Mak­ing waves

Michelle Rowe talks to celebrity chef Gary Rhodes about rein­vent­ing cruise cui­sine and his Aus­tralian dream

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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.

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