Celebrity chefs can be blamed for the disappearance of the bountiful buffet on many international cruise ships. These high-profile culinary wizards have made quality, not quantity, the focus of dining at sea.
Japan’s Nobu Matsuhisa, America’s Thomas Keller, Britain’s Marco Pierre White, and Australia’s Curtis Stone, are some of the restaurateurs who have unwittingly pushed the once lauded buffet aside.
Today the signature restaurants of celebrity chefs are a major drawcard on cruise ships, where guests can dine on Michelin-starred dishes for a lower cost than in the same chef’s land-based restaurant. True, the celebrity chefs may not be on board the cruise ships too often, but they do drop by ports around the world to ensure their standards are being maintained.
Thomas Keller, of New York’s Michelin-starred Per Se, and California’s The French Laundry and Bouchon, has tied his name to Seabourn luxury cruise line. He meticulously trained the fleet’s chefs to create his distinctive dishes. In Keller’s dining venues on the Seabourn fleet’s — Odyssey, Sojourn, Quest — and the recently launched Encore, the menu might include a terrine of moulard duck foie gras as a starter, an entree of buckwheat gnocchi with tamari glazed shiitake mushrooms, golden beets, savoy cabbage and yuzu, and a delicate dessert of ginger and yoghurt semifreddo.
Of the partnership Seabourn president Richard Meadows says, “We are delighted to have a restaurateur of Chef Keller’s stature take our onboard culinary offerings to an even higher level. His culinary talent and sophisticated cuisine are beyond compare and the perfect match for our guests.”
Fresh from opening two restaurants in Los Angeles, Australia’s Curtis Stone has linked up with Princess Cruises for an onboard restaurant called SHARE. Chef Curtis says the word “cruise” always makes him feel relaxed.
“I want to bring a new culinary experience to the sea to enhance and complete our guests’ cruise holiday. Since I travel often, I know that discovering delicious food and sharing a great meal can create some of the most memorable moments, so I’ve designed the food experiences onboard Princess cruise ships with this in mind.”
He says it is natural for his first restaurant at sea to be called SHARE as sharing food with family and friends is the most enjoyable way to eat. “I love the process of passing plates amongst each other and creating meaningful connections through food and conversation.”
Christian Dortch is Curtis Stone’s corporate chef for Princess Cruises’ ships, and was recently on Emerald Princess to ensure all was ship-shape in the new SHARE restaurant during the 48-day voyage from Southampton (England) to Sydney (Australia). Dortch worked at Curtis Stone’s LA restaurants, Maud and Gwen (sentimentally named after Curtis Stone’s grandmothers). As Dortch recalls, “One day Curtis pulled me aside and asked if I would be interested in being involved in one of his new projects. He said it would involve some travel, but that was definitely a bit of an understatement!”
Classically trained sushi chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, a master of Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine, has restaurants in major cities around the world, and has restaurants on Crystal Cruises’ luxury ships Symphony and Serenity. Nobu’s onboard fare runs from sushi to sashimi, and much more, with tender wagyu beef always on the menu. When on board for food-themed cruises, Chef Nobu invariably conducts cooking classes for the well-heeled guests.
Oceania Cruises has a well-deserved reputation for fine dining, with its French executive culinary director, Jacques Pepin, who has served as personal chef to several heads of states, including Charles de Gaulle. One of his specialities is steak frites, yes, steak and chips, but with that distinctive Pepin touch.
The most in-demand cruises aboard Oceania cruise ships are usually the epicurean-inspired voyages hosted by Pepin with special menus, engaging lectures and culinary demonstrations.
Another celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has his Jamie’s Italian (named after similar on-land restaurants) on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, and most recently Ovation of the Seas. These ships all feature in the top 10 list of the world’s largest cruise ships, each carrying around 5,000 passengers.
Jamie’s Italian focuses on rustic Italian food with cured meats, cheeses and pickles, as appetizers, served on his trademark wooden “planks,” while the main course might run to a tasty pasta or risotto, or his signature porchetta, which is slow-cooked pork belly.
Britain’s P&O cruise line has Atul Kochhar and Marco Pierre White as two of the celebrity chefs on its cruise ships. Kochhur is an award-winning chef who creates modern
Indian cuisine with a British twist for his onboard Sindhu restaurants; White, the youngest British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, shines in the Ocean Grill restaurants on P&O’s fleet.
And for the sweet tooth, the oh-so-British Cunard line now has a partnership with Godiva chocolates at Sir Samuel’s Cafe – named after the founder of Cunard cruise line – on the Queen Mary 2 where decadent arrays of pastries, indulgent ice creams and heavenly truffles are always available.
This round-up of celebrity chefs on cruise ships does not feature all of them, nor does it list the unsung heroes of every cruise ship, the onboard culinary staff who make every meal an experience to be remembered long after the cruise is over.
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