Top chefs are taking to the high seas
Famous chefs are taking to the high seas and teaming up with cruise companies around the globe. Chef involvement varies widely from one ship, or one voyage (last year, Jason Atherton cooked on a Silversea cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore), to running several on-board restaurants, or overseeing the food on the entire fleet.
Here are some of the world's most glamorous ships' cooks. DAVID THOMPSON The Thai cuisine chef, who won Asia's Best Restaurant 2014 for Nahm in Bangkok, has been signed up by luxury boutique cruise company Aqua Expeditions as executive chef of its new Mekong River cruise.
Launching this September, Thompson plans to base the menu on the cuisines of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The attraction for Thompson is twofold: "It's close to home - Bangkok, that is - and the trip on the river is so enticing that I was hooked."
Thompson will be visiting Cambodia and Vietnam to source ingredients. "Things like the small rice noodles eaten at every lunch throughout Cambodia, the herbs that garnish every meal in Vietnam, and, of course, the fish of the Mekong," he says.
The chef plans to cook on board on occasion, although the size restrictions mean that cooking classes won't be possible. He's also planning a slightly different menu to the one at Nahm.
"A wider range of tastes must be allowed for when on a cruise. The people on board aren't just there for my cooking but for the trip and the tour," he says with trademark modesty. NOBU MATSUHISA Nobu's collaboration with Crystal Cruises came about organically. Nobu's Los Angeles restaurant and the cruise company's head office opened around the same time in close proximity, and Crystal's Japanese chairman became good friends with the chef.
Nobu now oversees Silk Road restaurants and sushi bars on the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. The executive chef in charge of day-to-day operations, Hiroshi Nakaguchi, has been in the Nobu fold for many years, and launched several of the famous chef's land-based restaurant.
Nobu fans can be assured that the chef's signature dishes are on the menu. "Nobu's dishes require the best ingredients and they have to be fresh. New freezing and chilling technology ensures we are able to fulfil expectations," says a spokesman for Crystal Cruises.
Matsuhisa himself comes aboard several times a year (2014 dates have yet to be announced) to work with the chefs and create new menus. He also hosts cooking demos.
Diners include Nobu regulars who book the cruise ships because of the restaurants, as well as some customers new to Japanese cuisine.
The French chef who found fame in the US is the executive culinary director of Oceania Cruises. As such he oversees all the restaurants across the fleet.
A spokesman for Oceania says that from the outset the two parties shared the intention of "ensuring our cuisine is the finest at sea".
The spokesman says the "intimate" size (in industry parlance they are "mid-size") of the cruise ships lend themselves to Pépin's high level of cuisine. Everything is cooked to order, despite the fact that the restaurants are free seating and complimentary; "Nothing needs to be rushed or prepared en masse."
Jacques Pépin signature dishes such as coq au vin, rotisserie roast chicken and steak frites appear on menus.
Added to that, the chef has two eponymously named Jacques restaurants (on the Marina and Riviera cruise ships) where the menu is straight out of a fine dining restaurant in Paris.
Oceania organises speciality sailings where the chef prepares special menus, holds lectures and prepares cooking demonstrations. The next Jacques Pepin Cruise departs on July 23 from Britain.
When Luke Mangan heard that the president in charge of F&B at Carnival Australia wanted to change the poor image of food on cruise ships, he suggested opening a restaurant on board.
The Australian celebrity chef now has three seafaring versions of his Salt Grill restaurant concept: on the Pacific Jewel, the Pacific Pearl and the Pacific Dawn, departing from ports in Australia and Singapore.
"I wanted the restaurant to be the same dining experience on board as it is on land," says Mangan. "It would be a proper à la carte restaurant, and separate from the other dining options."
There is a small surcharge to dine in Salt Grills, and the set-up and menu is similar to the land versions. "On board, we use only the freshest produce available. That has always been important, and we are always aware of quality control," says Mangan.
"We are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to stock up on fresh ingredients at each port, so we have no excuse not to have the freshest ingredients in our restaurants," he adds.
Mangan fans book cruises to see him when he is on board. The chef oversees lunch and dinner service.