Two-thousand passengers. Sixteen Top Chefs. One cruise. The inaugural "Top Chef: The Cruise," based on Bravo's Emmy award-winning reality television show Top Chef, took place out of Miami aboard Celebrity Constellation April 11 - 15, 2013. Chefs from the various seasons were onboard to cook, interact with cruisers and talk food.
Note: Celebrity's partnership with Top Chef ended in summer 2017.
Photo: Cruise Critic
The food onboard "Top Chef: The Cruise" started early and came often. At the sailaway party, while hosts Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons introduced the chefs, cruisers tasted Top Chef-inspired dishes, including ceviche from season three Top Chef Howie Kleinberg. Celebrity's chefs mass-produced meals using Top Chef recipes under the supervision of corporate executive chef Rufino Rengifo. Top Chef meals were labeled in the daily lunch buffet and dinner selections.
The Emporium shopping area on Deck Five featured an array of Top Chef products, including sweatpants, cookbooks and even Top Chef Tim Love's Wild Game Rub. Cruisers hoping to get autographs at Top Chef book signings had to purchase the respective chefs' cookbooks onboard. Some left disappointed, as they sold out quickly. "They all sold out; it was bananas," Top Chef host Gail Simmons said. Simmons, though, told fans to buy her book online and contact her to get an autograph. "They came all this way. It's not cheap," she said.
From the moment we stepped onboard, branding was in full effect -- including on the elevators. Everywhere we looked, we saw Top Chef signs, posters and even napkins. This felt like a Top Chef Cruise with Celebrity in the background, a departure from many full-ship charters.
Wine connoisseurs had no shortage of options for parings. Rose Tours, the company that worked with Bravo to set up the cruise, offered a premium beverage package at $255 per person, gratuity included. Cruisers could get everything from bottled water to wine. The first 250 people who bought the package received an onboard wine-tasting, as well.
No, activities onboard weren't limited to eating/watching/talking about food. Cruisers participated in other events, such as jogging with season four Top Chef Richard Blais (pictured here wearing the gray T-shirt). Before the morning jog, Blais talked about running through Whole Foods during a Top Chef competition and how important it is for chefs to be fit. "Think about a 14-hour day in the kitchen where you're tasting everything throughout the day," he said. "And then we get off work, and what do we do? We eat and drink." Top Chefs also hosted basketball and poker challenges.
In Cozumel, the Top Chef excursion took cruisers on a Jeep expedition along the Mexican coast. Cruisers tasted tequila, ceviche and guacamole with Top Chefs Tiffany Derry and Casey Thompson. Here, Derry makes aquachile de pescado (ceviche with fish) with chefs from the Punta Morena restaurant. After the tastings, cruisers were treated to a beachside buffet that featured chicken fajitas and garlic fish. Some even played volleyball with Derry.
One night included a special Top Chef "dining in the dark" menu. Passengers were given eye masks to wear to the San Marco restaurant. Waiters didn't tell cruisers what they were eating until the dessert course. Turns out, I dined on chicken liver and red snapper (and managed to take this picture with no sight).
Fan interaction went beyond cooking demonstrations and Quickfire challenges. Cruisers who answered special online quizzes the fastest before the cruise were selected for a Jeopardy version of Top Chef. Categories included "Gail," "Tom" and "Gone Too Soon." Top Chef stars answered questions of their own throughout the cruise, as they took questions from the audience during events.
One of the many food highlights on "Top Chef: The Cruise" was a lavish brunch on the voyage's only sea day. It included items like chocolate-covered strawberries, veal medallions and even Top Chef cheese sculptures. Simmons met the man behind the sculptures when she toured the ship's restaurant facilities with Celebrity executive chef Rengifo. She said Celebrity has a room just for storing bacon, and her husband joked they'd need to book that room the next time they cruised.
At $150 a pop ($250 for groups of 10), cruisers could have private cooking demonstrations with Top Chefs like Casey Thompson. Thompson, though, changed it up at the last minute, allowing cruisers to actually cook with her. Fans made a halibut cheek appetizer featured during the first night's dining menu. Those who didn't get their hands dirty sipped Champagne. Cruisers also got to see the inner workings of one Constellation's specialty restaurants, Ocean Liners, in the process.
French chef Hubert Keller held two late-night D.J. sets onboard. He channeled his inner David Guetta as the crowd swayed back and forth with each beat. The party on the last night of the cruise resonated across three decks. If Keller ever quit his day job, he has a perfect nighttime option.