A Celebration Of Cruise Cuisine

by Ming Tappin

Sushi is now commonplace at the buffet.

Food has always been a key component of a cruise holiday, with "How was the food?" being the ubiquitous question that greets all cruisers upon their return. Next to the ship and destination, food is the 3rd most photographed element on my cruise vacations, so it's only fair to dedicate a few words to this delectable topic.

Prime cuts of meat on display at Crown Grill
restaurant onboard Princess. 22 oz
porterhouse anyone?

In the olden days of cruising, every meal was an event, taken in the dining room in all of one's finery. Today you can grab pizza at the grill, pasta at the buffet or a burger from room service.

Over the decades, ships have grown so large, their galleys churn out meals by the thousands, employing time-saving shortcuts. I remember Maitre D's flambeing cherries jubilee or crepe suzette table-side. Nowadays, the cherries are pre-plated and delivered with the ice cream already half melted, and crepes suzette have just about disappeared from the menu.

Roast pork with crispy skin, currywurst,
German potato salad and the best pretzel
I have ever tasted, on Viking.

But there certainly have been a lot of positive changes in cruise cuisine, outside of the main dining room. One of the most successfully introduced concepts is the specialty restaurant. For an additional charge, guests can dine in an intimate setting, with all meals cooked to order. The public balked at first. Why would anyone pay extra when food is already included in the cost of the cruise? But, an awful lot of cruisers seem to appreciate the finer dining options, as evident in the proliferation of restaurants now found on all ships, with cover charges ranging from $10 to $75 and more if wine pairing is chosen.

I love shellfish, thank goodness it is
always on the menu! This is Crawfish

All kinds of culinary events have also been developed for foodies. There are grocery shopping excursions with the chef, one-on-one cooking classes, wine pairing lessons, private dinners in the cellar with your 10 closest friends and the master chef. All the more details to regale your friends about when you get home.

The latest trend on the high seas is the appearance of celebrity chef restaurants. The 1st cruise line to make this connection was Celebrity Cruises. In 1989, Celebrity partnered with 3-star Michelin chef Michel Roux to create menus for its fleet. Celebrity rode the culinary wave, winning accolades from industry and passenger reviews. Now everyone else has jumped on the bandwagon. You can find Todd English on Cunard; Jamie Oliver on Royal Caribbean; Nobu Matsuhisa on Crystal and Geoffrey Zakarian on Norwegian, just to name a few. Most are specialty restaurants, but at a fraction of what you would pay if you visited them ashore.

Chateaubriand at an Evening at Le Cirque,
onboard Holland America's Pinnacle Grill

With all of these dining options available, my food report becomes longer after every cruise. While I still enjoy the grand dining room experience, I most enjoy the personal attention in the specialty restaurants. A meal there is an event, served in an unhurried fashion, and the service is intuitive. I still remember during one dinner during which I had to leave my table to take an urgent call from the office. Immediately a restaurant staff offered me his arm to escort me out, and walked me back to my seat when I returned.

My all time favourite cruise meal - lobster tail
and jumbo prawns.

My napkin had been refolded by my waiter, and a silver cloche had been placed over my plate to keep my food warm. The food was lovely, but that extra touch was icing on the cake. And oh yes, I got my cherries jubilee too... prepared at my table.

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