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Michelin-star chef Emma Bengtsson (Photo/Eric Vitale)

Explora I Switches Up its Onboard Michelin-Starred Chef: A Live Preview From New York City’s Aquavit

Michelin-star chef Emma Bengtsson (Photo/Eric Vitale)
Cruise Critic contributor
Donna Heiderstadt

Last updated
Oct 24, 2023

Read time
3 min read

When Explora I, a luxury cruise ship launched in August by the new lifestyle brand Explora Journeys, one of its specialty restaurants made as much waves for its concept as it did for the sky-high price.

Anthology features a tasting menu from a rotating cast of Michelin-starred chefs, depending on where the ship is sailing. At the ship’s debut, the restaurant was headed by the three-Michelin-star Italian chef Mauro Uliassi, of Restaurante Uliassi. Meals at the venue cost Michelin prices too, at EUR 190 ($210) per person, with a wine pairing price of EUR 75 ($82) per person.

For the 922-passenger ship’s North America arrival on Sept. 25, the culinary team, under the direction of Franck Garanger, Explora Journeys’ Head of Culinary, is switching it up. This week in New York, the cruise line revealed that the two-Michelin-star chef, Emma Bengtsson, of the city’s celebrated Scandinavian eatery Aquavit, will be Anthology’s second guest chef.

Bengtsoon will join Explora I in Quebec City for the ship’s return sailing to the Big Apple, where the ship will be christened on Oct. 12. While Bengtsson will personally oversee the kitchen at Anthology during the nine-night Quebec City to New York City cruise, guests sailing on Explora I will be able to enjoy her curated, seven-course menu until late March 2024.

Anthology restaurant on Explora I (Photo/Explora Journeys)

Known for a culinary style that focuses on simplicity, sustainability and local ingredients, Chef Bengtsson is the first female Swedish chef and second female chef based in the U.S. to be awarded two Michelin stars.

“My entire kitchen team is excited to be part of creating this menu,” she told those gathered in Aquavit’s private dining room. “It’s an incredible and exciting opportunity to be able to do something like this.” Chef Bengtsson also shared her deep appreciation for local cuisines and sustainably sourced ingredients and said she “looked forward to bringing these aspects to Anthology and showcasing progressive techniques combined with traditional fare for an outstanding dining experience.”

What Chef Bengtsson’s Tasting Menu in Anthology Will Look Like

Wagyu beef from Chef Emma Bengtsson, for Anthology restaurant on Explora I (Photo/Donna Heiderstadt)

Without “giving everything away,” Bengtsson presented three of the seven courses to those gathered for the menu reveal, with “little snippets” of three additional courses passed as hors d’oeuvres during a pre-dinner cocktail hour. As guests sipped Champagne and savored perfectly seasoned spoon-sized portions of hamachi crudo, gravlax and smoked venison carpacio, they were joined by Michael Ungerer, CEO of Explora Journeys, and Achille Staiano, Explora Journeys’ Chief Commercial Officer, as well as Håkan Swahn, the owner of Aquavit, who founded the acclaimed restaurant in 1987.

“What we have aimed to create is something that has never existed before,” said Ungerer. He noted that Explora Journeys, the Geneva-based luxury division of MSC Cruises, is inspired by its owners’ “personal love for travel” and called their vision “bold and long-term” in creating a new category of luxury ocean travel. “Luxury today is about new experiences and creating long-lasting memories,” he said. “And Anthology restaurant was designed as a cutting-edge stage for chefs to showcase curated dining experiences.”

Bengtsson has helmed the kitchen at Aquavit as Executive Chef since 2014 after joining the restaurant as pastry chef in 2010. The restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars within the same year of her promotion. Bengtsson applies unique Scandinavian flavor profiles produced by smoking, pickling, fermenting and curing to create a distinctively different dining experience.

Lobster bisque from Chef Emma Bengtsson, for Anthology restaurant on Explora I (Photo/Donna Heiderstadt)

Among the items on Bengtsson’s eight-course menu at Anthology:

Caviar, with lemon bavarois, potato crumble, pickled pearl onion,
salted cream, dill oil; a choice of hamachi crudo or smoked venison carpaccio**;**

lobster bisque with fennel, pickled tomatoes, dill emulsion and winter chicory.

The main course choices include turbot, with salt-baked onion, sea buckthorn hollandaise, trout roe and marble potatoes; Wagyu beef with potato terrine, rosehip and a spring onion sauce, along with lettuce dressed in buttermilk; or mushroom Barlotto, with confit baby carrots, arugula and grilled king oyster mushrooms.

Arctic Birds Nest dessert from Chef Emma Bengtsson, for Anthology restaurant on Explora I (Photo/Donna Heiderstadt)

Several courses of desserts end the meal, including a lingonberry roulade and a concoction known as Arctic birds nest.

Anthology Only One Restaurant Onboard Explora I

Sakura restaurant on Explora I (Photo/Kerry Spencer)

Explora I offers a total of 11 distinct onboard culinary experiences across six restaurants, which include Sakura for Pan-Asian cuisine, Marble & Co. Grill for a European steakhouse experience and Med Yacht Club for the flavors of the Mediterranean. Guests can also enjoy in-room dining and 12 bars and lounges.

The ship, which will spend the winter and spring in North America and the Caribbean before returning to the Mediterranean next summer, will be joined by Explora II in August 2024. Two additional vessels will be launched by 2027.

Publish date September 20, 2023
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