The Chef de Cuisine for 150 Central Park on Royal Caribbean's Allure and Oasis of the Seas, Maureen "Molly" Brandt, is going to be a contestant on the ninth season of Top Chef, which airs in November. Molly sat down for an interview with eater.com to discuss her life as a chef on a cruise ship.
Coming from working in restaurant kitchens on land, what has been the biggest challenge you've encountered cooking on a cruise ship? What's the biggest relief?
Sure, I miss gas heat, but that's surmountable. The biggest challenge of cooking on a cruise ship isn't the cooking at all, it's the inventory. On land you can just call up your favorite purveyors and order something different for the next days menu and it will be delivered in the morning. Here you have to plan a month to a month and a half ahead to get different products onboard. First I have to identify the exact product I want, and then contact our purchasing agents who then source it through a distributor at the best possible price. Then it's entered in to our inventory management system, and contracted for the Miami market. Then it's ordered by our onboard team 2 weeks in advance of the receiving date. It's a process! The biggest relief in cooking on a cruise ship is that I know absolutely that the cooks for the restaurant are going to show up every single day. Unless they intend to swim ashore I suppose!
What comes first when you design menus?
I have a really cerebral method to designing my menus for the ship. My first step is to figure out the focus ingredient of each dish for the menus. After a little over a year at sea I pretty much know what the tastes are of the demographic onboard, and that helps to determine what that focus ingredient will be. After that I decide on a theme per dish, and I don't limit myself, it could be a color, season, place, a classic dish.... really anything. Then I pick a the primary cooking method for each featured ingredient. After that I set up a grid, and work out the puzzle to achieve a balance of color, flavor, texture, and cooking method per each dish and tie it in to my decided theme.
If you could whittle down the list to the essentials, what would be your advice to a new chef at sea? What would be five things for chef Schwartz and his chef de cuisine Jamie Seyba to keep in mind as they prepare to execute the new menu with your help?
1. Have patience with the inventory.
2. Wear your track shoes.... Sometimes it's quite a distance between point A & B on the world's largest cruise ship.
3. Accept all assistance that is offered.
4. Invest in an alarm clock for those early United States Public Health internal inspection mornings.
5. Enjoy life onboard. Remember that this isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle.
What's the favorite chef hangout on board?
Probably the most popular place to decompress after work is to head to the deck 6 crew bar, located directly underneath the helipad. Some pretty epic parties are hosted there.
When chefs eat on board what do they prefer (venue as well as dish)?
Well officially we eat most of our meals in the Garden Cafe, which is the crew buffet. However my favorite thing to eat for lunch is the Kummelweck sandwich at Park Cafe. It's roast beef at it's finest on a salty caraway seed roll with special mustard and horseradish. I probably eat 3-4 a week.
How often do you go off-ship and what's the first thing you want to do and/or eat?
I have a very unique contract that allows me to be off the ship for little pockets of time, and when I fly in to Miami my first stop is invariably Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.... No, seriously, it is! I crave his heirloom tomato and burrata salad, and crispy hominy. Other than that I try to get out to as many different restaurants as possible to see what other chefs are doing, as I'm so isolated on the ship. I also may get off the ship at ports of call, and typically I go for lunch and an icy cold adult beverage!
You are a second officer's rank. What does that role entail?
Actually I'm a 2 1/2 stripe officer, which I find pretty hilarious as a chef, but don't worry, no one is saluting. All it really means is that I'm in a managerial position running 150 Central Park from top to bottom. It also allows me some nice perks onboard and most importantly for me, the ability to go virtually anywhere on the ship.
What do you think of the menus chef Michael has developed? Are there any dishes that stand out in your mind and why?
I'm a big fan of Michael's food, and only wish that he had a restaurant on my permanent ship the Allure of the Seas! The biggest standout for me is his roasted Harris ranch short rib with Swank Farms watercress, cipollini onions, and romesco. It is a huge combination of flavors and textures, and the execution is spot on. I'll take two please!
Is there any product you are interested in working with based on what chef Schwartz is sourcing from South Florida farms?
After tasting the Pak Choi last night from Swank Farms I will definitely be finding a way to integrate it in to my winter menus. The flavor is so complex and vibrant, I could have eaten just a plate of that and been happy.
The North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) has awarded Royal Caribbean NAMEPA’s 2011 Marine Environment Protection Award.
Royal Caribbean won the award for in recognition of the cruise line's efforts for preserving the marine environment as exemplified by a commitment to a program which has specific objectives set for environmental performance and improvement, and which is innovative and goes beyond minimum environmental compliance. Specifically, the judges noted Royal Caribbean's Save the Waves program as helping to change "Hearts and Minds" of its guests.
The 2011 Marine Environment Protection Award will be presented at NAMEPA’s Awards Dinner to be held in New York following NAMEPA’s seminar on Corporate Risk Management, which will focus on the need of the maritime industry to evaluate risk in a challenging operating environment.
Royal Caribbean's vice president of Environmental Stewardship, Jamie Sweeting, spoke about accepting the award, "We are delighted that the North American Marine Environment Protection Association has awarded Royal Caribbean with the 2011 Marine Environment Protection Award. Royal Caribbean is dedicated to helping to protect the marine environment, and we are committed to caring for the unique and beautiful places we visit throughout the world. It is an honor to be recognized by NAMEPA for our commitment to protect, conserve and support the environment."
To celebrate Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas' arrival in New Orleans, country music sensation Martina McBride will perform aboard the mega-ship on November 19.
McBride will perform in Voyager of the Seas' Lyric Theatre before the ship leaves New Orleans for a Western Caribbean sailing. Royal Caribbean noted that seating for the concert is only available to invited guests.
Royal Caribbean spokesman Harry Liu explained why the concert will be limited, "We wish we could invite everyone to join us in celebrating Royal Caribbean's return to New Orleans. Seating, however, is limited in Voyager of the Seas' Lyric Theater, so select-status guests of the Nov. 19 sailing and non-sailing VIPs will have priority to tickets for Martina's performance."
Royal Caribbean has announced that Michael Schwartz will create new menus for the 150 Central Park restaurant aboard Oasis of the Seas. Schwartz is the winner of the James Beard Award and will pick the menu for the signature restaurant. Schwartz is best known for his commitment to sustainable and seasonal food at Miami's Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.
Michael Schwartz will be responsible for creating new dishes at 150 Central Park restaurant and will also pull some of his favorite recipes from his restaurants in Miami, Florida and Grand Cayman.
Schwartz has hand picked his new Chef de Cuisine, James Seyba, to oversee the new menu's implementation and to engage with guests daily.
Royal Caribbean's Vice President of Food and Beverage, Frank Weber, discussed the decision to bring Schwartz onboard, "Royal Caribbean continually looks to deliver the Royal Advantage to its guests through diverse and innovative dining concepts and the freshest possible ingredients. By joining forces with chef Michael Schwartz at Oasis of the Seas' 150 Central Park, we are gaining a respected hometown partner who will help us to navigate and embrace the local agricultural community by hand-picking the most appropriate local small farms to supply ingredients for our premiere dining venue."
Chef Scwhartz is excited about the opportunity as well, "I am thrilled for the opportunity to collaborate with such an acclaimed global brand as Royal Caribbean and to work with them to further the important sustainable philosophies I care so much about. It is so exciting for me to bring some of my favorite farmers' local products onboard for the first time, adding to the already impressive food and beverage offerings available to guests on Oasis of the Seas."
The 2011-2012 cruise season will kick off in St. Kitts with Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas arriving on October 8th.
Serenade of the Seas, a cruise ship with a capacity of 2,450 guests, will dock at Port Zante and make two calls in October with a total of 16 stops for the season. Serenade of the Seas will bring a total of 40,640 passengers during the 2011-2012 season.
In addition, Port Zante will welcome Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas six times as well as Navigator of the Seas and her 8 calls.
At the Seatrade Europe in Hamburg, Germany the Seatrade Insider Cruise Awards 2011 were awarded and for Port of the Year, Falmouth was named the winner for 2011.
Falmouth opened earlier this year on the coast north of Jamaica. Established by the Port Authority of Jamaica in partnership with Royal Caribbean and opened in March, Falmouth Harbor Theme represents an investment of about U.S. $ 270 million, with a pier with two piers, shops, restaurants and transportation center. Later phases of development planned for the immediate future include attractions, hotels, residences and more shops and restaurants.
Falmouth, located on the north coast of Jamaica, is located between the popular destinations of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, making it a convenient point of entry and exit to the island. In addition, cruise ships have more than 60 shore excursions to choose from, including walks around the city.
Royal Caribbean is planning to hold it's semi-annual WOW Sale on October 4 & 5, 2011. WOW Sales are limited-time promotions Royal Caribbean runs a few times per year that offer some good deals on new bookings.
This WOW Sale is good on on all Royal Caribbean cruises departing on or after January 1, 2012 and includes
- $50 per cabin in on-board credit on three- to five-night itineraries
- $100 in credit for six- to nine-night itineraries
- $200 per cabin for 10-night or longer itineraries
- 50 percent reduced deposit paid on October 4 and 5, 2011
Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of Sales, Trade Support and Services, Vicki Freed, thinks the WOW Sale offers a lot of value to their customers, "Our two-day WOW! Sale will help drive traffic to our valued travel agents, whose expertise is important to the vacation planning process. This offer is an irresistible opportunity for vacationers to plan ahead for a winter getaway, spring break, or a family vacation anytime of the year. Guests will enjoy sailing aboard the world’s most innovative cruise ships; visiting popular destinations on exciting itineraries; and experiencing our renowned Gold Anchor Service – which together make up the Royal Advantage.”
Royal Caribbean is betting on the Mediterranean by announcing that they plan on expanding their presence in the region. Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein on a trip to Milan, Italy talked about the cruise line's plans, "In 2012 we will double our presence in Italy, France and Spain. The economic crisis is certainly not hurting our industry, but the margins for growth in the Mediterranean are still sensitive and so we want to be players to play this game. "
Just to support the development plans, Royal Caribbean is upgrading its fleet. Two new ships are scheduled to start operation in the coming years, being built in German shipyards instead of the Italian Fincantieri Meyer Wert shipyards. Goldstein, however, ultimately did not not close the door to future ships being built in Italy, "We know the value and experience of Fincantieri . So, as we say, we are 'open minded' and will reevaluate when the opportunity for new orders we will certainly take into account also the opportunities that may come from Italy. "
What seemed like a gamble, when Royal Caribbean ordered and built two ships 220 thousand gross tons, but has been a success. "But this is our strategy," Goldstein says "The customer has any kind of offer to choose independently. So it is the same with ships, with a range of very different size."