Hubert Burda Media

All Aboard for Fine Dining?

With acclaimed chefs on board, you may now have a food-cation without leaving the comfort of your luxury liner.

Picture this: you have a free evening in California’s Bay Area and want to eat at a lauded fine-dining restaurant. Everyone suggests The French Laundry. However, chef Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-star French restaurant is so popular, reservations run out a month in advance. And no walk-in guests are accepted.

The same is true for chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurants pretty much anywhere in the world, from New York to Perth. But on a vacation to Alaska on Crystal Cruises, you get to eat at Silk Road — the renowned chef’s only formal restaurant on the seas — or grab a bite at his Sushi Bar. Nobu has been rocking the at-sea dining scene with the cruise company since 2003.

Nobu’s Black Cod

Welcome to the water world where you’ll set sail with gourmet food and fine wines.

If you’re still keen on an up close and personal experience with Keller’s signature traditional steakhouse-style Lobster Thermidor and creamed spinach, then it’s a Seabourn cruise for you.

Eating well at sea doesn’t always have to be formal fine dining. If you crave a good old burger with fries, there’s American chef-author Guy Fieri’s Guy’s Burger Joint on ships from the Carnival Cruise Line. After all, few can resist a “Donkey Sauce” or “Brown Sugar Barbeque Sauce” burger to be eaten by the poolside on a balmy evening.

Other big names in the cruise cuisine space include Mark Best of Marque restaurant — which has recently closed for good — that was considered, well, one of the best in Sydney. In his new Bistro on Dream Cruises ship Genting Dream, he promises fresh Australian produce sourced from small artisanal sellers. And all of this presented with an Asian twist to please the palate of its clientele.

Mark Best’s Contemporary Western Dishes

Another Aussie, Curtis Stone, has recently introduced his concept restaurant Share for “food that creates happiness around the table” onto Princess Cruises.

Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar promises Indian food beyond chicken tikka masala on Sindhu, the Asian restaurant on P&O’s cruises from Britain, his home ground, while another Michelin chef Marco Pierre White is associated with P&O’s Café Jardin. P&O clearly takes the importance of gourmet experiences seriously, with BBC-famed James Martin lending his name to The Cookery Club, for guests to cook and eat with celebrity chefs.

Fine French cuisine has come to the seas with Jacques on Oceania cruises, headed by James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jacques Pépin. As culinary director, he oversees training of all his executive chefs and occasionally leads cruises, but makes sure that his signature dishes are always available — Poulet Rôti, anyone?

And Jamie’s Italian is as popular on water as it is on land, with Jamie Oliver’s restaurant on Royal Caribbean International cruises. Sometimes, the chefs are not high profile and Michelin-starred, but popular in their own way, as on Celebrity Cruises.

Jamie’s Italian On The Waves

For instance, on Celebrity Constellation, contestants and judges from the Top Chef TV show come aboard for cooking workshops and interaction with guests. And Holland America even has a special MasterChef cruise to the Caribbean, where stars from this popular reality show sweat it out in the ship’s kitchens, instead of the studio’s. And guests get to enjoy the show live, take selfies with their favourite contestants and learn some tips and tricks of the trade.

Most of the time, celebrity chefs simply lend their name to a restaurant and expertise in planning the menu, without actually being on board. And while their restaurants are open at all sailings, there are also special chef-led food cruises offered sometimes, where guests get to enjoy the star’s company and cooking.

This sailing could also include cooking classes conducted by the chef, which begin with visits to local markets for fresh and native ingredients. Nobu himself occasionally gets on board for cooking workshops, book signings and premium sake tasting events.

Jacques Pepin Himself Occasionally Leads Cruises

Some cruises are also themed entirely around gourmet food — this includes chocolate, cheese, fine wines and beer. Some of the ships from Flavours of Europe have as many as 15 speciality restaurants, including a couple that offer bespoke menus from Relais & Châteaux.

Apart from on-board dining, many companies also now offer food excursions at various ports of call. When you sail with Azamara Club Cruises, you get to “Cruise Global, Eat Local” in over two dozen European ports: Think paella in Spain and duck confit in France.

Cruises from Regent Seven Seas have a similar concept, where shore excursions include wine tasting in Monte Carlo and cheese making in Sorrento. Other kinds of offshore excursions offered by cruise companies include visits to vineyards, chocolate makers and artisanal bakers.