One of the biggest trends in cruise travel currently is the partnership of cruise lines with celebrity chefs. Food has always been interwoven with cruising, from the all-you-can-eat buffet to the fabled main dining room, and now these collaborations seek to help lines differentiate even more.
Most recently, Seabourn Cruise Line teamed up with internationally-acclaimed Thomas Keller, known as the only American-born chef to have been awarded several three-star Michelin Guide ratings. Now his exacting cuisine and training, and even ingredients from select purveyors, are featured in the fleet’s grill and restaurant, and a specialty dining venue is on its way first to the Seabourn Quest in May and later fleet-wide.
“We are so pleased to share Chef Keller’s first menus aboard our beautiful fleet,” said Richard Meadows, president of Seabourn. “His menus confirm that the partnership is going to elevate our already award-winning cuisine, and we are thrilled that Seabourn guests are now able to experience the masterful culinary styles of Chef Keller.”
Examples of the kind of elevated food to be enjoyed onboard Seabourn from Keller include Terrine of Moularde Duck Foie Gras, Buckwheat “Gnocchi,” Sonoma Duck Breast “Poêle,” Ginger and Yoghurt Semifreddo and Champagne and Granny Smith Apple Trifle.
Partnerships are now prevalent industry-wide, from luxury lines to mainstream lines, and extend to comfort food and desserts as well. Food Network star Guy Fieri has his casual poolside Guy’s Burger Joint aboard Carnival Cruise Line, and Umami Burger cofounder Ernesto Uchimura is bringing his grub to The Salty Dog Gastropub on Princess Cruises. Princess even features Chocolate Journeys in collaboration with confectioner Norman Love, and MSC Cruises similarly partnered with chocolatier and pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury recently as well. Not to be overlooked, Royal Caribbean International also has partnerships with Jamie Oliver for Italian food and Michael Schwartz for pub bites.
The question that perhaps remains is to what end is all the effort. When asked about why Princess Cruises joined with celeb Curtis Stone for its new SHARE specialty restaurant, for instance, Gordon Ho, Senior Vice President Global Marketing & North America Sales for the line said, “offering interesting and new culinary experiences appeals to both our loyal guests and new-to-cruisers. Our loyal guests have told us they love our consistency but also love trying new culinary experiences.”
It’s also about brand identity. Some longterm chef partnerships are at the core of lines’ personas. Crystal Cruises has showcased the culinary arts of Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa for years, and Oceania Cruises’ celebrated cuisine comes from master chef and executive culinary director, Jacques Pépin. The two are now synonymous, and in the case of new partnerships, the chefs effectively contribute fresh ingredients to the brand makeup.
Reality TV cooking competitions are also hot onboard for similar reasons. Dueling culinary rivals, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line feature “Top Chef” and “MasterChef” respectively with theme cruises and sample dishes. “Top Chef at Sea” experiences include cooking demos from and meet-and-greets with some of the show’s cast, and invite guests to compete themselves in signature Quickfire Challenges. And the upcoming “MasterChef Cruise” will also highlight culinary seminars and competitions.
Of course, partnerships don’t always last either. Norwegian Cruise Line has cut ties with Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, for instance, in favor of Jose Garces on its newest Norwegian Escape. Besides, contracts come and go, and some are more of a flash in the pan than others. One thing that can be counted on: fine dining is sure to stay on cruise ships in some form or another.