Brine din­ing

Rob In­gram as­sesses the brave new world of cruise-ship din­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat -

SURELY we all se­cretly sus­pect that when the 80,000-tonne Pa­cific Palm Nau­tilus Ven­tura leaves port, 40,000 tonnes of that is food which, dur­ing the next 11 days and 10 nights of cruis­ing, will be re­lo­cated within the Ber­muda shorts and muu-muus of grate­ful pas­sen­gers. Tra­di­tion­ally, the food side of cruis­ing has been all about buf­fets be­tween break­fast and brunch, smor­gas­bords be­tween lunch and af­ter­noon tea, and piz­zas, pas­tas, burg­ers and bar snacks be­tween din­ner and the mid­night buf­fet.

Aside from din­ing rooms and restau­rants, the most pop­u­lar ameni­ties on cruise ships have be­come grills, carver­ies, sup­per clubs, sushi bars, trat­to­rias, ta­pas bars, delis, din­ers and patis­series. And the most ap­pre­ci­ated fa­cil­ity is 24-hour room ser­vice for those whose trousers no longer fit them.

At sea, pop­u­lar names for food out­lets in­clude Lido, Pool­side, Seav­iew, Hori­zon, Ve­randa and Star­dust, but my favourite is Royal Caribbean’s Wind­jam­mer Cafe and don’t tell me that was an in­no­cent over­sight.

But now it’s the winds of change that are blow­ing and, in­stead of the pas­sen­gers looking like an over-in­flated Miche­lin Man, it is Miche­lin stars di­rect­ing the kitchens.

A melange of celebrity chefs have cre­ated al­liances with cruise lines through spe­cialty fine-din­ing rooms that repli­cate the ex­pe­ri­ence of their sig­na­ture restau­rants or by pre­sid­ing over the cre­ation of fea­tured menu items.

Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Nobu Mat­suhisa, Wolf­gang Puck, Todd English, Char­lie Palmer, Et­tore Boc­chia and Joachim Splichal are con­tribut­ing to a new ship­board fine-din­ing trend called crui­sine’’.

Serge Dansereau of Syd­ney’s The Bathers’ Pavil­ion has also made the jump from beach to ocean by be­com­ing con­sul­tant ex­ec­u­tive chef to the Aus­trali­abased up-mar­ket ex­pe­di­tion cruise ship Orion. He’s also on board with gourmet provi­dore Si­mon John­son for food-themed cruises that in­clude demon­stra­tion classes. Orion is best known for ad­ven­ture cruis­ing and, as one of the key ar­chi­tects of mod­ern Aus­tralian cui­sine, Dansereau’s culi­nary ad­ven­tures are leg­end.

Let’s face it,’’ says Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion spokesman Dan Han­ra­han, on any cruise itin­er­ary the favourite des­ti­na­tion is the din­ing room. But what we’re see­ing to­day are more op­tions in restau­rants, in din­ing sched­ules and in menus.’’

The move to­wards haute cui­sine on the high seas has come about through the col­li­sion of two other trends. Celebrity chef wor­ship has more or less re­placed or­gan­ised re­li­gion, and the more clearly de­fined de­mo­graph­ics of cruise ships have lured younger and savvier pas­sen­gers. Lean and lite, lacto-veg­e­tar­ian spa cui­sine, eth­nic culi­nary in­flu­ences and som­me­lier wine selections are all part of the crui­sine scene.

P & O Cruises Aus­tralia, which op­er­ates Pa­cific Dawn and Pa­cific Sun, has be­gun a culi­nary over­haul aimed at in­fus­ing favoured Aus­tralian food styles, pro­duce and flavours into its menus. On the plate, this trans­lates as dishes such as coral trout served with a lob­ster ragout and beurre blanc sauce, and wagyu beef burg­ers served on basil and gar­lic fo­cac­cia.

The P & O Cruises food and bev­er­age team hunted out the coun­try’s best provi­dores be­fore cre­at­ing new menus and wine lists. It ditched in­ter­na­tional wine brands in sup­port of 64 Aus­tralian and New Zealand pro­duc­ers and will also present a wine lec­ture pro­gram. Says ex­ec­u­tive chef Uwe Stiefel, The changes re­spond to con­sumer de­mand, with Aus­tralian pas­sen­gers now demon­strat­ing more loy­alty to­wards lo­cal brands and pro­duce.’’

Bri­tish-based P & O Cruises will also have its Ar­ca­dia in Aus­tralian wa­ters in Jan­uary, show­cas­ing its as­so­ci­a­tion with Bri­tish su­perchef Rhodes, who has a con­stel­la­tion of Miche­lin stars and is cred­ited with rein­vig­o­rat­ing his home­land’s cui­sine.

Rhodes has sig­na­ture restau­rants on Ar­ca­dia and Ori­ana; P & O is also head­lin­ing Hell’sKitchen chef and Gor­don Ram­say men­tor White in a fine-din­ing venue The White Room and at a less for­mal fam­ily eatery on its lat­est cruise liner, Ven­tura.

Rhodes is at pains to de­bunk the im­pres­sion that his role might be to con­trib­ute a few favourite dishes and pocket the dosh.

He says that four times a year he hosts P & O’s chefs at his Lon­don restau­rants, where they learn to pre­pare all new menu change dishes un­der his su­per­vi­sion.

The dishes are also pho­tographed,’’ he says, so the on­board chefs know how they should taste and how they should look.’’

And he takes his in­volve­ment fur­ther by re­search­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents at des­ti­na­tion ports. We are cel­e­brat­ing the ad­ven­ture of travel, so it makes sense to give each dish a lo­cal ref­er­ence,’’ he says.

White, a con­vert to the joys of cruis­ing, is as en­thu­si­as­tic about the fam­ily restau­rant as he is about The White Room. One of the as­pects of cruis­ing I par­tic­u­larly like is that it al­lows dif­fer­ent stratas of so­ci­ety to share an ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ he says. Cruis­ing has be­come in­clu­sive and ac­ces­si­ble, so I am happy for my food to be in­clu­sive and ac­ces­si­ble, too.’’

Cu­nard has aligned its fine-food pro­gram with US glam­our chef Todd English who, with 19 US restau­rants to di­rect, plus the in-flight menu for Delta Air­lines, jumped at the chance to have sig­na­ture restau­rants on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Vic­to­ria.

He says his restau­rants at sea should of­fer din­ers the same sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion and sat­is­fac­tion as find­ing a bril­liant new restau­rant in Man­hat­tan. Din­ers should for­get they are on a ship,’’ he says. Not just the food, but ser­vice and at­mos­phere have to be of the high­est or­der.’’

Nobu Mat­suhisa this year ex­tended his culi­nary al­liance with Crys­tal Cruises by open­ing two new restau­rants — Silk Road and The Sushi Bar — aboard the pop­u­lar Crys­tal Sym­phony. His food style is a fu­sion of Ja­panese and Peru­vian in­flu­ences, and the restau­rants’ chefs are Nobu-trained in pre­sent­ing the del­i­cate nu­ances in­volved. The suc­cess of Nobu New York, which he owns in part­ner­ship with Robert De Niro, has led to the es­tab­lish­ment of Nobu restau­rants in six coun­tries, in­clud­ing in Aus­tralia at Mel­bourne’s Crown Casino com­plex.

The Yachts of Se­abourn con­sis­tently tops polls for its on­board din­ing de­signed by ex­ec­u­tive chef Char­lie Palmer, who trained with Ge­orges Blanc in France, founded New York culi­nary land­mark Au­re­ole, and won two James Beard Foun­da­tion awards for el­e­vat­ing the stan­dards of pro­gres­sive Amer­i­can cui­sine.

Se­abourn’s three ships fea­ture sin­gle-seat­ing din­ing rooms with full-sized restau­rant kitchens. Palmer says his new menus re­flect an ul­tra-lux­ury style with a con­tem­po­rary twist. Clas­sic com­bi­na­tions can be found but also more eclec­tic of­fer­ings in­spired by ex­otic ports of call.

Se­abourn’s dis­cern­ing guests are ac­cus­tomed to the best,’’ he says. Our job is to sur­prise and de­light them through­out their voy­age.’’

Jac­ques Pepin, per­sonal chef to three French heads of state, in­clud­ing Charles de Gaulle, over­sees all the culi­nary pro­grams for Ocea­nia Cruises. The mas­ter chef’s in­volve­ment em­braces the cre­ation of menus, wine lists and the train­ing of on­board ex­ec­u­tive chefs. Pepin in­sists on writ­ing the wine list to en­sure each dish has a se­lec­tion of per­fectly com­ple­men­tary drops.

Miche­lin-starred Ital­ian su­perchef Boc­chia has gone so far as to in­tro­duce molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy to the ad­ven­tur­ous on the Costa Cruises flag­ships. Fol­low­ing in the sticky foot­steps of Fer­ran Adria and He­ston Blu­men­thal, Boc­chia uses kitchen physics to con­jure up fa­mil­iar flavours in the form of foams and gels to chal­lenge the palate. A favourite is fish wrapped in leek leaves and cooked with a melted su­gar mix­ture in­stead of oil to cut cook­ing time, re­tain mois­ture and cre­ate a fat-free prod­uct. His aim, he says, is to max­imise flavour in­ten­sity and drama at the ta­ble.

But it is Dansereau who some­how scores high­est in the cred­i­bil­ity stakes. Orion, for which he de­signs the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, has a max­i­mum of 100 pas­sen­gers.

That’s about the same num­ber of cov­ers as my restau­rant,’’ he says, so I’m comfortable with the scale. And the way the itin­er­ary is struc­tured, I’m to­tally con­fi­dent about a con­sis­tent sup­ply of pro­duce. On a 2000-passenger ship, a la carte can prob­a­bly work rea­son­ably well in a sep­a­rate din­ing room of about 100 seats, but I don’t think I’d be putting my name to a ship’s en­tire food pro­gram.

The con­sis­tent sup­ply of fresh pro­vi­sions would be a night­mare. How­ever, I’d much rather be pro­duc­ing a good meal on a ship than in an air­craft.’’

High seas: Pas­sen­gers aboard Cu­nard’s Queen Vic­to­ria en­joy ca­sual fine din­ing in Lido restau­rant, with dishes from across the world

Pic­ture: Crys­tal Cruises

Raw tal­ent: Nobu, right, pre­pares sushi for Crys­tal Seren­ity

Mas­ter­class: Con­sult­ing chef Serge Dansereau with kitchen staff aboard Orion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.