You can also download the PDF Version of our Bi-annual Newsletter Here
You can also download the PDF Version of our Bi-annual Newsletter Here
Learn & practice
The key to doing well at a fine dining restaurant on a cruise ship is to absorb as much information as you can. It may not be possible to land a cruise ship chef job at a fine dining restaurant on your first contract, but keeping your eyes and ears open will get you there faster.
When you have time, speak to the cruise ship chefs who work there and understand more about the demands. Note the importance of presentation and flavour, and how they go together to create a dish that excites all the senses. After all, fine dining is an experience.
In between contracts, you can attempt to practice some of the new skills you learnt, or perhaps even pick up new ones.
Work for celebrity chefs
If you get the chance, opt to work at celebrity chef fine dining restaurants – whether on board or on land. The standards are of a completely different level altogether as celebrity chefs have their entire brand hinging on their names.
They are not always working at the restaurant but has a head chef in his/her place who has control over the quality of the food. The celebrity chef will come in now and then and make time for staff, so it is good to interact with them and note all the advice they offer.
Working at a celebrity chef’s fine dining restaurant can mean very long days but the experience pays off in the long run.
Follow the rules
On cruise ships, hygiene is paramount. Every cruise ship restaurant must follow international standards for ensuring a clean and sanitised work atmosphere. Failing this could lead to the cruise ship being suspended from service.
Some of the basic rules include personal hygiene and correct methods of storing and preparing food. Many fine dining restaurants on cruise ships offer demos and open kitchen meals for a more interactive environment for guests. This makes personal hygiene, kitchen cleanliness and appearance doubly important.
Every restaurant has its go-to dish that guests most look forward to enjoying. As a cruise ship chef at a fine dining restaurant, your job is to learn how to make it perfectly. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Go ahead and try to reinvent dishes during your time off. Take a basic and play with it.
Some of the most popular dishes at fine dining restaurants on cruise ships around the world include the tuna tataki and miso black cod at Nobu’s Silk Road and Sushi Bar at Crystal Serenity, Silversea’s nine course tasting menu at its Asian restaurant Seishin, Seabourn’s chestnut and porcini mushroom soup with honey-spiced squab-and-fig empanada, 36-ounce porterhouse steaks on the Seven Seas Mariner, and lobster ravioli and osso buco at Disney Fantasy’s Palo.
The tried and tested recipe for being a successful chef has been to cook exceedingly well and manage staff and venture efficiently. However, as hospitality becomes an increasingly competitive market and high-profile career choice, this path could be insufficient.
Being a successful chef does not only mean that your customers love your food and your staff love you. It means building a brand around yourself by managing, analysing, learning, planning, of course cooking your best food, and finally marketing it effectively.
Well-known restaurants are successes only on the back of the chef and his/her team. A great name can fall if the team does not deliver. So even as you begin your career, it is important to dream about success, because without targets, the finish line is almost unachievable.
The first step to becoming a successful chef is to get a good education. Choose an institute like the American College of Culinary & Language Arts that offers skill-based training and hands-on experience to give you a solid foundation in the basics.
Equally vital is throwing yourself out into the field with internships, stages or pro bono work if needed to understand the real pressures and challenges of a working business. Travel helps immensely, and cruise ship chef jobs are one of the ways in which you can combine travel and experience.
At this point, it is important to envision your brand, particularly if you aim to go solo or manage a restaurant on your own someday. The 21st century is all about the internet and social media, so building a name for yourself or creating a following online helps incredibly, even before you start out.
One example is Fabio Viviani who learned how to use social media before he joined the TV series Top Chef, and created an image of himself online – LinkedIn and Twitter which were big then. While on the show, he used his good looks and exotic accent to his advantage along with his excellent skills as a chef to become a fan favourite.
Even though he didn’t win the show, he catapulted himself into the industry by using this leverage and 10 years later is still one of the names most well remembered by fans of the series. Additionally, he has guest appeared on other shows, released his own online cooking show and has authored several cookbooks. Today, he’s a culinary personality.
You may not need to be Fabio Viviani, but a successful chef can use social media to create a buzz about his/her restaurant or venture and keep the interest alive. It makes business sense to learn how to cultivate a good online presence even before you start a restaurant of your own.
Once you head a restaurant or open your own, focus inward as well. The key to becoming a successful chef is to lead and manage well. You must know how to direct people to accomplishing tasks but also make them feel like they’re part of a team that aims to exceed expectations.
Understand what pushes sales – which dishes are popular and why, the labour and financial costs behind each item on your menu, yields from various products used in the kitchen (such as various cuts of meat or variety of rice), etc. Take interest in seasonal traffic if any, costing strategies and changing food trends and styles. What are customers interested in?
At the same time, focus on staff. Listen to their issues and suggestions. Many might have valuable insight into various parts of the process – from service, to new dishes, to effective management. They will also feel valued.
Listen also to your guests and other companies that are successful at what they do. They may not be in the same business as you are, but a successful chef can learn strategies from anyone.
Finally, keep learning and keep your staff learning too. Widen your skills and those of the staff as well. The more you know, the easier it is to plan for the future and stay one step ahead of competitors and perhaps even trends. Try to learn something new every day, no matter how small.
The most successful chefs know the traditions of food and truly appreciate them, but they are not afraid to bend the rules to keep succeeding. The best chefs are those who can foresee what customers will want in the future. Aspire to this.
You will find similarities and differences in cuisine from across the world. A traditionally cooked meal will mostly have all the key nutritional elements in them – carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. But the tastes vary significantly.
Between Continental food and European food, not many differences are stark. Much of the food overlaps each other and it is often a case of context, but one that cruise ship chefs must still know about.
The one key difference between Continental and European food is geographical location. Continental food, over time, has come to mean food from Europe, as well as cuisines from Australia, New Zealand and surrounding islands, North and South America, Southern Africa and other places where European settlers made their home a few hundred years ago. European cuisine, on the other hand, purely refers to food from Europe.
The term Continental cuisine can be traced to England, where they used it to refer to food that came from the continent of Europe, distinguished from island food. The term is often used by eastern Asians when referring to the style of cooking vastly different from their own.
Both Continental and European cuisines base their techniques in what might now be termed ‘healthy cooking’. Dishes are mostly baked, grilled, stewed or roasted. Flavours, however, can range from subtle to quite fragrant depending on where the dish has originated from.
European food, for example, spans the smorgasbord from the light flavours of creamy Finnish salmon soup or an Irish stew across the continent to the flavourful Spanish tapas to colourful the Turkish đuveč.
Within the Continental food bracket, you will find the wildly popular fried chicken and Cobb salad from the US, the delightful lamington cake and flaky meat pie from Australia to the well-known pastas and pizzas of Italy and Swiss fondue and cakes. You will also find British food, such as the traditional fish and chips and a Sunday roast with all the trimmings including Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, vegetables and gravy.
A point to note, however, is the stark difference between a Continental breakfast and the English breakfast. The Continental breakfast is rather basic compared to a full English. It consists of hot coffee, muffins or croissants or toast with jam and butter, and some fruit. The English breakfast is a whole spread of hot beverages, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, and eggs made in several different ways.
A Continental breakfast typically does not have hot dishes, save for the beverage, which is traditionally just coffee. The English breakfast includes many cooked dishes and a choice of coffee or tea. These days, tea is more easily available even in Continental breakfasts as the trend spreads across the world.
One of the most important cruise ship chef job is serving hygienic food. This process begins long before the food reaches the kitchen and is then served to guests. Storage and preparation procedures are key factors that affect the quality of food on cruise lines.
Cruise ships place huge orders for food supplies to carry them through days at sea. Proper storage helps keep them fresh for longer and safe to eat. Cruise line companies design ships to have various storage areas for different food items – fresh vegetables, dairy, different types of meat, canned items and even beverages. Each of these storage areas has different temperature settings linked to the food being kept within.
There are various ways to check whether food is safe when the delivery arrives. Temperatures of food items, particularly frozen food, must be checked, and since most food is frozen on arrival each consignment must pass the test, or be rejected.
Certain foods are more susceptible to going bad at warmer temperatures. These foods – such as milk or other dairy products, must be 5 degrees Centigrade or below when the delivery arrives. Frozen food like meat and seafood should be frozen solid when it arrives at the cruise ship. There should be no signs – liquids, water stains or ice crystals – that the food had thawed and been refrozen.
Cruise ship chefs and food handlers must be careful to check for food that has passed its expiration date before storage and before preparation as well. Those that have are rejected immediately.
During storage, food must be labeled correctly. Ready-to-eat food such as potato salad or hummus is clearly marked by these common names and also a date by which it should be used or eaten.
It’s not just edible items that need correct storage. Cruise ship galleys use chemicals and cleaning supplies to wash dishes and keep the area disinfected. These should always be stored away from food and prep areas. After use, these chemicals and even dirty liquid such as mop water must be disposed of according to instructions from the manufacturer.
Utensils and vessels that have just been cleaned must also be stored correctly so they air dry and do not get contaminated before use.
One of the main ways for food to get infected by microbes and other germs is through cross-contamination. Clear cut procedures and safety measures can help avoid this situation. This is particularly important for cruise ship chefs who handle both raw and ready-to-eat food items – such as say salad leaves and cooked prawns that might go in a prawn cocktail.
For this, cruise ship chefs have separate equipment and workstations for each type of food – meats, seafood, poultry, vegetables, fruit, eggs, dairy, etc. Workstations and equipment are always cleaned thoroughly before and after they are used.
Cruise ship chefs must also be very careful that ready-to-eat food does not come in contact with raw food. For example, beef steaks that need cooking should not be anywhere near a plate of cut fresh fruit that’s about to be served.
They go so far as to not mix different items or multiple batches of the same item when soaking produce in standing water or ice water. Almonds and sprouts, for example, should not be soaked in the same vessel. Similarly, one batch of lettuce leaves that may be kept crisp in ice water should be separated from a different one that may have been taken out from the fridge later.
Temperatures are critical during preparation. Several guidelines and manuals list out the various temperatures at which to thaw food items, and how to do it correctly.
Food that has been prepped but is not being served immediately should be returned to a cooler as soon as possible.
By following procedure, cruise ship chefs ensure that guests stay safe while eating their favourite food.
Comfort food is a staple on board cruise ships whereas unusual dishes are quite rare. In galleys of all floating restaurants, cruise ship chefs work to deliver a steady stream of familiar dishes, perhaps with a bit of innovation but with familiar ingredients.
However, there are times that restaurants cater to the adventurous, offering culinary experiences to guests that they might never have dreamt of trying. Exotic ingredients such as caviar are widely available, but other lesser known but equally coveted strange treats are also on offer.
Qsine on Celebrity Cruises came up with the idea of sushi popsicles, one of which included a spicy salmon roll on a popsicle stick covered in coating of crushed cheese Doritos. Another favourite snack at the restaurant is popcorn fish n chips, which are small nuggets of popcorn, potato and batter-fried fish served in a movie-style popcorn bag.
These aren’t as unusual as some of the other treats available. One of the few meat-free unusual options on board is tempeh. Cruise ship chefs on vessels like P&O cruises learn how to make dishes using seitan and tempeh. Originating from Japan, both these dishes are a stand-in protein source for vegetarians and vegans.
Tempeh appears like a cake made of seeds. These are in fact soya beans that have been fermented using fungus spores. The process causes them to bind together into a cake form that is then eaten as is or used in soups, salads, sandwiches and stews. Thanks to its nutty, meaty and mushroom-like flavour, it can even be used as a substitute for meat in tacos and other dishes.
Seitan is often known as wheat meat, made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch granules are removed. It turns into a sticky, elastic-like mass of insoluble gluten which is cooked before being eaten. This versatile food item is eaten baked, fried, or steamed, or used as a substitute for meat for its close textural resemblance.
A popular but unusual food that finds its place on cruise ship menus around the world is escargots. It is not difficult to find especially at the dining room on the Royal Caribbean, where the cruise ship chefs serve a delicious escargots bourguignonne – tender snails slathered with garlic-herb butter.
In the reptile category is the much-loved and sought-after frogs legs. Carnival’s range of cruise ships features this item on its menu. One of the ways frogs legs is served on ships is with provençale herb butter and warm garlic bread. Many vessels receive pre-cleaned legs to hasten preparation and save on space, but it helps for cruise ship chefs to know how to clean frogs from scratch.
A little less popular reptile dish is alligator. Carnival’s range of ‘Didja treats’ or ‘rare finds’ includes alligator fritters. This is served as an entrée, often using alligator tail meat that’s been marinated, breaded and fried, accompanied by spicy dipping sauces.
On cruise ships around Australia, one might find kangaroo meat on the menu, but it is more likely to find this during excursions on land as a type of novelty dish. Kangaroo meat is said to be healthier, with less fat, tending to be an option for fitness enthusiasts and adventurous foodies.
Cooking unusual meats and dishes allows cruise ship chefs to expand their repertoire and flavour range, a skill set that widens their culinary expertise.
Food is central to a vacation – whether it is simple rural grub or world-famous meals that require hours of waiting for a table. Cruise ships and celebrity chefs have noticed this, closing the chasm between consumer aspirations and logistics with restaurants on board.
The trend slowly started more than a decade ago, but has caught on in a big way. Now, almost every major cruise ship has a restaurant led by a celebrity chef or features a big name on some menu or other.
If successful, restaurants by celebrity chefs on cruise ships work wonders for all involved. Celebrity chefs are able to reach out to more customers through the cruise ship’s sheer size and capacity. They are also challenged by the list of fresh ingredients available and are able to showcase their talent through mind-blowing food despite this limitation.
Cruise ships, on the other hand, are able to leverage the fame of these celebrity chefs and attract food-loving guests who might otherwise not have a chance to visit their land-based restaurants. On board, the team working in the restaurant, such as cruise ship chefs and service staff, are required to meet exacting standards. It adds an excellent boost to their work experience, and provides them with knowledge they can use at any point of life.
Celebrity chef Curtis Stone explained the idea as being able to connect with people through food. Stone, who runs a very successful land-based restaurant called Maude in Beverly Hills (USA), leads concept restaurant Share on Princess Cruises which encourages pass-the-plate meal sharing and communal eating that is rustic yet at the same time different.
Other celebrity chefs who have restaurants on board cruise ships include Angelo Auriana (Princess Cruises), Guy Fieri (Carnival Cruise Line), Jose Garces (Norwegian Cruise Line), Thomas Keller (Seabourn Cruise Line), Marco Pierre White (P&O Cruises), Arnaud Lallement and Scott Hunell (Disney Cruise Line), Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa (Crystal Cruises), Jamie Oliver (Royal Caribbean International), Jacques Pepin (Oceania Cruises) and others.
India has representation in Atul Kochhar, who creates modern Indian cuisine with a British twist on board his P&O Cruise restaurants East (Ventura) and Sindh (Azura). His light twist on the otherwise vibrantly fragrant Indian cuisine allows it to open up to many more guests and passengers, some of whom might not have tasted this cuisine ever before.
From the guest’s point of view, celebrity chefs on cruise ships are an exquisite deal, particularly for those who love good food and fine dining. The celebrity chefs have their own restaurants around the world, where meals can cost hundreds of dollars and reservations can be hard to come by. Eating at their restaurants on board offers guests the chance to indulge in their food at a fraction of the price and waiting list.
A five-course dinner at Angelo Auriana’s Sabatini, for example, will set guests back just US$25 per person, with additional pasta or entrées costing just US$10 each. Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant charges just US$15 per person. Others like Guy Fieri’s offerings at Guy’s Burger Joint are actually included in the price of the cruise ticket. This is considered an absolute steal for passengers.
Celebrity chefs must ensure consistency and quality at their onboard restaurants as their name depends on it. While they may not be available on the cruise ship 24/7, they are known to visit at least once every six weeks to ensure that the head chefs are following recipes and procedures correctly. Additionally, they may hold training sessions with the galley staff, host an interactive meal with guests or even lead a masterclass or cooking demonstration.
If done right, successful partnerships with celebrity chefs can mean profits all around.
Apart from creativity and passion, cruise ship chefs jobs demand vigilance and a keen eye on food safety. Being attentive at every step of the food production and service process enables cruise ship companies to keep their guests safe from food related diseases and in turn secure their reputation in the market.
Companies in the US ensure that cruise ship chefs follow the HACCP system – Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point – which research has shown is a viable food safety operation system. By rigorously following the procedures, chefs on board can identify chemical, physical and biological threats at any step of the flow of food – from delivery and storage to cooking and service.
All across the board, including the galley, the HACCP system follows a seven step procedure.
Here, kitchen management and cruise ship chefs carefully observe how food is prepared, cooked and served. Notes are made about each step of the process from temperatures of food to the utensils used and the manner in which the dish is plated. It begins from analyzing the various dishes on the menu and noting which dishes are most susceptible to contamination. This effectively means that every restaurant on board a cruise ship will have its own HACCP system.
This involves observing how the food is made and noting at which points during the process risks can be prevented, removed or reduced to safe limits. These are called critical control points. They could be the minimum length of time or temperature – or critical limit – that a certain food item must be cooked for/at, or that a dirty dish must remain in cleaning solvent or hot water, or even the temperature at which a food must be defrosted at.
At this juncture, cruise ship chefs must determine the highest and lowest points for preventing or removing a hazard or reducing it to safe levels. Procedures may specify how to reach the temperature necessary for cooking a meat product safely, or how long a certain dish could remain in the holding pot.
With the fourth step, HACCP moves into the next phase of safety – controlling the hazard. This involves specifying ways in which cruise ship chefs or other staff assigned to the job can monitor whether safety measures are being consistently maintained. This can mean checking the internal temperature of each dish or even each individual steak or chicken breast.
If the safety parameter, that is the critical limits, are not met, procedures are to be put in place to guide staff on what to do next. This could mean continuing to cook a dish until it reaches its internal temperature, or discarding a dish that is not considered safe to eat. All corrective action is logged for records.
Through this step, cruise ship chefs are able to figure out if their safety method works. Through hazard analyses, logs, monitoring charts and other records, they are able to check where the weak points of the safety system are and implement remedial action. This remedial action will now form part of the new critical limits to be checked and logged.
Maintaining records and logs are a very important part of the process. Cruise management are able to assess food safety conditions easily. Cruise ship chefs keep records of monitoring activities, remedial action, equipment to ensure they are in good working condition, supplier information including invoices, shelf-life, specifications, etc. This helps revise the HACCP plan often and keep it as watertight as possible.
On board, one doesn’t need to go very far to see beauty. Everything is made to be pleasing to the eyes. So when two of a guest’s favourite things – beauty and food – combine, you know you have a winner.
Cruise ship chef jobs include more than just making delicious food to international standard. It means creating pieces of culinary art, both in the sense of beauty and of use of ingredients.
On board, cruise ship chefs work against restrictions of using ingredients within a designated time frame. Knowing how to use ingredients that may not look perfect or taste a little overdone is also an art.
Produce with short shelf lives such as fruit and vegetables needs to be used quickly. But certain items can be turned into delicious dishes such as jams, cobblers, pancakes, fritters, cakes and smoothies even when overripe. Bread that’s been overbaked turns into decorative pieces for the buffet, panko or breadcrumbs.
Culinary art has pervaded most spaces on a cruise line. Even cupcakes at the corner patisserie are dressed daintily with frosting, edible dust or perhaps a sprig of fresh herb. Plating is an important technique taught in many culinary schools today. Without a tastefully decorated plate, the power of first impression is lost.
Thanks to social media and literature both online and otherwise, cruise companies are enticing guests with images, and food plays an important part here. Cruise ship chef jobs demand an artistic eye along with discerning taste to climb the hierarchy ladder.
The first step to creating an exquisitely designed dish is to imagine what it will look like. Top chefs have even resorted to using paper cut outs of the elements of the dish to decide what it will finally look like. It’s like a painter imagining the final product, making rough sketches and then working on the masterpiece.
When assembling, it’s always safe to start at the centre of the plate and then move outward. Most dishes revolve around a main player, and based on its shape and size, you can then create beautiful patterns around it with the sides and garnishes.
Sauces, gravies and pan jus should either be spooned on last or served in a gravy boat alongside. To keep these runny ingredients from ruining your piece of art, drain the juices before placing the centrepiece of your creation on the plate. Then you can ladle them over as desired later.
Just like a painting, the visual presentation of food should be harmonious, so all the colours on your plate should blend seamlessly with the colour of the plate. Most chefs choose white plates as these provide the perfect background, but many choose black to create a sharp contrast with brightly coloured elements or other shades such as powder blue, or perhaps even serve on a wooden board. Colours are important as they change the diner’s perception of their food – yellow eggs on a yellow plate will look paler and perhaps, to the guest, less fresh.
The most important part of culinary art, just like other art, is that the dish must speak to the guest. So your overall presentation should sum up what you’re hoping for the guest to perceive from your food. Both, the edible elements and visual elements, should blend together fluidly. For example, using drops of emulsified oyster, along with edible seaweed sand and clam-flavoured sea foam as your garnish can tie in your idea of the sea, both visually and gastronomically.
To be a true culinary artist, you must think like one and approach every dish as a painter would approach a blank canvas.