 2000 pounds
    • Soups - 550 gallons
    • Pastries - 6000 each day
    • Cakes - 300 each day
    • Fresh Fruits - 7000 each day
    • Coffee - 470 gallons
    We were told that the Emerald Princess serves an average of 20,000 meals a day! Let us not forget that those meals produce about 70,000 dishes and 21,500 glasses to be washed daily as well! That takes a crew of 52 working around the clock.

    Now that we have a perspective of what happens behind the scenes, let me introduce you to the different restaurants.

    Main Dining Rooms **Please note that there is a dress code for the dining rooms. Shorts and T-shirts are not permitted in the dining rooms during dinner hours. During the day, sportswear and casual clothes are suggested. Guidelines from 5:30 and throughout the evening are:

    Formal: A dinner jacket or dark business suit for gentleman and a full length evening gown, cocktail dress or trouser suit for ladies. This is for formal nights only (two during the cruise).

    Smart Casual: An open-necked shirt and slacks for gentlemen and a dress, skirt and blouse or trouser suit outfit for ladies.

    Emerald Princess offers a choice in dining. For the more traditionally minded, Botticelli's located deck six aft, offers assigned tables where you have one waiter and busboy throughout your cruise and you and your table mates get the opportunity to visit together every evening. For this type of dining you make a choice ahead of time for early seating at 6:15 or later seating at 8:30.

    The type of dining that has become more popular today not only with the passengers, but also with the culinary staff, is "anytime dining." This allows the passenger to decide when and where they would like to dine and still have a dining room experience. Emerald offers two dining rooms to accommodate this passenger choice; located mid-ship on decks five and six, Da Vinci's and Michelangelo's. With these two restaurants you can waltz in anytime between 6:00 and 10:00 without a reservation. If it happens to be at a busy time you may get a pager and have to wait a short time before being seated. My husband and I usually went around 7:00 and never had to wait.

    Specialty Restaurants Emerald boasts two fabulous specialty restaurants; Sabatini's offers Italian flair, and Crown Grill offers premium seafood & chops. For these two restaurants there is a modest cover charge, $20.00 per person for Sabatini's and $25.00 per person for Crown Grill. They both require reservations and are open for dinner from 6:00 to 11:00.

    click on pictures below for larger images:

    Crown Crill Lobster - before   Crown Crill Lobster - after
    Sabatini's   Sabatini's Espresso Creme Brulet

    I would highly recommend trying one or both of these restaurants during your cruise. It is truly a wonderful dining experience. You will have a daily guide to all the activities onboard in your stateroom when you arrive. On Emerald Princess it is called the Princess Patter. Consider reading through this guide as part of your settling in process and make your reservations early for your special dining nights.

    Buffets Horizon Court & Cafe Caribe located on deck 15 will handle any other food needs you may have on board as they are open 24 hours a day. Check the Patter for specialty buffets throughout the cruise, for instance the Seafood Extravaganza Buffet from 6:00 -- 11:00 your first night sailing.

    Room Service Last but not least let's not forget about 24-hour room service included in your cruise fare. It is a nice luxury to have hot coffee, juice and breakfast rolls, fresh fruit, and yogurt delivered to your cabin before you even have to shower and dress. We always take advantage of this service. Room service aboard Emerald is limited however to cold foods, salads and basic sandwiches with one exception. For a modest $3.00 fee you can have a freshly- made, hot, specialty 12" pizza delivered. This is an example of how the itinerary influences the choice of food that is offered. Our itinerary included several stops in Italy. Three choices of freshly made pizza by the slice, made in an authentic brick oven, offered everyday on the pool deck till 11:00 p.m., at no charge, while you watch Movies Under The Stars. . .now that's a vacation highlight! I have to say the pizza onboard was better than I found in Italy. That holds true for all the food we had. Nothing on land compared to what we had onboard. Have the experience of sitting in the world famous Caffe Florian in St. Mark's Square in Venice and share a 15 Euro ice creme treat, but take advantage of the fabulous food on the ship. It's included in your fare!

    click on pictures below for larger images:

    Room service Pizza   International Cafe Candied Apples
    Chocolate Strawberries International Cafe   International Cafe Gelato

    International Cafe If you want to experience a delightful quiet, get-a-way spot while you perhaps check your e-mail and get entertained by "street" comedians, aerialists, and singers, check out the international cafe located in the Piazza, deck 5 mid-ship. It is here that you can purchase freshly brewed Starbucks coffee, real Italian gelato ice cream, and specialty salads and seafood creations made fresh. The cost is between $1.00 and $2.00 per item.

    Sample Menus Those of you who have been on a cruise know first hand what the dining experience is like. Try as you may when you go back home to convey what it is like to your non-cruiser friends, your explanations fall short. I was very impressed with the food on this cruise. Because of the size and passenger count aboard the Emerald Princess, it is considered by some to be in the "mass market" category. That connotation usually equates to mediocre food. I have a client who has never been on a cruise before and I have been encouraging him to go. When I sampled the food it occurred to me that this would be his hook as loves to cook and truly enjoys great food and a memorable dining experience. I realized just telling him about it would not be enough so I brought back sample menus so he could see for himself. I would like to share some of the kind of food choices you have available to you when you choose a cruise vacation.

    Main Dining Room - Candlelight Dinner: Soups and Salads

    • Smoked Duck Carpaccio, Orange, Cranberry, and Truffle Relish
    • Pheasant Soup with Wild Rice and Julienne of Aromatic Vegetables
    • Creamy Artichoke Bisque "Gremolata"


    • Alaskan Halibut in Brisk Chablis Wine Sauce with Tiny Shrimp
    • Grissini-Crusted Duo of Lobster Tails
    • Beef Tournedos "Rossini" (Truffled Goose Liver Pate, Madeira Demi-Glace)
    • Atlantic Silver Salmon Cutlet
    • Farm-Raised Chicken Breast
    • Corn-Fed New York Cut Sirloin Steak


    • Pear and Blue Cheese with Candied Pecans Salad
    • Plate of Hummus, Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Cumin Flatbread
    • Crustless Potato and Spinach Flan, Spicy Tomato Coulis


    • Tiramisu
    • Expresso Creme Brulee
    • Baked Alaska
    • Ice Creme

    Noted at the bottom of every menu: "Please feel free to compose your own menu with as many courses as your heart and palate desires"

    These are only some of the choices, the menu changes everyday.

    Main Dining Room - Chef's Dinner: Appetizers

    • Quail and Venison Saddle Terrine, Gingered Red Onion Compote
    • Twice Baked Goat's Cheese Souffle, Garlic Sabayon


    • Seabass on Braised Belgian Endive
    • Alaskan King Crab Legs
    • Seared Pork Tenderloin with Cocoa Spice Rub
    • Herb-Roasted Pink Rack of Superior Lamb

    Sabatini's: At Sabatini's the only choice you make is your entree. Everything else on the menu is offered to you in small amounts and many courses that you are encouraged to try. Plan at least three hours for your meal in this restaurant.

    • Prosciutto e Melone (Italian Cured Parma Ham, Peppered Sweet Melon)
    • Porcini all Olio Vergine (Mushrooms, Olive oil, Roasted Garlic Puree)
    • Calamari Fritti
    • Zucchini Dorati (Battered in Buttermilk & Parmesan Chili & Anchovy Romesco)
    • Bresaola della Valtellina (Beef Fillet, Arugula Salad, Shaved Parmesan)
    • Insalata di Gamberi e Carciofi (Shrimp, Marinated Artichoke, Truffle oil)
    • Polpettine di Granchio (Deviled Crab Cakes)
    • Flan di Ricotta all' Aglio Dolce (Ricotta Cheese, Elephant Garlic Flan, Beet Root
    • Leaf, Sun Blushed Tomato)
    • Zuppe e Insalata
    • Zuppa di Pomodoro con Frutti di Mare
    • (One more soup and a salad)

    Pasta - Appetizers Courses

    • Ravioli di Ricotta e Tartufo (Hand made Potato and Ricotta Ravioli)
    • Pappardelle al Sugo di Funghi (Egg noodles, Asparagus, Spinach, Tomato)

    Pasta - Main Courses (you have seven to experience, here are just two of them)

    • Capesante alla Griglia (Jumbo Sea Scallops, Seasoned with Pepper and Galliano)
    • Lombata di Vitello Arrosto (Carved Chop of Piemontese Veal)

    Dessert - You have six to experience if you choose, here is just one

    • Crostata di Lamponi con Menta e Frutti di Bosco (Rasberry Frangipane, Macerated Wild Berries, Fresh Mint Coulis)

    Crown Grill: Appetizers

    • Black Tiger Prawn and Papaya Salpicon, Mustard Seed Aioli
    • Carpaccio of Pine Nut-Coated Lamb Loin, Gooseberry Chutney (Unbelievable)
    • Cherrystone Clam Bake
    • Mediterranean-Style Spiny Lobster Cake
    • North Pacific Sea Scallop and Pan-Seared Foie Gras

    Soups and Salads

    • Shrimp and Pancetta Bisque
    • Black and Blue Onion Soup
    • Rockfish and Sweet Potato Chowder
    • (2 others to choose from)


    • Prince Edward Mussel Pot (Amber Beer, Mirepoix, Bay Leaf, Garlic Bread)
    • Vongole (Jumbo Clams, Sausage, Roasted Tomato, Oregano)
    • Potpourri of Seafood Stew (Lobster, Crab, Red Snapper & Mollusks in Saffron)
    • Wild Black Striped Bass and Brioche-Breaded King Prawns
    • 4 oz Maine Lobster Tails
    • (2 others to choose from)


    • Sterling Silver Beef Chop (Blackened with Mushrooms and Onions)
    • Madeira-Glazed Wisconsin Veal Chop
    • New Zealand Lamb Rack
    • Sterling Silver Pork Chop
    • Porterhouse (Best of Filet and Sirloin Grilled on the Bone - 22 oz)


    • New York Strip 12 oz, Kansas City Strip 16 oz, Rib-Eye 14 oz, and Filet Mignon 8 oz (All served with choice of potato and fresh vegetables)
    • Lobster: An additional $9.00 surcharge)
    • Whole Maine Lobster (1½ to 2 pounds) Steamed or Grilled
    • Brazillian Lobster Tail (12 oz.)


    • Molten Dutch Chocolate Fudge Obsession
    • Wild Berry and Apple Cobbler (Vanilla-Cider Ice Cream)
    • Lemon Meringue Pudding Tart (Macadamia Nut Shortbread, White Chocolate)
    • Seven Layer S'mores Stack
    • Caramel Cheesecake Parfait

    Have I mentioned the service? I felt that the staff servicing the buffets could stand some improvement. However, there was a great show of management in these areas at all hours so it appears this may be an area that they are working on. Maybe it is just the contrast between the buffet and the dining rooms. In the dining rooms, and of course the specialty restaurants, you will find five star service. It is a goal of management. The night we dined in Sabatini's I noticed a pin on the food and beverage manager's lapel. He came by the table a few times to check on how our dinner was going. It said C.R.U.I.S.E. on it. I boldly asked if I could have one, mainly to see what this stood for. He tried to find one for me and when he couldn't, he gave me his. CRUISE is an acronym for food and beverage personnel training aboard Princess ships. The pin is to remind them of their goal.

    Courtesy Respect Unfailing In Service Excellence

    If unique and luxurious is what you are looking for, try "Ultimate Balcony Dining". Here you will be treated to a multi course meal with private service on your balcony, either morning from 7:00am to11:00am or evening from 5:30pm to 10:00pm. The evening dinner features fresh lobster or steak. You must have a balcony cabin for this experience and make your reservations early by calling the Dining Hotline. Check your Princess Patter for the number. The additional cost for the dinner is $50.00 per person.

    For another unforgettable dining option, try "An Evening at the Chef''s Table". You will be seated in a hot spot in the galley during the dinner rush. Here you will be served French champagne and hors d' oeuvres. This will be followed by a multi-course tasting menu at the V.I.P. Chef's table in the dining room where Executive Chef Michele Cozzoli joins you to offer insight into the workings of his magnificent galley. The $75.00 per person charge for this includes wine pairing. I was told this is very popular as well so be sure to call the hotline upon arrival.

    In closing I would like to leave you with some words of advice. Try to lose about 10 pounds, in a healthy way, before you come aboard and then prepare for a truly divine dining experience. Buon Appetito.

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