How fitting that the week I’m away on a cruise ship, Top Chef‘s last episode takes place on a cruise ship. While the “cheftestants” were trying to cook within the confines of a galley, I was trying to find something that had flavor. Happily, I can report such food exists—at least aboard Holland America’s ms Eurodam. When possible, eat in the dining room, a more refined alternative to the Lido deck. Considering most of the cooking staff is Asian (Indonesian and Filipino), Asian-themed entrées were particularly savory, including a bowl of Soba noodles I had for lunch. The best Lido deck meals I had were breakfast—take advantage of eggs to order, not out of a carton but freshly cracked over the grill. Hashed browns were crispy and even the turkey bacon had its merits.
It’s understandable that the flavors onboard are, shall we say, broad. They’re trying to appeal to a majority of the passengers—numbering 2,104—who are mostly of retirement age. The last thing they need is a rush to the medical ward for a spicy lamb curry. When in doubt, pizza is a good fall-back. It’s not Jersey but it works. And ask for your meat to be cooked medium rare—in all the rush, it may end up medium.
On Tom Colicchio’s blog, the head judge explains that the challenge of cooking on a ship is procuring the proper vessels and subvessels. He also refutes the charge that ship kitchens are subpar:
Lizzie and co. complained about the difficulty of cooking in a ship’s kitchen, and someone tweeted something to me about the Top Chef cruise and not expecting much in the way of the food because it would be prepared in induction ovens and on electric stoves. Nonsense. At the end of the day, you the chef have to control heat, and of course you can do that with induction ovens and electric ranges. I used to cook my TTD Tuesday night tasting menu dinners on an electric range. It was not a problem. Cruise ships have beautiful kitchens, and I had no reason to expect less than excellence from the chefs in this challenge.
I would say the other challenge is resisting the temptation for third and fourth helpings. It’s all out there and you can order as many entrées as you desire. For some passengers, surf-and-turf is not enough, so they end up requesting extra servings of lobster, making it a surf-and-turf-and-surf. While waiting for a taco, the woman in front of me had a steward weigh her plate down with a ton of sour cream and melted cheese. Who knows, maybe she burned it all off at the gym. Yes, cruise ships have gyms. The great thing is, they’re never crowded.