Celebrity Cruises’ Cuisine Honored at James Beard House

The dinner marked the first invite of cruise chefs to the historic home

John Suley, director of culinary operations for Celebrity Cruises, works at the James Beard House.

Who would have thought you could find scallop tartare, seared foie gras, baby lamb ribs, and Grand Marnier soufflés on board a cruise ship? Turns out, dishes like these are readily available at the onboard restaurants of Celebrity Cruises' ships.

James Beard-nominated chef John Suley and the team behind Celebrity Cruises’ cuisine (many of whom work aboard the ships) were honored last week at the James Beard House, and served more than 60 guests in the historic home at the "Passport to Luxury" dinner. It was the first time a chef from a cruise line had been asked to cook at the James Beard House.

What Celebrity Cruises tries to achieve, says its associate VP of food and beverage operations Scott Steenrod, is innovating cruise cuisine. "It’s been a very intentional approach," Steenrod said before the event. "What we saw in the cruise business was a lot of people doing the same things. They said, 'Let’s bring in a quote-on-quote celebrity chef, who can bring some creativity to the table to one of our restaurants.' We said, 'Let’s do it the other way.' Let’s  build a world-class culinary team in-house, who can deliver world class meals right here."

And who did they start with? John Suley, the director of culinary operations. An Alfred Portale mentee and two-time James Beard nominee (2007 for "Rising Star Chef of American Cuisine" and 2010 for "Rising Star Chef of American Cuisine"), Suley said he aims to make food that’s local (salmon from Argentina, king crab from Alaska) and scratch-made. "Everything now is pre-prepared," Suley said. "You’re not even a chef anymore. All you need is a razor to cut open a box — that’s not cooking. We do things a bit differently." Though there’s different challenges to cruise cooking (i.e. supply demands, getting in foods from producers, and space limits), Suley said there’s no real difference between land-based cooking and cooking aboard Celebrity ships.

Among Celebrity’s newest culinary adventures is, well, a global adventure. On the Eclipse, Silhouette, Summit, and Infinity ships, the Qsine restaurant aims to give travelers a world-class experience through dishes such as "sushi lollipops," croquettes, sliders, and Persian kebobs. Another restaurant success: the Lawn Club Grill on the Silhouette. Once Celebrity Cruises figured out how to grow grass on the roof, they created a rooftop grilling patio where passengers can grill their own slabs of meat and fish, including New York strip steak, filet mignon, veal chops, salmon, snapper, and kebobs. Said Suley, "[The club] is so simple and so interactive, and that’s what a food experience should be. It should be about culture, family, and friends, and we try to create those memorable experiences."

Suley and Steenrod said it was a huge honor to be invited to the James Beard House to show off their culinary chops. "It’s us from a culinary brand putting our stake in the ground," said Suley. "This is us saying, 'We’re serious contenders in the business, from a restaurateur standpoint, not just the  hotel [business]. We can rival any restaurant in the world. Tonight will be a good footprint to show who we are and what we can bring to the table. I think people are going to come away wowed from this dinner."

Guests at the "Passport to Luxury" dinner dined on Hamachi sashimi with blood orange-ginger espuma, line-caught halibut, and crepes ballon rouge, all paired with wines (and one sake) from Chanelle Duarte, Celebrity Cruises' master sommelier since 2007. Their cuisine, said Steenrod, showed off the best of what Celebrity has to offer.

"We continue to invest in our food department, because it’s the heart of who we are," he said.