[UPDATE: Thomas Keller oversees The Grill onboard the luxurious Seabourn cruises including the Seabourn Encore which departs from Singapore tomorrow for her inaugural voyage around Indonesia. The Grill by Thomas Keller, designed by Adam Tihany, is inspired by traditional American chophouses and features updated classics such as steaks with creamed spinach and Lobster Thermidor. Caesar Salads and ice cream sundaes will be prepared table side. http://www.seabourn.com]
Top chefs are taking to the high seas as they team up with cruise ship companies. Some of the most famous names in cooking have opened on board restaurants or are consulting on menus for cruises.
Chef involvement varies widely from one boat or even voyage (last year, Jason Atherton cooked on a Silverseas cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore) to running several on board restaurants or overseeing the food on the entire fleet.
Here are three of the best in Asia:
David Thompson & Aqua Mekong
Acclaimed Thai cuisine chef, and winner of Asia’s Best Restaurant 2014 for Nahm in Bangkok, David Thompson has been signed up by luxury boutique cruise company Aqua Expeditions as executive chef of its new Mekong River cruise.
Launching this month, Thompson is basing the menu on Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the countries along the Mekong.
Thompson says the move is serendipitous: “A happy combination of circumstances lead to Francesco [Galli Zugaro, CEO of Aqua Expeditions] having dinner at Nahm in Bangkok and it went from there.”
The attraction for Thompson is twofold: “It’s close to home – Bangkok that is – and the trip on the river is so enticing that I was hooked.”
Thompson will be making recces to Cambodia and Vietnam to source ingredients. “Things like the small rice noodles eaten at every lunch throughout Cambodia, the herbs that garnish every meal in Vietnam and of course the fish of the Mekong.”
The chef plans to cook on board on occasion although the size restrictions mean that cooking classes won’t be possible. He’s also planning a slightly different menu to the one at Nahm.
“A wider range of tastes must be allowed for when on a cruise. The people on board aren’t just there for my cooking but for the trip and the tour,” he says with trademark modesty.
“There are restrictions to cooking on board. The space and facilities oblige a simplicity of cooking. But I think that will be a welcome thing.”
Nobu Matshuhisa & Crystal Cruises
Nobu’s collaboration with Crystal Cruises came about organically. Nobu’s LA restaurant and the cruise company’s head office opened around the same time in close proximity and Crystal’s Japanese chairman became good friends with the chef.
Nobu now oversees Silk Road restaurants and sushi bars on the Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity that have itineries throughout the world including Asia. The executive chef in charge day to day, Hiroshi Nakaguchi, has been in the Nobu fold for many years and launched several of the famous chef’s land based restaurant.
Nobu fans can be assured that the chef’s signature dishes are always on the menu. “Nobu’s dishes require the best ingredients and they have to be fresh. Fortunately, new freezing and chilling technology ensure we can fulfill expectations,” says a spokesman for Crystal Cruises.
“Additionally, we have the challenge that our restaurants move. The logistics are so important, if we are leaving a port at 6pm the shipment cannot arrive at 7pm.”
Nobu himself comes aboard several times a year to work with the chefs and create new menus. He also hosts cooking demos and cook book signings.
Diners include both Nobu regulars who book the cruise ships specifically because of the restaurants onboard and customers new to Japanese cuisine. “Many of the guests have enjoyed Nobu’s restaurants worldwide,” says the spokesman. “What astounds them is that they are complimentary on Crystal. Penthouse guest can even order complimentary room service from Nobu.”
Luke Mangan & P&O
When Luke Mangan heard that the president in charge of F&B at Carnival Australia and wanted to change the negative image of food on cruise ships, he suggested opening a restaurant onboard himself.
The Aussie celebrity chef now has three sea faring versions of his Salt Grill restaurant concept – on the Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl and Pacific Dawn departing from ports in Australia and Singapore and journeying to Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
“I wanted the restaurant to be the same dining experience on board as it is on land,“ says Mangan “It would be a proper a la carte restaurant and separate from the other dining options on board.”
Salt Grills involve a small surcharge to dine in, the set up and menu is similar to the land versions. “On board we use only the freshest produce available, that has always been important and we are always aware of quality control,” says Mangan. “We are very fortunate that we have the opportunity to stock up on fresh ingredients at each port we stop at so we have no excuses not to have the freshest ingredients in our restaurants on board.”
Luke Mangan fans book cruises they know he will be on board (usually the Pacific island hopping or the Food & Wine themed cruises). When on board Mangan oversees lunch and dinner service as well as holding interactive cooking demons.
[This piece was originally published in 2014.]