Cruise lines open up kitchens, reveal secrets

Gourmet cuisine has always been a big part of the cruise vacation experience. On many ships, flaming Baked Alaska has been paraded around the dining room on formal nights. Signature menu creations like Carnival’s Warm Chocolate Melting Cake or Princess Cruises Fettuccini Alfredo keep guests coming back for more. In recent years, a focus on sharing what were once closely-guarded secrets has become quite popular. Cooking classes, events, demonstrations and even food and wine-themed sailings are becoming popular on most lines.

Learn to cook

Royal Caribbean International has partnered with Chefmakers Cooking Academy to offer unique cooking programs to guests.

Cruise CompeteAvailable now on several ships, guests will have an opportunity to enhance their cooking skills while sailing. For an additional cost, guests can learn everything from pumpkin carving to what it takes to host an elaborate dinner party. Chefmakers at Sea’s hands-on classes range from $40 to $125 and are suitable for beginners and the experienced home cook alike. With several essential programs like Knife Skills, Quick & Easy Fish, and All About Chicken, to highly social and interactive cooking parties like Asian Persuasion, New American Cuisine, and Surf & Turf, there is a wide variety to choose from. Successfully piloted aboard Mariner of the Seas, the three-hour programs are open to guests 18 and over.

Participants will receive their very own Chefmakers apron and recipe cards for all menu items prepared, as well as complimentary wine based on class selection. Guests will also have the opportunity to purchase the high quality kitchenware and utensils that they learn to use in the classes.

Explore – Food & Entertaining

Foodies have a full roster of possibilities on Holland America Line. In their Culinary Arts Center, a dedicated party planner hosts a series of presentations showing how professionals do what everyday people might be interested in.

Partnering with Food and Wine magazine, passengers are encouraged to enroll in small, hands-on cooking classes. Want to learn how to make Steak Diane or Espresso Chocolate Mousse? They teach that here.

The Chef’s Table

In an effort to expand extraordinary on-board programs, Princess Cruises followed by big brother Carnival Cruise Lines have the ultimate on-board food event, The Chef’s Table, which lets guests tour the galley and dine with a working Chef from the ship.

The culinary experience includes a multi-course dinner hosted by one of the line’s master chefs along with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley. With The Chef’s Table, a group of up to 12 guests have cocktails and hors d’ouevres with the ship’s Chef de Cuisine. The Chef then takes the group on a tour to see the galley in operation. The evening concludes with a full-service dinner with appetizers, entrees and desserts.

We did this on our Alaska Cruisetour with Princess Cruises on the Coral Princess . It was a lot of fun and nothing to be scared of or intimidated by if you are not familiar with the operation of a huge kitchen that can serve thousands in one seating. It was really more of a look behind the scenes and foodies of all types would like this. We were not dodging waiters with huge trays full of food or slipping on banana peels carelessly dropped about. This place was spotless. Not “somebody is coming to inspect our kitchen” clean but a “this is the way it is” clean. Very impressive.

Nobody got to touch knives, get close to anything hot or argue with a waiter who brings back cold soup. We were given chef coats and paraded through the dining room as though we were going back to the kitchen for a hands-on cooking experience. What we got in our hands was fine French Champagne (thus the No-Knives designation) and various little creations someone made before we got there. Our photos were taken with the Executive Chef and Maitre ‘d then back to the dining room we went, minus the chef coats, to be dazzled by a multi-course dining extravaganza. I felt a little sorry for those dining around us. What they had must have surely felt like a TV Dinner in comparison to the opulent display brought forth by the culinary staff, course after course after course.

One of the best parts of this: Up close and personal time with the Maitre ‘d who should be at the top of anybody’s schmooze list on a cruise. The benefits of being a nice person with a Maitre ‘d in your corner can be staggering.

Food and Wine-themed sailings

Continuing to focus on the guest experience at sea, Celebrity Cruises is adding to their Celebrity Life program with themed sailings called “Savor Your Destination“. The new addition centers around an invited guest chef on select sailings.

An expansion of “Savor”, the popular culinary-and-wine/spirits-focused pillar of Celebrity Life, Savor Your Destination will include a line-up of special interest cruises aimed at celebrating Celebrity’s onboard culinary experience by inviting guest chefs and other food and wine experts to enhance select sailings.

Program highlights include:

A meet-and-greet style cocktail hour with the invited guest chef

  • A cooking demonstration in the ships theater
  • Book signing for chefs with published cook books
  • A “Star Chefs” competition where guests team up with high-ranking Celebrity chefs for a cook-off judged by selected guests
  • Cooking classes for guests in the ships main galley
  • A food-and-wine-pairing by the guest chef in the ships specialty restaurant

Savor Your Destination kicked off with Chef Benjamin Christie sailing on Celebrity Eclipse on an 11-night Canary Islands cruise. Christie is an acclaimed television host, author, online food personality, and unofficial culinary ambassador based in Sydney, Australia. Future guest chef’s include UK-based chef Adam Byatt, Food Network’s Daisy Martinez, Zach Bell from Palm Beach’s Cafe Boulud, Carmen Gonzalez formerly of Miami’s Carmen the Restaurant and US chef John Currence.

In the future, Celebrity will announce additional Savor Your Destination events designed to give cruisers the opportunity to expand their culinary horizons while at sea. “The Savor Your Destination cruises are another experience in our robust onboard culinary enrichment program,” Van Staden said. “Our guests love great cuisine, a passion that expands to other gastronomic experiences such as winemaking. As we continue to develop the Celebrity Life Savor Your Destination cruise lineup, we will welcome not only chefs, but also winemakers and food artisans, to share their expertise with our guests.”

Classes, demonstrations, food events hosted by celebrity chefs and behind-the-scenes tours are just one part of an expanding culinary trend on today’s cruise ships. Most cruise lines are also offering a variety of themed cover-charge restaurants that require a nominal fee to attend.

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Chris Owen
Chris Owen
Chris Owen is a travel writer from Orlando Florida who shares frank, inside information about cruise vacations with fellow Cruise Addicts.

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