Executive chef Uwe Stiefel has spent the best part of 25 years at sea. Set to mark a decade with local cruise ship company P&O Cruises, he has seen firsthand the boom in numbers of Aussies wanting to head to sea, resulting in a fleet expansion, with the Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl, Pacific Eden, Pacific Aria and new Pacific Explorer under his discerning eye.
“The ships got bigger and at the same time we offered more options for our guests including the restaurants,” he says. “But we always stick to the same vision we had at the beginning that we wanted to be an Australian product reflecting our guests who are locals.”
The cruise company’s latest ship, the Pacific Explorer, has 22 different restaurants and food outlets.
“A couple of weeks ago my executive chef and I calculated that every single night we are serving well over 300 different plates of food across the restaurants,” he says.
“Each ship is different so you can have many ideas but an executive chef might turn around and say you really can’t prepare the dish over a certain number of portions for whatever reason. We might come up with a recipe, try in 10 different ways on a plate, pick one that works, take a photo and then it is set in stone for the year.”
Working across so many food outlets, and for voyages that last weeks, presents logistical challenges beyond just learning to deal in tonnes rather than kilos.
“If you do a short cruise, three or four days, you are perfectly fine,” he says. “But on a 16 day cruise having fresh raspberries on the last day is impossible. On land you can call a supplier even in the middle of service but at sea you can’t. We had to tweak a lot of the things to make them work, and over time we refined the product and the success shows.”
Bucking the trend, the ship’s kitchen brigade make pretty much everything from scratch, from bread and pastries through to stocks and sauces. Dietary requirements are kept to a minimum by using identifiers on the menu to highlight vegetarian, gluten free, nut free and so on. But the choice on offer in the ships Pantry food concept is larger than ever.
“On all our ships we get away from that classic cruise ship buffet, where they walk along a line with a tray and fill up their plate, but probably won’t be able to finish half of it because they eat with their eyes first,” he says. “Now you have a lot more choice but at the same time food consumption has gone down. People are now much more conscious about what they choose.”