If the closest you usually get to enjoying a celebrity chef's creation is seeing one on "Top Chef" or the Food Network, a cruise might change that. Celebrity chefs have increasingly carved out a variety of roles for themselves on cruise ships -- serving as menu consultants, making special guest appearances or lending their names to at-sea restaurants.
In addition to providing cruise lines with extra marquee glitz, the presence of acclaimed and award-winning culinary giants also elevates cruise ship food, which traditionally has had a reputation for quantity, not quality.
Some eateries are included in the cost of the ship; others are small, reservation-only venues that charge $20 or more just to sit down (a relatively reasonable fee, considering how much it costs to eat in some of these chefs' land-based restaurants).
Here's our rundown of cruise lines where you're most likely to encounter the creations of celebrity chefs.
Carnival Cruise Lines Who: Food Network staple, game show host and restaurateur Guy Fieri lends his name and his burger-making prowess to Carnival Cruise Lines for poolside burger-and-fries restaurants aboard a (growing) number of ships. The surcharge-free venue is styled like a 1950's roadside diner.
Ships: The Burger Joint debuted aboard Carnival Liberty during a fall 2011 dry-dock, and came pre-installed on Carnival Breeze, which debuted in June 2012. It will be rolled out to other Carnival ships as part of the line's fleetwide "Fun Ship 2.0" enhancement program. (The schedule is as follows: Carnival Conquest in October 2012, : Carnival Glory in November 2012 and Carnival Sunshine in April 2013, according to Carnival).
Specialties: Fieri's burger-making philosophy pairs simple, 80-20 chuck burgers with greased-out, flavorful toppings. Those include Donkey Sauce ("jacked-up" secret mayo sauce), spicy onion rings, chili, "super melty" cheese (combo American and whiz) and brown sugar barbecue sauce. All burgers come with seasoned fries.
Crystal Cruises Who: Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa is widely acclaimed as the master of Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine. A classically trained sushi chef, Nobu has an empire of restaurants across the world in cities like London, New York, Melbourne and Milan -- and aboard two Crystal Cruises ships.
Ships: Both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity have Silk Road restaurants and Sushi Bars (included in the cost of the cruise). Matsuhisa makes appearances occasionally, sailing on specialty themed cruises that include cooking classes, demonstrations, autograph sessions and photo ops.
Specialties: Whether you want sushi, sashimi or dishes with Asian flair, it's all in Nobu's restaurants. Dishes include seafood ceviche, black cod with miso, lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, sushi, sashimi and a grilled Wagyu rib eye. For dessert, the trio of creme brulees -- sweet ginger, pink guava and passion fruit -- is a winner.
Cunard Line Who: Interestingly, the England-based Cunard Line is the only U.K. cruise line to hire an American chef! In this case, the chef is Boston-based Todd English, proprietor of Olives, an upscale chain of restaurants featuring Mediterranean cuisine. English has a list of accolades under his belt, including National Rising Star Chef and Top 50 Tastemakers. In addition to Olives, he has establishments in the W Hotel at New York's Union Square and the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, to name just two.
Ships: The Todd English restaurant is on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. The restaurant is open for lunch on sea days; cost is $20 per person. For dinner, the cover charge is $30 per person.
Specialties: Porterhouse of lamb, grilled tenderloin with lobster ragout, seared yellowfin tuna, sea scallops with oxtail and a risotto cake, and pumpkin puree "love letters" are top choices. For dessert, try Todd's carrot cake or banana creme brulee.
Disney Cruise Line Who: French celebrity chef Arnaud Lallement from the Michelin-rated two-star (out of three) restaurant l'Assiette Champenoise outside Reims, France, helped design a French-inspired menu on Disney Cruise Line's newest ships. He paired up with Scott Hunnel, another award-winning chef from Walt Disney World's Victoria & Albert's restaurant.
Ships: The adults-only restaurant Remy (named after the star of the animated film "Ratatouille") is found on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. The specialty restaurant costs $75 per person -- the highest surcharge for an onboard restaurant to date.
Specialties: The meal consists of a tasting menu of up to nine different small plates. Smoked buffalo with jicama, scallops with black olives and fennel, porcini mushroom soup with wild mushroom bread pudding and wild turbot are among the dishes. Desserts are simple but elegant: choux pastry with praline cream and wild strawberry sorbet are among them.
Holland America Line Who: Craig Hopson, executive chef of the legendary and James Beard Award-winning Le Cirque restaurant, has worked with Holland America to incorporate the restaurant's whimsy and famous cuisine onboard. For at least one dinner, the Pinnacle Grill is transformed into Le Cirque, with similar decor, quirky orange dishes, menus and wine. (In addition, the cruise line's Culinary Arts Center hosts dozens of different big-name chefs throughout the year.)
Ships: The Pinnacle Grill aboard all 15 ships is transformed at least one night during nearly every voyage. Reservations are required; a per-person surcharge of $39 ($59 with wine pairing) applies.
Specialties: The menu is limited but features Le Cirque's most well-known dishes, including lobster salad "Le Cirque," sweet corn soup, aged prime rib and chocolate souffle.
Norwegian Cruise Line Who: Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian has opened many restaurants, including The Lambs Club and The National in New York City and The Water Club at Borgata in Atlantic City. He can be seen on many Food Network television shows, including the fourth season of "The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs", "Chopped" (he's a recurring judge) and "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." Next up for Zakarian: Overseeing fish-focused restaurants for Norwegian Cruise Line and leading cooking demos and workshops on select sailings.
Ships: When Norwegian Breakaway debuts in April 2013, it will feature three for-fee venues by Zakarian.
Specialties: Although menus have not been finalized, fish will be the specialty at all three of Zakarian's restaurants on Breakaway. Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian will be an upscale seafood restaurant; the Raw Bar will feature crustaceans paired with wines by the glass; and Ocean Blue on the Waterfront will be a casual venue with alfresco dining.
Oceania Cruises Who: Born in France, Jacques Pepin served as the personal chef to several heads of state before relocating to the United States. In addition to authoring 25 cookbooks and hosting multiple cooking shows on public television, he holds title as Oceania Cruises' executive culinary director. (Oceania also hosts the annual Bon Appetit Wine & Food Festival each fall, bringing celebrity chefs onboard for lectures, demos and mingling.)
Ships: Pepin's influence can be found throughout all five ships, including his namesake restaurant Jacques aboard Marina and Riviera. But here's the difference: Instead of focusing on one alternative restaurant, Pepin works with the line's executive chefs in all of the dining venues. His hallmarks are top-quality ingredients and simple, yet perfectly executed dishes. Meals at all onboard restaurants are included in the cruise fare; no additional surcharge is assessed.
Specialties: Pepin's touch is most obvious in his three Signature Dishes, always available in the Grand Dining Room at dinner. Steak Frites features New York strip steak with hand-cut French fries. Poulet Roti is a fancy name for herb-crusted chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes. Rounding out the offerings, Supreme de Saumon au Court-Bouillon is Norwegian poached salmon with rice pilaf.
P&O Cruises Who:P&O Cruises has two marquee names in the kitchen, and both chefs have won prestigious honors from Michelin. The youngest British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, Marco Pierre White, operates six restaurants on P&O ships. And, in a first for a cruise ship, Atul Kochhur, an award-winning chef who creates modern Indian cuisine with a British twist, has opened a restaurant aboard P&O's newest ship. Both chefs will be aboard select sailings in 2012.
Ships: Kochhur's fine-dining restaurant, Sindhu, is only found on Azura. White's restaurants are the Mediterranean-inspired White Room on Ventura; Ocean Grill for seafood on Adonia, Arcadia and Oriana; the French bistro Cafe Bordeaux on Aurora; and Italian Cafe Jardin on Oceana. He also designed family-friendly menus at the casual, alternative dining spot The Beach House on Ventura. The fine-dining restaurants levy a per-person surcharge that varies according to the dining establishment, meal and length of cruise; prices range from £6.50 (for a two-course dinner in Cafe Jardin, for example) to £25 (for dinner in The White Room).
Specialties: Among the best-rated dishes at White's restaurants: fillet of turbot with citrus fruits at The White Room, a classic crayfish cocktail at Ocean Grill, quails' eggs Hollandaise at Cafe Bordeaux or gnocchi sorrentina at Cafe Jardin. Sindhu offers such dishes as crisp soft-shell crab with squid salad, pan-fried sea bass with tomatoes and tamarind, and star anise poached rhubarb with yogurt foam and salted nuts.
Paul Gauguin Who: Paris' Michelin-rated Jean-Pierre Vigato, a self-taught chef who grew up in the country and learned to cook from his mother, is the chef proprietaire of the world-renowned Restaurant Apicius on the famed Champs-Elysees.
Ships: All sailings aboard Paul Gauguin will feature Vigato's signature menu in La Veranda restaurant, and select dishes will also be featured at L'Etoile. Even better, the cruise line does not impose a surcharge for dining in either venue. Vigato will also be aboard a cruise to Tahiti and the Society Islands, cooking and giving demos. The menus onboard Tere Moana -- Paul Gauguin's second ship, which is scheduled to debut in December 2012 -- have not yet been announced.
Specialties: Try the grilled and braised veal, heart of beef tenderloin with beef tartare, lobster lasagna and roast halibut. For dessert, how about a chocolate and passion fruit millefeuille or warm raspberry compote with pistachio ice cream?
Royal Caribbean Who: as Royal Carribbean is the latest cruise line to enlist the help of a celebrity chef to spruce up its menus -- in this case, James Beard Award-winning Michael Schwartz of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Schwartz is writing seasonal menus for the restaurant 150 Central Park, which costs an additional $40 per person.
Specialties: The venue features two rotating six-course menus per voyage, incorporating ingredients grown on small Florida farms. Specialties include jumbo lump crab cakes with carrot butter sauce, mahogany black cod and slow-roasted and grilled Harris Ranch beef short ribs.