Culinary Travel: Dining Like a Celebrity
Jan 17, 2018 | 11:53 am
Celebrity cruise line’s reputation for great cuisine is on full display aboard Celebrity Equinox
The Galley Tour on Celebrity Cruise’s Equinox was well-attended despite this being a picture-perfect day in the Caribbean. Perhaps 300 people gave up their time in the sun to come see how Celebrity does it: For years, the cruise line has maintained the high ground for its culinary excellence, its passengers drawn back to Celebrity ships year after year for precisely that reason. Celebrity can rightfully claim that it started the trend in Cruise Ships hiring Celebrity Chefs. The great Michel Roux, French-born owner of London’s Waterside Inn, came on board for 15 years directing the culinary offerings on board Celebrity’s ships. Roux made over 100 visits to coach the Chefs aboard each cruise ship. He even trained the most promising newcomers at his restaurant. Even though it’s been ten years since Roux departed, the standard of excellence he demanded remains intact.
Aside from the Dining experience, there are Cake Decorating demonstrations, Wine tastings and even a workshop run by Glassware maker Reidel. And everywhere you turn there are great things to eat.
Guests at the Galley Tour listened to the Hotel Director Christophe Belaubre rattle off a list of the quantity of food that had been loaded on the ship during its turnaround day in Miami: 14,542 lbs. of beef…12,450 lbs. of potatoes…32,652 lbs. of fresh fruit…12,000 fresh eggs…48,659 lbs. of vegetables…19,000 tea bags. On a single day at sea, the Equinox Galleys will prepare and serve 16,000 dishes for the 2852 passengers and the 1246 crew members on board. This requires a brigade of no less than 650 people. 3 Executive Sous Chefs and 1 Executive Pastry Chef command 162 Sous Chefs, 85 kitchen cleaners and a waitstaff of 400 people. And heading up the entire operation is Executive Chef Alexander Capello, of a man perfectly suited to run all 10, count ‘em, restaurants aboard the 122,000 ton ship.
Executive Chef Capello was born into a food family. In Corvara in the Italian Alps, he grew up in a hotel that his mother’s family owned. He caught the family cooking bug from an uncle who ran the hotel’s kitchen. Corvara and nearby Bolzano are in the German-speaking part of Italy where Italian is actually a second language. There, Italian food takes a back seat to German cooking. The chef baked hearty breads, grew up loving Austrian cured meats and had a special fondness for foraging in the Alps for seasonal food, most especially mushrooms. At age 23, Chef Capello left Corvara and headed to Milan, uncertain if he really wanted a life in the kitchen. However, a stint at Milan’s Four Seasons Hotel under famous Chef Sergio Mei cemented his career choice.
It was under the chef’s tutelage that Capello developed his love for pasta of all kinds. “It’s easy and adaptable”, says the Chef, who counts his Lobster Ravioli as a point of pride as well as a Seafood Pasta the chef makes with his favorite of all pastas, linguine. From Chef Mei too came Capello’s love of fresh herbs which he uses in abundance. 20 fresh herbs are brought aboard, some 20 lbs. of each per 10-day voyage. Equinox has enough climate-controlled food storage in place to assure freshness throughout each voyage. Nevertheless, there are challenges: A recent turn around in Miami left port without any yogurt whatsoever. Celebrity was not alone in this yogurt crisis. No cruise ship left port with yogurt. Fortunately, Capello was able to find yogurt at Equinox’s first port of call.
The young chef had wanderlust and took full advantage of Four Season’s program which allowed him to move every two years to another Four Seasons property. After Milano came London, then Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. Capello ‘opened’ the Four Seasons in Damascus and to this day laments the tragedy of a Syria he does not recognize. From there, he was assigned to Maui, Hawaii and then Lanai before ending up in Nevis in the West Indies. For a chef, such a life is an exploration of food, experiencing cuisine all over the world, incorporating it into his own repertoire. This made him a perfect candidate for Celebrity Cruises. After a fellow chef told him that Celebrity maintained standards as high as those at the hotel chain, the highest in the hotel business, Chef Capello applied. He was quickly hired. His international experience makes him the perfect person to watch over all the offerings on Equinox and all the cuisines they cover from Japanese Sushi, to Asian Fusion to Steakhouse and Italian specialties. For four months a year, the chef goes home to his wife in Bergamo, Italy. But he doesn’t stop cooking. He bakes bread, focaccia being a favorite, and makes risottos for get-togethers his and his wife host. He also explores the local food scene for fresh ideas and inspiration. Meanwhile, at sea, Equinox’ restaurants run at full speed ahead.
Long ago, passengers on ships travelled in ‘classes’. And those classes dictated where, what and with whom you would dine. This was largely abandoned when Cruises replaced ocean crossings. To make the whole experience sound less like it belonged to the elderly few, Cruise ships put everyone together. But lately, lines have been drawn. On Equinox, passengers in Suites have their own dining room, Luminae, an oasis of calm at their disposal breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then there’s Blu, a restaurant given over to passengers travelling in Aqua Class, with spa-themed perks and free access to the Spa. Blu alone may be worth the price admission to Aqua Class. This superb restaurant is not only beautiful to look at, it serves Spa cuisine and a great deal more at both breakfast and lunch. Aqua Class should not be confused with Concierge Class, which has twice as many cabins all located in more desirable locations than standard balcony cabins. Concierge Class and everyone else on the ship dines in the Silhouette restaurant, a vast two-story room with an eye-catching wine tower holding hundreds of bottles of wine. It’s a lively place which at least one suite passenger preferred over the more sedate Luminae.
For virtually all-day eating, Oceanview Café, high up in the ship has every conceivable cuisine all going at once. On a ship with a crew made up of 72 nationalities, there’s almost as much variety at its buffet stations. Indian, Mexican, Asian, Pizza, a Carving Station, Salad and Soup Bars are full of food freshened almost constantly. And if you feel peckish at any point, Room Service runs 24/7 although there is a small cover charge for deliveries between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM. Almost as constantly, the Pool Grill above the outdoor swimming pool produces hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and French fries. In the serene, enclosed Spa pool is the Aqua Spa Café which is billed as Healthy Alternative fare at breakfast and lunch. At Caffe al Bacio on deck 5, pastries and gelato and specialty coffees are on offer and Gastropub food can be found at the Gastro Bar one deck below. Both operate from noon until 11 or 12 p.m.
Now to the Specialty Restaurants. You would think that on a ship with as many options as the ones listed, there’d be no need for alternative dining of any kind. But Culinary variety and excellence are hallmarks of Celebrity. Aboard Equinox, there are four options. What each provides is a smaller scale experience at table, kitchens devoted just to that one venue, and chefs who know their way around whatever culinary style they are cooking. So it is that Japanese Sushi chefs are on duty at Sushi on Five at both lunch and the dinner hour. Meanwhile, Silk Harvest, the other Asian spot, delivers generous portions of pan Asian food that most Americans will find both familiar and seasoned for their palates. Tuscan Grille is a glorious space overlooking the stern of the ship. This is Celebrity’s salute to Italy although it is likely best known for its steaks and abundant portions of beautiful pasta.
Finally, there’s Murano. The equivalent to any Fine Dining restaurant on land, this is it on Equinox. Amazing menus and corresponding wine lists make this one of the most popular places on the ship. It’s also home to the Chef’s Table, an extraordinary experience which combines a galley visit and spectacular meal with course by course wine pairings. The catch? All of the specialty restaurants require an additional fee. These range from the cost of a Sushi roll to the full-on five course tasting menu at Murano with wine pairings at $279.00 per couple or $199.00 a person. Truth be told, many travel agents use passes to these restaurants as perks for their best customers. There are also Celebrity dining packages which allow access to several venues at a discount. With so much good food available on board, you can skip the Specialty Dining altogether. Although there’s no question Specialty Dining adds another culinary dimension to any voyage.
Passengers aboard Celebrity Equinox first marvel at how much food there is, in so many locales, for so many tastes. But what is really surprising to one and all is how incredibly good it all is, how the quality never varies from its perch of excellence. The food, the service, the selections all explain why Celebrity has one of the highest Repeat Passenger counts in the entire Cruise industry. For information on Celebrity Equinox and all other Celebrity cruises go to www.celebritycruises.com
Note from Monte:
While I was on board Celebrity Equinox, I wrote two posts for Chewing The Fat. If you’d like to read even more about my Celebrity Equinox cruise, here are the links….
And one more thing about Celebrity…
Of all the great culinary experiences aboard Celebrity, Staff Writer Monte Mathews was most impressed by this one: A dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, after just two days at sea, he wrote on his comment card: “I would give anything for an Everything Bagel”, in lieu of the perfectly fine plain bagels offered on board. Much to his astonishment, the next morning and every morning thereafter, a perfect Everything Bagel was brought to his breakfast table. Mathews added: “To me, this said more about how much Celebrity cares about the tiniest detail in each guest’s culinary experience aboard this magnificent ship.”