Focus on Culinary Travel 2015: Travel Weekly

Focus on Culinary Travel 2015: Travel Weekly

Cruise lines partner with celebrity chefs

By Rebecca Tobin

A lunchtime event last month to promote the new talent on the Norwegian Escape was star-studded — if you approach celebrity from a particular, gastronomic standpoint.

The boldface names included Philadelphia chef Jose Garces, who is lending his expertise and his name to tapas and Latin-focused restaurants on the Escape. And the creative team behind the acclaimed Pubbelly restaurants in Miami will craft a small-plate restaurant with global influences.  

Norwegian Cruise Line is prominently featuring the name Geoffrey Zakarian, a Food Network Iron Chef (like Garces) and the chef at the Lamb’s Club in New York, previously of the Blue Door at the Delano in Miami and Patroon in New York. His restaurant, Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian, is on the Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway.

At Royal Caribbean International, meanwhile, Miami chef Michael Schwartz has a Michael’s Genuine Pub in the center of the Quantum of the Seas, and Jamie Oliver, a British celebrity chef and star of “The Naked Chef,” has a Jamie’s Italian restaurant on the next deck.

Carnival Cruise Line is pushing forward with its partnership with “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” host Guy Fieri, who has his name on a poolside burger joint fleetwide. Some partnerships co-brand a ship’s restaurant to a well-known food brand: MSC Cruises has restaurants on its two newest ships in a partnership with Eataly, which is affiliated with Mario Batali, among others.

“Dining is a major trend, and obviously with the rise of the Food Network and ‘Top Chef’ and celebrity chefs and all these restaurants, there’s a very highly knowledgeable, educated consumer base that has a large choice of dining experiences to choose from,” said Frank Weber, Norwegian’s vice president of product development. “We’re really responding to the needs of our guests, and the expectations of our guests.”

At Norwegian, Weber said, the line will begin by conceiving of a dining concept, then search for an expert in that culinary niche with whom to partner. The line has worked with chefs behind the scenes.

Chef partnerships are not brand new. Seabourn, for example, had a collaboration with Charlie Palmer; Queen Mary 2 launched with a Todd English restaurant. Jacques Pepin is the executive culinary director at Oceania Cruises. And as ships, especially larger vessels, diversify their dining options and guests become more dining and brand savvy, the opportunities to co-brand are multiplying.

At a recent CLIA State of the Industry event, executives discussed the importance of co-branded partnerships to the rising “foodcation.”

“I think from a foodie’s perspective, those things are very nice, and each brand has a different focus based on what it’s going for,” Ken Muskat, executive vice president of sales for MSC Cruises USA, said in describing his line’s focus on culinary offerings. “The foodcation is extremely popular; very, very important.”

There are the beverage partnerships, such as craft brewer Wynwood Brewing and Mondavi wines on Norwegian, or even Starbucks on Royal Caribbean. Maria Miller, Norwegian Cruise Line’s senior vice president of marketing, said the partnerships were about “trying to bring new and different experiences.”

She added: “A lot of things are about making food more accessible to everybody. And bringing in some of the brand names I think helps address some of the misconceptions about cruising and give people confidence that, wow, these are names I know. … I know kind of what I’m going to expect, and the quality’s going to be great.”

Crystal Cruises has long operated a restaurant in partnership with Nobu Matsuhisha, the chef behind perhaps one of the best-known modern restaurant franchises. “He is personally involved,” said Crystal President and COO Edie Rodriguez. “It’s his chefs; they come onboard, he comes onboard. He’s coming on during my Presidents Cruise this July to cook a special Vintage Room dinner. It’s $1,000 a person, and it’s sold out.”

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