Top Chef Win Validates Cruise Line Culinary Program, Our Focus

We talk a lot these days about destination focused cruise lines, sailing the rivers and oceans of the world, and rightfully so: I like them better.  This is my blog.  I get to write and spin any story any way I want to. Nothing against ships loaded with something for everyone, quite the contrary: they open up the world of travel in a great big wonderful way.  Still, whatever the topic, here you will find it spun in a positive way with an effort to provide good information readers can use to make good decisions concerning cruise vacations. Case in point: to downplay the culinary efforts of chefs at sea, on any size ship, no matter where it sails, would be unfair. All have their challenges, all seem to work hard producing their own version of excellence and those efforts do seem to resonate with us consumers.  When a culinary program or chef wins a notable award, we take notice and you should to.  They don’t hand these things out like the trophy-sized hunks of plastic I have collected over the years just for participating.

Master Chef Rudi SodaminSuch is the case with Rudi Sodamin, longtime master chef consultant for Holland America Line who was named Best Cruise Line Chef in Porthole Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Awards for 2015. The annual awards are chosen by Bill Panoff, the magazine’s top editor and publisher, who first named Sodamin best chef in 2011.

“The words cruise and cuisine practically go hand in hand, and today’s cruise guests expect the very best of dining at sea,” said Panoff of Sodamin’s selection.

That’s nice, we like Porthole Cruise Magazine, have been subscribers for quite some time and look forward to each bi-monthly issue.  That I occasionally write for the publication makes talking about it here a pleasure. Knowing many of the other writers who are included in the publication as well and knowing them to be knowledgeable sources makes it fun to read also; Porthole does not just pull any schmo off the street and have them pen a little something about cruising.

“For more than 20 years, Rudi Sodamin has managed to keep up with — and exceed — those expectations in terms of innovation, quality and excellence,” added Panoff.  That’s increasingly important when a number of cruise lines have partnered with celebrity chefs and rolled out a version of what they are known for on their ships.  Initially, that’s a wonderful addition to the standard fare. Unfortunately some also fail to produce a consistent quality product from ship to ship and those branded efforts, while enjoyable, fail their creator.  That Holland America Line has put so much effort into this, internally, is significant and a solid choice by Panoff on behalf of Porthole Cruise Magazine.

Sodamin’s selection as Top Chef by Porthole seems an easy call really, they guy has a pedigree as long as your arm, winning multiple awards from a variety of respected associations and trade organizations. Of the 19 cruise lines we talk about here on a regular basis, Holland America Line has one of the most impressive culinary programs of all; highlighted with their Culinary Arts Center.

This is a one of a kind, ongoing effort to bring cooking skills and techniques to Holland America Line guests through a variety of efforts, focused around a full display kitchen on each ship.  Cooking classes, demonstrations, wine tasting and party planning are all available on any Holland America cruise with the same commitment as the line has for its Dancing With The Stars program, also on every voyage.
“For 14 years, Sodamin has directed the evolution of fine dining and unique menu options at Holland America Line through his role as culinary consultant,” said a rightfully proud Holland America Line in a press release, adding that their pick “is internationally recognized as a food authority and one of the hospitality industry’s most innovative chefs.”

Sodamin’s ideas have been instrumental in the development of Holland America Line’s interactive onboard culinary-arts program. Sodamin also chairs Holland America Line’s Culinary Council, which was formed to enrich the premium line’s culinary program and is composed of top international chefs.

HAL Culinary - 09

The key point here is that Holland America Line has gone out of its way to provide a rich culinary experience by embracing all they do internally.  Taking that critical first step has made their partnering with Circo Restaurants a credible one that has delivered a top dining at sea experience, very much like that which I enjoyed not long ago.

Circo New York - 12

Getting to know Circo New York Executive Chef Alfio Longo during the Seabourn Food And Wine Cruise, I would vouch for his work without hesitation.  That Holland America partnered with parent Le Cirque Restaurants to bring that experience to sea and do so with an onboard culinary program is of value. That the effort pulls it off in a way just as good as when I had lunch with Chef Alfio not long ago in New York speaks volumes.

This is a depth of quality we don’t often see as some other cruise line efforts have barely moved beyond the gargantuan task of feeding thousands of people.

Too much information?  You’re reading the wrong blog.
The entire topic of “food” is such a subjective topic that it is often difficult to know which of the many resources available to cruise travelers is one to count on.  Some menu item I love, you might hate.  A particular style of service that resonates with you, I might not care for.

At the end of the day, what counts is how much time, effort and resources a cruise line puts into their culinary efforts.  Check Holland America Line off the list as one that does it right.