Chefs at sea: What it's like to run a restaurant on a cruise ship

For many cruise passengers, dining is an essential part of the voyage. And cruise ships today serve up quality culinary options that provide guests with enriching experiences onboard.

For the expert (and celebrity) chefs who create the menus for these literal moving feasts, having a restaurant at sea affords an array of opportunities, as well as challenges (think safety, space and sourcing concerns). Here, they offer their perspectives on creatively cooking at sea.


Viking Star  placed third in our 2018 Readers' Choice Awards for Best Cruise Ship for Dining — Photo courtesy of Viking

Viking Star placed third in our 2018 Readers' Choice Awards for Best Cruise Ship for Dining — Photo courtesy of Viking

Viking’s Executive Chef David McDonald has worked on cruise ships for over 20 years. Aboard Viking's ocean and river vessels, the menus are specifically curated to reflect the itinerary, and they offer a selection of local food and wine specialties from each destination.

A few favorites include the porcini dry-rubbed ribeye, the Viking burger, Mamsen’s waffles and the Chairman’s Choice (poached salmon in a chive sauce). With multiple, stylish dining options aboard the ships, Viking ensures that passengers enjoy a variety of delectable meals, made in state-of-the-art kitchens that were developed for precision.

McDonald explains, "As a chef, it is inspiring to not only sail the world but to also work with unique ingredients and showcase flavors from every region. One of the greatest benefits to our guests on our ocean vessels is the ability to choose from seven dining options – all at no additional charge.

"No matter where you are in the world, you can enjoy freshly-made pasta in our Italian restaurant, a rotating regional dish in the main restaurant, and our extensive seafood bar in the World Café. Our guests also really enjoy the tasting menu at Chef’s Table, with meals inspired by Chinese, French, Scandinavian and other flavors from around the world, and expertly paired with wine for each course."

Regarding the innate shipboard challenges, he adds, "Safety is something every chef at sea (or on land) can relate to, and we are committed to the many facets of it while sailing – from importing ingredients to employee training and cooking practices.

"On a ship, your kitchen equipment is limited to electric stoves and ovens, because fire is a safety concern onboard any vessel. So, we must recreate cooking styles in unique ways. Regarding produce availability, we plan months in advance, so if there are shortages, we know about market fluctuations before they happen."