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Under the cloche

Cruise food: What really goes on behind the scenes?

Cruise ship food is a key part of any ocean voyage but what goes on behind the scenes that brings the cuisine to our plates? P&O Cruises’ Food & Beverage Director spills the beans.

P&O Cruises’ food and drink offerings help elevate vacationers’ cruising experiences, no matter where they are in the world.

The popular cruise line boasts a range of restaurants and bars across the P&O Cruises fleet, with even more new eateries to be unveiled when latest ship Arvia launches in December.

As we tuck into our roasts, ragus and rum punches it can be easy to forget the hard work that goes on backstage to deliver the delights to our mouths.

Lukas Campestrini is the Food & Beverage Director at Carnival UK – the parent company of P&O Cruises – and he spoke to Sailawaze about his role and the story behind the gelato, gin and gnocchi onboard.

It turns out the director and his crack team of foodie pros (oo, wonder if they’re hiring?) do an awful lot of research into what makes our tastebuds tick, with the British taste palate always kept in mind.

“My team and I focus heavily on understanding our customers’ needs, what they like, what really works well, what doesn’t work so well and what we need to adjust,” he explains.

“We spend a lot of time looking at customer insights, market trends, customer satisfaction and the comments we receive to understand what new concepts are popping up in the UK and also around the globe.”

The trick is to maintain and adapt existing culinary concepts while designing or creating new ones to keep the cruisers content.

“Our ultimate goal is to deliver a food and beverage proposition that all our guests will love, while also keeping in mind the destinations they will be traveling to and bringing them to life,” says Campestrini of food on P&O Cruises.

The team must keep with the times, too – an overemphasis on the buffet, fattening fare or no meat-free options just won’t cut it these days, never mind increasing eco concerns.

“Over the years, I’ve seen the food and travel industries make a real shift towards healthy eating and food sustainability,” the F&B Director details.

“Now more than ever we need to be adaptable to ensure we cater to the needs of different diets and we need to be more agile and provide a greater range of food choices on our menu.

“We must develop menus that bring the destinations to life, especially in the cruise industry where in the past there was sometimes just a blanket approach.”

Consequently, P&O Cruises is hot on delivering unique dining experiences.

Most recent ship Iona paved the way for change regarding P&O Cruises food and Arvia will continue to blaze the trail.

“We introduced the first gin distillery at sea and developed our own gin, Marabelle, which was superbly received by our customers,” the expert elaborates.

“We introduced Olive Grove, which is an inclusive and additional dining option on board Iona, and then we worked with Snowflake to deliver an extraordinary gelato experience. These are just a few examples of how we’ve taken Iona forward to really cater to our guests.”

The chef game is pretty strong, too, thanks to P&O Cruises working with Local Food Heroes who help bring destinations to life – no clueless Brits messing up authentic patatas bravas or jerk chicken here!

“We work with Shivi Ramoutar for our Caribbean itineraries and Jose Pizzaro for our Mediterranean itineraries, who will have his own tapas selection in The Glass House giving guests the chance to really experience a Spanish style of food,” says Campestrini of P&O Cruises’ food menu.

In Norway, the cruise line collabs with Kjartan Skjelde who has developed a six-course tasting menu in The Epicurean – and savvy sailors should know to book these feasts in advance!

“It can be quite difficult to get in, as it’s sold out on nearly every cruise,” the director admits. “We pick up the ingredients in Stavanger, where all the elements are loaded on the ship before being prepared and cooked. It’s something many people haven’t experienced before and we are trying to do more of this, bringing local experiences to life.”

The key to pleasing Brits abroad, it transpires, is to “provide something new to them by delivering some great modern British flavors as well.”

It’s quite the process to work all this out, though – travelers can be tricky to sate when it comes to cruise ship food. First up is the concept followed by the design stages with the architects before the development process so they can find out exactly what customers would like to see.

Fun fact, P&O Cruises has a development kitchen on site in Southampton where the culinary development team is based full-time (mmm imagine how many tastings they get to enjoy…).

It’s not just what tastes good that matters, however; the ships’ different deployments need to be considered – apparently cruises to the other side of the pond can pose a greater problem for food on P&O Cruises.

“Sourcing fresh produce in Southampton is quite simple, and once the ship goes to Italy, Spain et cetera, maintaining the same quality is still relatively easy,” explains Campestrini.

“[However] as soon as we move to a Caribbean deployment, there’s a different level of expectation on Caribbean produce and their suppliers work to a very different specification. We really need to establish what the best suppliers are in the Caribbean or in the US.”

Once that side of P&O Cruises food is sorted, the team begins creating the menus, carrying out tastings (nom, nom, nom) and engaging focus groups before eventually rolling out the finished products.

“The same goes for our beverages,“ Campestrini goes on. “We think carefully about how our drinks will work alongside our food. There is a lot of training on board with our chefs to make sure everyone is familiar with the concepts.”

So, where is the best place onboard P&O Cruises’ ships to tuck into this glorious grub? For Campestrini the best eatery of all is The Keel & Cow – it’s on both Iona and Arvia.

“In this restaurant you can taste and sample a range of incredible steaks and they are really good value,” he gushes. “You can experience exceptional steak on board for a fraction of the price of the high street. ”

A standout dish? For this F&B Director it’s the Prime Minister Burger, which he dubs the best burger at sea – perhaps the only place a PM is proving a crowd-pleaser right now.

Campestrini is also a fan of Indian joint Sindhu: “We have completely refreshed [the new menu] and it really is fantastic.”

Fancy a tipple? The expert loves Anderson’s Bar on Iona which boasts a wide variety of gins. “I love our distillery on Iona, where you can watch the distiller, sit and have a chat with him as he’s really knowledgeable and then have your gin masterclass,” Campestrini enthuses.

Alternatively, head to Emerald Bar featuring “a cocktail menu that spans the entire globe” which will be slowly implemented across the fleet. “This has really elevated the cocktail experience that people had seen previously on P&O Cruises ships,” he explains.

Well, we don’t need telling twice – a G&T and a steak stat, please, these tastebuds are open for business.

Set Sail

Spain and Portugal with P&O Cruises

Duration: 14 nights

Where: Southampton | Vigo | Gibraltar | Alicante | Barcelona | Barcelona | Seville | Lisbon | Southampton

Ship: Iona

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Published 10.28.22