Culinary Cruises: Haute Cuisine on the High Seas
Amid some negative headlines about cruises, the public has missed out on hearing about incredible culinary changes taking place on the high seas.
Foodies travel hundreds of miles to satisfy their culinary curiosity. What if I told you that without grabbing a cab you can dine at some of the finest restaurants the world has to offer?
Eat at a celebrity chef’s restaurant? How about an exclusive nine-course meal prepared by an executive chef for 20 guests only? If that tempts your taste buds, consider booking a cruise.
You might be surprised at what’s cooking on the ocean.
Cruising has become the new foodie heaven. It is now all about the total experience of dining.
The cruise industry as a whole has made huge strides in moving away from the “eating constantly” concept to more of an elegant dining atmosphere. In the past, cruise lines encouraged bigger,
bolder buffets for breakfasts and lunches, then forced passengers to pick a set dinner time for the week and eat while sitting with strangers. Well, the passengers demanded change, and the industry got on board.
Not Your Mama’s Buffet
However close the concepts might seem, dining and eating are not the same in execution. The higher-end cruise lines still provide a buffet; however, instead of colossal mounds of food, it is about well-prepared foods. Salads are created in front of you as you stand in line, and international cuisines are represented with imported cheeses and meats, as well as the more traditional dishes. The difference is in the preparation, and plating each small portion. The buffet option is always available, and frankly, when traveling with small children, it is a superb choice.
The Juicy Details
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel on three different cruise lines. Each had its own perspective on cuisine. All did a phenomenal job of bringing unique and intimate dining to passengers. I was the impressed with Norwegian Cruise Line’s Getaway ship. The Getaway is one of the newest “mega ships” based out of Miami, and cuisine is their No. 1 concern. In fact, they were the first to introduce the concept of Freestyle Dining.
Gone are the days when passengers are forced to dine at a particular time and table with people they may or may not know. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) recognized that their passengers wanted more dining options and flexibility, so they switched to a straightforward concept: The Getaway offered 28 different dining options. Some restaurants are included in the price of the cruise while others had a nominal surcharge. This way, passengers could choose each night whether they might be in the mood for Italian or French, or would just prefer to sit topside enjoying a burger and beer. The option is theirs, and they welcome it.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
While on board the higher-end luxury ships, you will find that the high seas have lured some of the most famous restaurants in the world, as well as celebrity chefs. The Getaway plays host to Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue restaurant. Here, you dine at sea while enjoying some of the most creative and delicious dishes fresh from the ocean.
Another exquisite dining experience is on board Holland America’s Eurodam. It offers an exclusive special evening when the ship transforms one of its existing restaurants into New York’s Le Cirque. The menu, china and flatware are all from the famed Manhattan eatery; even the art on the walls was changed to emulate what you would find in New York. The kitchen staff – trained by Le Cirque’s own chefs on their most popular dishes – provides a dining treat that makes you forget you’re at sea, as if you instead were dining in New York City among the rich and famous.
Play with Your Food
Interactive specialty restaurants also have been added to cruise lines’ already outstanding restaurant options. While cruising with Celebrity onboard the Silhouette, we loved dining at the top of the ship. The Lawn Club Grill transforms the top of the vessel with a green grass exterior to make a quasi-park atmosphere with an intimate outdoor dining experience. We enjoyed making gourmet appetizer pizzas, which included tossing the dough and assembling the toppings. The main course included perfectly cooked steaks that melt in your mouth.
If you’re up for a culinary adventure, then don’t miss Qsine. This restaurant focuses on the world of food with dramatic presentations. Dishes range from sushi lollipops to a Mediterranean dollhouse filled with 12 compartments, each containing a unique dish. And the Rubik’s Cube dessert menu? A brilliant finish.
The creativity in each and every dish is delightful. NCL also offered their take on an authentic Brazilian Steakhouse called Moderno Churrascaria. There, we turned our cards over to green and dined on perfectly seared and roasted meats cut freshly from a hot skewer, or a fish filet cooked in a banana leaf. The salad bar was filled with typical Brazilian dishes, including a freshly prepared ceviche. Each meal was memorable because of the phenomenal presentation, as well as the fun atmosphere they created.
For the DIY Crowd
Cooking classes at sea are also a new addition to activities on many ships. Some have seminars provided by their chefs, wine tastings and even napkin folding instructions. NCL has taken the seminar approach a step further by providing “hands on” pastry decorating classes sponsored by The Cake Boss. Each participant receives his or her own set of cupcakes or an entire cake to decorate, depending on the class that day, which is taught by the executive pastry chef. They show a variety of techniques ranging from working with fondant to using pastry bags and decorating tips.
Perhaps most impressive was that each class focused on a different decorating concept. One class was all about cupcakes; another taught us how to make an ocean-inspired cake out of fondant. I was truly amazed at the excellent instruction, but better yet were the delicious confections we took back to the stateroom.
Best of the Best
If you consider yourself a serious foodie, then you won’t want to miss NCL’s The Chefs Table. This event is only offered one night for the first 20 people who have pre-reserved the dining experience. Your evening begins by being escorted to The Haven, an ultra-private dining room where the chef prepares a two and one-half hour, nine-course meal, including wine pairings for each course. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced at sea.
The executive chef plays host by introducing each dish. During our experience, he even offered to send us recipes to our stateroom so we could take home memories from this great night. The dishes ranged from molecular gastronomy creations to simple, elegant, savory tarts. I highly recommend signing up early and experiencing this incredible evening while onboard an NCL cruise.