For members of Foodie Nation, like me, a meal represents much more than sustenance. We refer to celebrity chefs by one name (“Batali,” “Besh” “Ripert”) and collect Michelin stars like baseball cards. Our reservations are booked well before our plane tickets, and our bucket list includes multi-course tasting menus.
Among the mainstream cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises has made strides toward solidifying its reputation with this crowd, comprising mainly youngish (for cruising) urbanites. In 2012, the line launched the Excite the Senses themed cruises, centered around cooking classes, wine pairings and mixology courses. Earlier this year, the Bravo TV show Top Chef came to the high seas, with foodie fans taking over Celebrity Constellation.
This month, Celebrity tested its onboard rep on land, in a series of New York-based events intended to raise the line’s profile among the city’s gourmands.
First, Chef John Suley, Celebrity’s associate vice president for food and beverage operations, and his team presented a dinner featuring ship recipes at the legendary James Beard House on October 12 (the second time the line has done so). The eight-course “Taste of Modern Luxury” menu, which cost $170, included Maine lobster salad with hearts of palm, handmade ricotta cavatelli with wild mushroom fricassee and shaved white truffles, and a dish familiar to Murano regulars, Valrhona Cocoa cake.
Celebrity also served as a sponsor for several events at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, an annual conclave of dinners, seminars and tastings put on by the Food Network and Food and Wine magazine. All of the big chef names – both those on TV and otherwise – show up to this one; for foodies, it’s a caloric whirlwind of a week.
I made it to two wine and food pairing seminars Sunday, both sponsored by Celebrity. (Cute X wine charms were handed out as souvenirs.) The first one, Fab Wines for Funky Fromage, featured one of my fave cheesemongers (really the only one I know by name): Terrance Brennan. I ate in his cheese-centric NYC restaurant, Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro, shortly after it opened in 2001 – and have been dreaming of it ever since.
While Brennan employs a scholarly demeanor to cheese, his lecture partner, wine expert Josh Wesson, added levity. As we sampled six “hot tub worthy” cheeses and accompanying wines, Wesson’s patter became funnier the more we drank. “You have the right to your tongue,” he declared as we nibbled on “Barely Buzzed,” a Utah cheddar rubbed with coffee and lavender – just one of the “cheeses that have so much personality, they need a Sherpa to carry them around.”
My tasting notes from Wesson and Brennan’s rollicking session are filled with exclamation points, circled favorites and a few “OMG, must buy!!!”s. By contrast, the second seminar appealed more to the head than the heart, as Chef Michael Anthony and others from Gramercy Tavern matched fall vegetables – think kale, beets and carrots – with corresponding varietals. Not too many surprises here, although I did murmur aloud that Riesling was my favorite. “Then my job here is done,” replied wine director Juliette Pope.
So did Celebrity’s sponsorship of the festival make them seem more foodie friendly? I’d say yes. While the people around me at the seminars were probably more likely to save their money for a meal at Per Se instead of a six-night sailing, I could see them seeking chef cred if they booked a cruise – and having a prominent position on the ever-growing food and wine circuit can only help the line’s cause. I know that if they brought experts of the caliber of Brennan and Wesson onboard, I’d definitely take notice.