It is a brigade of hundreds of cooks that prepares the meals of the almost 600 passengers aboard the Marina, one of the ships of the luxury company Oceania Cruises, which this time crosses the Baltic Sea, between Denmark and Estonia.
But there is almost no hamburger, pizza and pasta. On the menu are Pacific lobsters, wild Finnish salmon and even wagyu meat straight from Japan.
For ten days, the lunches and dinners on board are worthy of a starred restaurant.
The saffron in the recipes comes from Castilla-La Mancha and even the French flour is ground to exact specifications passed down by the kitchen staff before it is shipped to ships.
To accompany afternoon tea, passengers can order in the cabin a board of French DOP cheeses (of protected origin) or strawberries covered in Belgian chocolate. In one of the bars, a menu with a dozen different martinis to drink as an aperitif before (or after) dinner.
In recent years, cruise operators have started to focus on gastronomy as a way to attract a new niche of more demanding (and well-heeled) passengers — and finally leave behind the idea of the “eat all you want” buffets that made popular ships famous. in the past.
For this, they hire chefs with experience in renowned French cuisines, invest in local suppliers that can deliver fresh ingredients every day, build cellars with the best wines on the market and even count on curators to guarantee the quality of the menus.
Two years ago, Silversea Cruises hired food journalist Adam Sachs, former director of the prestigious American food magazine Saveur, to create a program with the best gourmet experiences between land and sea.
Named SALT (Sea & Land Taste), the aim of the new format is to seek unique meals, with renowned chefs, visits to producers or eventually even lunch with a vineyard owner in Sicily overlooking Mount Etna.
“I think of the experience the same way I would prepare to tell a story: what are the cultures and traditions of the places we are visiting, who are the best people to meet and prepare our food?” explains Sachs.
Two decades ago, Oceania Cruises established a fruitful partnership with the famous French chef Jacques Pepin, who revolutionized gastronomy in the US — the American version of Claude Troisgros, with TV shows and great fame.
In addition to an eponymous restaurant on the company’s ships with dishes from his entire career, Pepin has also signed, since 2012, the La Reserve menu, an exclusive onboard experience (for 12 people) that combines dishes created especially by him with selected wines. by the prestigious Wine Spectator magazine — which also created tastings for the ships, such as a champagne vertical.
The care with the gastronomy goes to the most meticulous details. “We import Elle & Vire butter from Normandy to ensure we serve the best croissant and pain au chocolat,” says Alexis Quaretti, the company’s director of culinary development.
In one of the restaurants, Toscana, the tableware has the signature of the Versace brand. There is also an olive oil specialist who suggests labels to accompany the starter breads.
“We want to create the best hotel restaurants on the water,” said Howard Sherman, president and CEO of Oceania.
And the concern goes beyond ships. The airlines have been working with local chefs and experts to offer unique experiences on the ground, too, when passengers can get out and experience the cities — and their cuisines.
One of the programs offered by Oceania on the small Swedish island of Gotland, for example, involves a visit to Lilla Bjers, a small organic farm, where visitors can discover and harvest the products that will be used for the recipes they will eat for lunch.
Activities also include visits to markets, gastronomic tours or reservations at the best local restaurants. On the ship, the Culinary Center is a kitchen-school where you can learn how to prepare recipes from cultures related to the voyage, such as cured salmon or kanelbulle, a sweet Swedish cinnamon bun.
With an eye on changing consumer taste behavior, Oceania has also just announced new gastronomic concepts, such as a French bakery and a pizzeria with naturally fermented dough, which should be incorporated into its new ship, the Vista, to start sailing. already next year.
“We’re keeping an eye on everything that happens in the food world to incorporate new movements,” explains Sherman.
More vegetarian dishes, for example, in addition to specialty coffees and low-alcohol cocktails, are expected to be more present on board from 2023.
“This update and the quest to serve the best food requires much more work and dedication, also a substantial investment”, explains the president of Oceania.
For many cruise lines, the gamble appears to be paying off. They realized that the best way to hook their customers is through the stomach.
The journalist traveled at the invitation of Oceania Cruises