Michelle Rowe talks to celebrity chef Gary Rhodes about reinventing cruise cuisine and his Australian dream
RITISH super-chef Gary Rhodes doesn’t skip a beat when asked if he’d consider opening one of his eponymous restaurants in Australia. ‘‘ That is an idea that really does excite me,’’ says the youthful 48-year-old, ensconced in Adelaide’s Medina Grand Treasury hotel after his long flight from London via Singapore.
‘‘ If I could open something in Sydney or Melbourne, I’d be delighted.’’
How the successful south Londoner would find the time is anyone’s guess. Thirty years into a career that’s spanned six Michelin stars, 10 restaurants, numerous television series and a prolific cookbook output, Rhodes — who’s famous for putting the British back in touch with their culinary heritage through TV series (and spin-off books) such as Rhodes Around Britain — shows no signs of slowing down.
Despite the jet lag, Rhodes is in full flight as he describes his love of food and cooking with all the enthusiasm of an apprentice chef who’s just been given his first big break. ‘‘ The beauty of this industry is that you never, ever stop learning,’’ he tells me.
Rhodes has certainly been on a learning curve these past few years, since becoming one of a clutch of highprofile chefs — among them Marco Pierre White, Nobu Matsuhisa, Wolfgang Puck and Todd English — to swap the high street for the high seas.
Each has signed on with a top cruise line to become the face of a new culinary wave, aimed at overturning stale stereotypes of onboard dining.
Rhodes has two P& O cruise ship restaurants (passengers pay a small surcharge for such alternative dining venues), Arcadian Rhodes, aboard Arcadia, and the newer Oriana Rhodes on the Oriana liner.
And he is at pains to point out he’s not simply a hands-off brand name.
‘‘ Between the two ships, I’m on board four times a year,’’ he says. ‘‘ I cook more on board than I do in my London restaurants, where I’ve got guys who’ve been with me for years and [the restaurants] run like clockwork. It gives me freedom to get on with lots of other things, like go on the ship, get to the galley, cook with the guys and do something I never do anywhere else: speak to every guest during the evening.’’
All at sea: The elegant Arcadian Rhodes fine-dining restaurant on P& O’s Arcadia cruise liner has been conceived by British celebrity chef Gary Rhodes
And when Rhodes is not at sea, members of his cruise team can often be found in London training in either of his Michelin one-star restaurants, Rhodes Twenty Four or Rhodes W1 Brasserie.
‘‘ The [cruise] team — managers, floor staff, kitchen staff — have all at some point been trained in a Rhodes restaurant,’’ he says. ‘‘ We give them a look at what we can do, our style of service . . . and they go back, hopefully freshly inspired.’’ And, he adds, they leave clutching detailed notes and photographs on the preparation and presentation of every dish. ‘‘ It’s almost idiot-proof,’’ he says.
But, to be doubly sure, all new menu items are initially introduced as plats du jour, before being added permanently to the menu once Rhodes has gone aboard for quality control purposes.
Rhodes admits it’s his famously fastidious nature that prompted him to sign up with P& O Cruises.
‘‘ I was invited to Venice, where the ship [Arcadia] was being built, and it was a complete shock to turn up and see just a huge metal frame, nothing else . . . yet they wanted to talk about what the restaurant would be offering, how it would look, its design, what the service was going to be like. There were no half measures; they were very, very particular about getting it right, and that’s what inspired me.’’
He was inspired, too, by the opportunity to change long-held perceptions of cruise dining, with its often bland food and inflexible mealtime sittings.
‘‘ It was a question of moving on with the times. The whole idea of introducing the Rhodes restaurants on to Arcadia and Oriana was that we wanted people to be able to eat in an a la carte restaurant, as they would in London, Adelaide, Sydney or wherever they happen to be, and at whatever time they want to eat,’’ he says.
‘‘ We only feed 70 or 80 people a night. We could seat 150 but we wouldn’t get the quality right . . . this is just like running one of our Michelin-starred restaurants, and that’s exactly what I want.
‘‘ It’s nothing like being on board a ship; it’s a total Rhodes concept, from the food to the style, and I’m also very particular about the quality of service.’’
Arcadian Rhodes is shiny and contemporary, decked out with timber panelling, royal-blue upholstery and golden drum-shaped lights that cast a mellow glow.
As I dine at Arcadian Rhodes the day after our interview, I realise the celebrity chef is right when he says service is unrushed: it’s definitely the equivalent of a fine-dining restaurant ashore.
Rhodes dismisses the suggestion that it might be difficult to source good produce at some ports.
‘‘ Europe isn’t a problem because the facilities on board [Arcadia and Oriana] are fantastic for storing food. A lot is taken on in Britain for a two-week trip and we can pick up more in France or Italy without a problem, especially in summer when the produce is glorious,’’ he says.
‘‘ In the Caribbean you can have one or two problems, but I never change the complete menu [to make dishes local to each port of call]. Maybe 50 per cent of dishes will have a Caribbean touch.
‘‘ Cruising into Australian ports is a new experience for us, but while some fish and cuts of meat may be a bit different, nothing is too difficult to get hold of. Just about everything we’re looking for we can find, and there are some extras we don’t get in Britain.’’
In addition to his thriving P& O restaurants and his London flagships, Rhodes recently opened two venues in Dorset, England. He has restaurants as far afield as Dubai, Dublin and the Caribbean island of Grenada, and has just released his latest cookbook, GaryRhodes 365 , which has a recipe for every day of the year. His TV commitments continue to grow, too; his newest series,
Cook up a storm: Rhodes is a hands-on chef GaryRhodes’LocalFoodHeroes screens on LifeStyle Food at 7.30pm on Sundays. P& O Cruises includes all food in its fares, but there is a £15 (about $32) surcharge a person to dine at Arcadian Rhodes or Oriana Rhodes; drinks are extra.