After Charlie Palmer parted ways with Seabourn recently, I wondered: So what? Does it make a difference? Then we looked around at the other celeb chef/cruise line partnerships out there (Jacques Pepin and Oceania, etc.) and asked readers which one they could live without. The result: a collective shrug (the most popular response was to keep the alliances intact, but a low response rate signaled the issue isn’t on many radars). It seems that cruise lines, which more than a decade ago began embracing the concept of culinary partnerships with cooking heavyweights, are agreeing — and thinking that, no, they don’t mean much.
Seabourn’s not the only cruise line to ditch its top chef. Celebrity Cruises, which was a pioneer of the movement when it teamed with Michel Roux, a Frenchman-turned-gastronomic innovator in Britain, had a quiet divorce. So did Carnival, whose dining scenarios hugely improved after Georges Blanc, a celebrated French chef, came onboard. Windstar for a long time hyped the quality of its menus, designed by Joachim Splichal of L.A.’s Patina … but no more.
Even Cunard, which hired Boston celeb chef Todd English to helm his own place on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, opted to bring food ops for Verandah — Queen Elizabeth’s alternative restaurant — in-house.
Without these partnerships with critically acclaimed master chefs, will cruise food get worse? Have you noticed a difference lately in the quality of the food onboard lines with – or without – uber-hyped chefs?
Here’s an irony: Before embracing this particular culinary trend, you may recall that cruises were more an excuse for gluttony (remember the midnight buffet?) than for quality. There’s no question the chefs helped shift that particular tide. It’s important to note as well that on some lines the trend’s still going strong. (Crystal’s partnership with Nobu is a massive success, as is that of the U.K.’s P&O, which works with British super-chef Marco Pierre White.) And Oceania Cruises is clearly bucking the trend with its first-for-the-line in-house celebrity chef: Its new Marina has partnered a big way with Jacques Pepin.
So, no, I wouldn’t say this particular trend is on deathwatch. Where these ship-chef partnerships really flourish – for passengers, in particular – is when there’s a genuine commitment between the two, when it’s something more than a marketing ploy.
On Crystal Cruises, Nobu isn’t simply a name on the finest Asian restaurants at sea; the chefs there train in his restaurants and are his disciples. Same goes for Oceania’s Pepin. On a tour of the ship’s galleys a few months ago, it was clear to me that Pepin’s influence was felt not only at the table of his eponymous restaurant but also in the genuinely Gallic kitchen that serves the restaurant, complete with rotisserie and French-sourced flour, among many other touches.
And yet, has the departure of Michel Roux from Celebrity, which occurred a few years ago, hurt the line’s restaurants? If this year’s Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks awards, which name Celebrity as Best for Dining, are any indication, I’d say no.
Does the fact that a cruise line has a bold-named chef in charge of dining influence your choice of cruise?
Want a taste of the good life? Check out our guide to the 9 Best Alternative Restaurants at Sea.
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