Sea Food

Peter Morrell meets Executive Chef Martin Grabenhofer on the Fred. Olsen cruise ship Black Watch

For many people one of the highlights of cruising is the fabulous food.  Full breakfast, morning coffee and biscuits, a five course lunch, traditional afternoon tea, a five-course dinner and, if you are still hungry, there’s always the midnight buffet.

Probably few passengers give much thought to how this massive culinary feat of producing a stream of such high quality  food bang on time for more than 900 people is achieved. On a recent Fred. Olsen cruise I went behind the scenes to meet the man who makes it all happen, executive chef Martin Grabenhofer.

Martin is a very genial and surprisingly laid back Austrian whose career of cruise ship cooking spans some twenty years. During that time Martin has seen quite a change in passengers’ tastes resulting in a preference for healthier food, with less sugar and salt and a growing demand for seafood.

He tells me that cruisers with allergies and intolerances are also on the increase and these are well catered for with dishes that are free from gluten, lactose and sugar and the availability of products such as soy and goat’s milk. These days, food safety is also paramount and only provisions from licensed suppliers are allowed on board, and for complete assurance, ingredients like eggs are pasteurised.

The kitchens are organised in the classic French brigade style with individual chefs responsible for soups, sauces, pastries etc. There are 56 chefs on board who come from India, Thailand and the Philippines, each bringing their own culinary expertise, such as authentic curry recipes and vegetarian dishes.

The entire operation runs 24 hours a day, with military precision, as meals must be delivered on time to hungry and discerning passengers. All bread, rolls, cookies and pastries are cooked on board and there are 22 menu sets, which means that on a three week cruise there will be something different to eat every day.

The recipes are all documented and there are photographs displayed in the kitchens showing how exactly how each dish should look before it is served. But it is not just looks that matter, at 6:00pm before the evening dinner service starts all the dishes are tasted so that any last minute adjustments can be made.

During the week I was on board Black Watch the quantity of food consumed was prodigious: 2.5 tonnes of meat, more than a tonne of fish and seafood, over 2 tonnes of vegetables, half a tonne of flour and nearly 500 litres of cream Despite these industrial size numbers the food itself is of the quality you would expect to find in any high class restaurant.  It’s well cooked, full of flavour, beautifully presented and the service is impeccable.

On my cruise there was enough choice to keep everybody happy.  The five course evening meal comprised an appetiser, soup, salad and a main course featuring either meat, fish or an inventive vegetarian dish; and if none of those took your fancy, grilled fish of the day was always available. There was a good selection of indulgent desserts, plus home-made ice creams that included a soya version and cheese and biscuits to round off the meal perfectly. Wonderful though all this food was, it was the spectacle of the midnight gala buffet that really had us gasping in awe at the skill of Martin and his team.  The table groaning with the most amazing sweet and savoury creations, presided over by a dramatic ice sculpted eagle, was really a sight to behold.

Such excellent food and attentive service are undoubtedly among the great attractions of cruising as it really doesn’t matter which port you visit or what the quality of restaurants are onshore you can always count on a good, well-prepared and safe meal when you get back onboard.

For more on Fred. Olsen Cruises visit www.fredolsencruises.com

Image of Martin Grabenhofer courtesy of Rachel Sloane Partnerships – www.rachelsloane.co.uk

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