The dishes served at every meal on board Crystal Serenity are the undisputed stars of the show. They are the headline act to be savoured, discussed and enjoyed – as would the lead actor or actress in a stage or film be. Occasionally guests acknowledge the chefs that create them, like they would the director of a show that they enjoyed. But few think of the backstage team that has made it all possible. Usually nameless and faceless, the role they play is essential and crucial to success.
I am fascinated by what goes on behind-the-scenes and when I get the chance to be shown around, I leap at it. Whilst on board Crystal Serenity on a 12-night Mediterranean cruise such a tour was arranged for a small group of travel journalists.
We met outside the man dining room and were ushered through it to the entrance to the kitchens by Tayfun Aybar, the cheerful and enthusiastic Food and Beverage Manager who comes from Turkey. He guided us through the vast complex of kitchens, preparation areas and storage rooms that stretched across sections of three decks.
First he introduced us to Werner Brenner, the Chef De Cuisine. As it was ten o’clock he apologised that the kitchens would still be messy as the cleaning process from breakfast that had just ended was underway. His idea of untidy is different to mine, as all around us were shiny stainless steel work stations and gleaming floors. The only sign of mess was in the dish washing area where the last few plates were having remnants of food removed before going into the dishwashers.
Food waste is sent into a compressor and then down to a lower deck where centrifugal force is used to remove all the water. It is then compacted and burnt in incinerators which create energy that drive equipment back in the kitchens. Werner told us that glass, cans and plastic waste from the kitchens and around the ship are compressed and offloaded to recycling companies in various ports. Something I observed at various ports we called on.
He also told us that:
- There are 105 kitchen staff (75 preparing or cooking and 30 cleaners).
- This team produce over 1,600 meals every breakfast, lunch and dinner for both passengers and crew.
- The recipes and dishes are the same on both Crystal ships and are developed by the teams who work together developing them. The most recent major program being the creation of the “Modern Cuisine” range using the latest in cooking technology that was created in partnership with influential chefs using this art.
- Usually the kitchens work through a rotation of menus and dishes based on a cruising season and area. For example there is a menu that is rotated for the Mediterranean and another for the Caribbean. However, during the three month world cruise they work on a longer rotation cycle to avoid any repetition during the three months.
- They make everything from scratch and do not buy in pre-prepared or part cooked foodstuffs like sauces. The only thing I spotted during our tour that came as a pre-made item was cookie dough from Jimmy’s in New Jersey.
- The most popular dish is the lobster, closely followed by beef tenderloin. The evening of my tour both were due to be on the menu and he guaranteed us that the lobster would have more orders. I felt obliged to have it for my meal that evening – and it was remarkable.
- They cater for kosher groups, when pre-arranged, for up to a maximum of 36 passengers. During the tour I saw specific areas and ovens dedicated to this service.
- Most of the ingredients used by the kitchen are supplied via central suppliers who are responsible for ensuring consistent quality and shipped by container to the ship in key replenishment ports. All meat, for example, comes from an agent in the United States who will source from other regions. The exception is fish which is mostly bought fresh rather than come on board frozen.
Food Preparation Rooms
In addition to touring the kitchen, we visited and spoke to the teams responsible for preparing items like vegetables, meat and fish ready for the chefs as well as visiting the bakery.
The chefs place their orders for the meat cuts, fish, vegetables and fruit they need for the following day. The preparation teams largely work overnight to prepare these for the next day. With the exception of peeling potatoes and squeezing orange juice which are both done by machines, everything is done by hand. So a massive job.
We met the appropriately named Benjamin Fischer from Germany that is the one person on board that prepares all the fish. He told us one of the perks of his job is that he does not have to share a cabin due to the smell of constantly working with and preparing fish!
We then went down a deck and met Rene Salvana, the Provisions Manager from the Philippines. He showed us through the maze of stores which included separate ones for dairy, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, ice cream and yoghurt and two dry stores (one for items like rice and pasta and another for canned and bottled goods).
Each store has someone in charge of it who is responsible for the cleanliness and inventory, including where everything is located in these vast rooms crammed full of goods in what felt to me in completely random order. They monitor expiry dates and usage to plan for when items need to be ordered.
28 containers of stores are often loaded during one day at the start of a season like the Mediterranean.
Alcohol and wine
We were shown the storeroom for spirits, which usually holds around two months of supplies. The Chief Sommelier, Bart Dufour from Estonia, showed us around the wine storage. It holds between 30,000 and 35,000 bottles including those included in the all-inclusive fare and the premium Connoisseur Collection of more specialist wines that have to be purchased.
While the all-inclusive wines are stored in boxes, the premium Connoisseur wines are stored in specially designed wine racks that are angled to make sure the wine stays in contact with the cork but will not fall out during rough weather.
- Between 300 and 350 bottles of wine are consumed every day by the 1,000 passengers.
- Around 20% of consumption is champagne and the equal amounts of red and white wine from the all-inclusive collection. However, 70% of the Connoisseur Collection drunk is red.
- Consumption of wine is highest when the ship is doing its Mediterranean season, which is a mixture of it being more integral to the culture and as passengers return from excursions and trips in ports where they see wine drinking.
- A wine from the specific region or country is included when relevant in the all-inclusive choices when in those ports.
- Orders are placed two to three months ahead of when it is needed to meet the delivery schedule the ship works to.
- During every cruise they run a seven-course meal in The Vintage Room for 14 guests. It costs over $200 per person and the food is cooked by the Executive Chef and he matches wines for each course. Several times a year there is a $1,000 a head special event with a renowned land-based chef and very exclusive wines.
A fascinating tour which gave great insights to the people and processes behind the show that is the fantastic food served on Crystal Cruises. It is a leader in cruising when it comes to the quality, choice and innovation in dining. Seeing the back stage makes it even more impressive. If you ever get a chance to do the tour you should leap at the chance.
For more of my articles, videos and photographs about Crystal Cruises visit tipsfortravellers.com/crystal
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of Crystal Cruises on a 12-night Mediterranean cruise on the Crystal Serenity