Chefs, please pack your knives and go…to Alaska onboard the Celebrity Solstice. Celebrity Cruises and Bravo have teamed up to bring guests a very unique culinary experience with Top Chef at Sea. Celebrity Cruises will be adding Top Chef elements to all sailings for the year, but there are four very special signature sailings that will be featuring the chef’testants.
From Under the Toque: Top Chef at Sea Signature Sailing Review is continued below…
Jason and I returned yesterday from the Top Chef at Sea signature cruise onboard the Celebrity Solstice in Alaska, which was truly a culinary delight. Our cruise featured four chef’testants: Nina Compton, Tiffani Faison, Paul Qui, and Brooke Williamson.
As a chef and foodie for life, I enjoyed partaking in all of the Top Chef events that were offered each day of the cruise. These events included public cooking demos, private cooking classes, private dinners, and a quickfire challenge with the four chef’testants; as well as a Top Chef night in the main dining room.
One of the main Top Chef activities guests could participate in were the cooking demos and classes that each chef had. Each chef’testant had a one-hour public cooking demo that was complimentary for all passengers to attend in the Solstice Theater. These demos were great opportunities for attendees to get an up close and personal look at how these talented chefs create a dish from start to finish and receive value tips on ingredients, cooking techniques, and cutting techniques.
Two lucky attendees (myself included and pictured in the header image above) were picked from the group at each cooking demo to come up on stage, don an apron, and help the chefs with their mise en place (ingredients that need to be prepped before cooking). At the end of the cooking demo, the assistants were able to keep the toque and the exclusive Top Chef at Sea apron that they wore during the demo. The Top Chef at Sea aprons were exclusives that only attendees of the private dinners and classes received as well as the assistants in the public demos.
In the private cooking classes with the chefs, fifteen attendees had the opportunity (for an additional fee) to watch as the chef demoed the techniques and cooking applications for one of their dishes. After the chef demoed their dish, attendees would pick a station that was already set up with their entire mise en place needed for the dish, and they would prepare their appetizer. After the demo was over, attendees had the opportunity to enjoy a three-course lunch with the chef, including the dish they themselves prepared.
Jason and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity to participate in Chef Paul Qui’s private cooking demo in Murano. We made a grilled trout appetizer that was served with tomatoes, fresh herbs, and a fish sauce beer dressing. This was such a lovely balanced dish that was light and refreshing on the palette because of the fresh herbs and citrus that are in the dish.
I usually tend to shy away from fish sauce in a lot of dishes, but it was nice to see that it is a good ingredient to use as it does impart a great flavor to a dish. The most important technique that I took away from the cooking demo was how Chef Qui cooked his fish. He showed us how to get perfectly crispy skin on our filet and how to touch your fish when it first hits the pan, that way all the skin will be crispy while the fish stayed flat.
Another Top Chef activity that guests had the chance to partake in was the private dinners with the chefs. At these dinners, guests got to enjoy a glass of champagne in Cellar Masters with the chef before heading to the speciality restaurant that was hosting the dinner. Each chef put together a four-course menu with wine pairings that consisted of dishes they cooked on Top Chef as well as dishes that can be found at their restaurants.
I had the opportunity to attend the private dinners of both Chef Paul Qui and Chef Tiffani Faison, which for me was the highlight of my trip. Some of the dishes that I got to enjoy were fried Brussels sprouts with prosciutto and peaches, coffee glazed beef ribs with fish sauce caramel, halibut chowder with crispy pork belly, and sirloin with frites and lobster gravy. It was so nice to spend three hours with the chefs and enjoying delicious food and good conversations with a great group of people. That truly is what cooking is all about.
Some of the Top Chef activities onboard had an additional surcharge like the private dinners and private cooking classes, but it was nice to see so many events that were complimentary for all guests to attend and take part in. One night, the dining room set aside its normal offerings and had a special Top Chef at Sea night in the dining room featuring signature dishes from all four chefs.
Some of the dishes that we enjoyed were the Kinilaw Filipino ceviche from Paul Qui, smoked salmon and forbidden black rice from Brooke Williamson, English pea soup from Nina Compton, and grilled trout from Paul Qui, pork tenderloin from Nina Compton, and spicy fried chicken from Tiffani Faison. It was very interesting to see how the galley took each chef’s recipe, that are meant for boutique restaurant use, and execute them for over 2,000 people. The Solstice does have an amazing culinary department to be able to deliver these chefs’ intricate dishes on such a large scale.
On the last sea day of the trip, guests had the chance to participate in the Top Chef at Sea Quickfire Challenge, similar to on the show, alongside the four chefs that acted as their coaches. In the first round each chef was assigned 2 participants that they would coach through the 15-minute round. Each team needed to peel six potatoes, grate one pound of cheese, juice 3 oranges, clean sprigs of rosemary, and whisk egg whites to form a meringue. Brooke Williamson’s team came out on top after judges caught that Tiffani Faison’s team neglected to peel two potatoes because their chef hid them as a prank.
The two winning participants were then able to choose the two chefs that they wanted to cook with them when they went head to head in the final 15-minute round. Here, they had to create a gourmet dish using either steak or fish. In the end, Tiffani Faison’s team reigned victorious with the cleverly titled “Celebrity Steak a la Solstice.”
If you are a foodie or love to cook, this is definitely the cruise for you. I hope that Celebrity Cruises will continue offering these Top Chef sailings because it is truly an amazing culinary experience. It was so inspiring being around so many people that love to cook and have a true passion for it. I think that we forget that food is a universal language that can bring people together, and sitting around the table enjoying good honest food with others is one of the best experiences that you can have.
Until next time, remember to enjoy life one bite at a time!
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: JASON LEPPERT