(1:30 p.m. EST) -- What do ceviche shots, rum-touched Maine lobster tail and Tropical Breeze martinis have in common?
They're all recipe finalists in the 2009 BACARDI Cruise Competition, in which chefs and bartenders from cruise and ferry lines around the globe compete to create innovative and tantalizing cuisine and cocktails. The winners will be selected by a panel made up of food and beverage executives from various cruise lines -- as well as Cruise Critic Editor in Chief, Carolyn Spencer Brown -- but Cruise Critic readers can vote for their favorites in our People's Choice Awards.
On March 15, 2010, Bacardi will announce the contest's winners, and two very talented cruise line employees will be named BACARDI Bartender of the Year and BACARDI Chef of the Year. At this time, Cruise Critic will also honor two individuals with People's Choice Awards, chosen by you, our readers. Polls closed on Monday, March 8, 2010, but be sure to check out the cocktail and culinary results and stay tuned to find out the overall winners.
So what's this contest all about? Passionate chefs are emerging on all the major cruise lines, and every year Bacardi gives them a shot to show off their talents in the BACARDI Cruise Competition. In 2009, the fifth annual contest commenced, and more than 900 entries were received -- the greatest number they've seen since the onset of the competition. The year's theme was "International," and contestants had to create dishes that not only utilized spirits from the Bacardi family, but drew their inspiration from the cuisine of Spain, France, China, America or Italy.
In December, staffers at Johnson & Wales University in Miami reviewed each recipe and selected the top three or four entrants in each category, based on photos, methods of preparation and ingredients. The university's chef instructors and students prepared each dish, and a panel tasted them all and selected the top dishes from each category. These dishes became the five culinary finalists.
To find out more about this year's culinary submissions, Cruise Critic spoke with Bruce Ozga, dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales University, who was on hand to taste test recipes from each of the categories. If you thought cruise food had a reputation for being boring, mass-produced dishes with little to offer in the way of creativity or intrigue, you might be surprised at some of the things coming from the creative minds of cruise ship chefs. "This year, there seemed to be more complex recipes; they took more skill," Ozga said. "There were more multi-component dishes."
So what trends did the professionals spot? Here are a few of Ozga's observations:
Presentation: In comparison to previous years, judges noticed an increased focus on plating and presentation. Since the initial elimination involved judging photos of the dishes before they were even tasted, it's not a wonder that the chefs realized the importance of how the food looked.
Asian flavors: Reflective of trends in the mainstream culinary world, submissions featured a lot of Asian flavors and ingredients. The spices and heat commonly used in Thai and Indian cuisine were particularly evident -- the judges tested many recipes that used a variety of peppers, especially cayenne. Editor's note: Although we don't know the nationalities of the contestants, we can say that many cruise ship chefs come from Asia and India, which might have something to do with the predominance of Asian-inspired dishes in the competition.
Seafood: Every finalist recipe is a seafood dish! Lobster, crayfish and mahi mahi were a few of the stars, but among the hundreds of submissions, ceviche of all varieties was the most common preparation.
Chicken wings: Although you won't find any among the finalists this year, chicken wings have been making an impression on the judges for awhile, so keep a look out in the future. Says Ozga, "It seems to be every year that a chicken wing recipe makes it into the mix and you think 'chicken wings'? But the last few chicken wing recipes have been really good -- they've been phenomenal!"
Simplicity: What made the finalists stand out in such stiff competition? "Good quality, correct methods of preparation and technique," said Ozga. "I think in the end, the ones that really used fresh ingredients, didn't use a large number of ingredients and kept it simple, but were able to include complex flavors, were the best."
--by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Web Content Producer