Celebrity Chef Todd English Brings Haute Cuisine to Cruising

Celebrity chef Todd English doesn't just heat up a kitchen -- he's also been recognized as one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People." The winner of several James Beard Awards, he has turned his Charlestown, Massachusetts restaurant, Olives, into one of America's most recognizable national chains, with locations in far-flung cities like Tokyo. English also has a chain of Figs restaurants and several cookbooks and makes frequent TV appearances on shows like Food Network's "Iron Chef America" and NBC's "The Today Show." He joined Cunard in 2004.

Now, he's opened up to Cruise Critic about his partnership with one of the industry's most historic and well-known luxury cruise lines. He's even shared a recipe you may just find on your next voyage.

What is your arrangement with the cruise line, and when did you enter into this partnership?

The arrangement that I have with Cunard is a license deal. I license my name and my team, and I go onboard to teach and develop recipes and menus along with training the staff. I personally get onboard a half a dozen times a year.

Had you cruised before teaming up with a cruise line?

I had cruised once or twice before the partnership, and I also had a couple guest chef appearances on various cruise lines.

What is your favorite dish from your onboard menu and why?

I honestly still order the Butternut Squash Tortelli because it is a signature item on the original Olives Restaurant menu, and it reminds me of home.

I'm sure there were some challenges in converting your cuisine to dishes that could be served at sea. What were the difficulties and surprises?

I am always surprised at how much of the food is fresh when you are on a cruise. They get fresh fruits and vegetables at every port, and everything is made onboard -- including the ice cream and all of the breads. And the kitchens are pretty amazing -- the only difference is that they use electric instead of gas.

How much time do you get to spend onboard, and do you come alone or bring friends and family?

I like to bring my family and friends with me -- especially other members of my culinary staff. We usually cruise or visit several times a year. My team also goes to visit when it is in select ports to check on the restaurant and work with the staff.

In addition to cooking and working with the onboard team, what else do you do onboard?

Sometimes I teach cooking classes, sometimes I give lectures, and sometimes I sign books. I usually do what I am told.

What do you like to do onboard when you're not working?

When I am not working? Oh, I like to steer the wheel and wear the captain's hat. Just kidding.

What is your drink of choice when you have an evening off onboard?

We have a great wine list onboard, so I normally sample some of the selections from that.

If you were going to book a cruise, what itinerary would you pick and why?

I think I would probably focus on the Mediterranean -- especially the Amalfi Coast. I love Positano and Capri, and I'll eat anything with lemons...the tomatoes and the fish are also amazing there.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about cruising?

My favorite thing about cruising is that I don't have to unpack and pack up again to see different places. A cruise ship is a moving hotel, and I love being on the ocean. My least favorite thing is when the captain takes the wheel back and makes me return his cap.

Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread
Makes two pizzas


2 Pizza Doughs
Cornmeal for sprinkling
2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
2 Pinches Kosher Salt
2 Pinches Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Chopped Fresh Rosemary Leaves
1/2 Cup Fig Jam
4 Ounces Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled into pea size pieces
3 Ounces Thinly Sliced Prosciutto
1 Scallion, thinly sliced lengthwise

One hour prior to cooking, place a baking stone in the oven and preheat it to 500 degrees.

Roll out one pizza dough as thinly as possible. Place it on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the surface with one teaspoon of olive oil, a quarter teaspoon of minced garlic, one pinch each of salt and pepper and a half teaspoon of chopped rosemary. Be sure to leave an outer lip of one inch all the way around.

Evenly dot with a quarter cup of fig jam and two ounces of gorgonzola cheese. Top with half the Prosciutto.

Shake the paddle lightly and slide the pizza onto the baking stone. Bake until browned, about 6- 7 minutes. Transfer to a firm surface and cut into slices. Serve immediately, garnished with half a scallion.

Repeat with the remaining dough.

Editor's Note: Consider purchasing dough from your favorite pizzeria, for a more authentic crust -- most independently owned shops will gladly sell you fresh or frozen dough. Of course, you can always make your own or purchase some from your local supermarket.

Stay tuned for parts three through five in our five-part series on celebrity chefs at sea!

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