Culinary Adventure at Sea
By Katherine Spiers; Photos by Colin Young-Wolff
Seabourn Odyssey is a luxury cruise ship equipped with all kinds of amenities suited to relaxation at sea, whether you want to be entertained in a nightclub, get treatments in a spa, or lounge by a pool or on your private stateroom patio. With a high staff-to-guest ratio, even the most whimsical wishes can be granted!
But most important, Seabourn offers an array of dining options, day or night, whether the dish you desire is on the menu or not. Because, if given the choice, you wouldn’t want to go to sea without excellent food. And Seabourn Odyssey offers a gorgeous array of dining options, whether you wish to be served in your suite or at one of the ship’s restaurants, from formal to poolside
There are no seating plans or assignments: Guests are welcome to dine whenever and wherever they wish (and real Ossetra caviar is always available). It’s a system that keeps the staff on their toes but also allows for à la minute cooking and the occasional culinary flight of fancy. The man at the helm, so to speak, of all this gustatory wonder is Chef Raj Adhikary.
Born in Kolkata, India, Chef Raj has a sense of adventure and appreciation for cooking that led him to Seabourn Odyssey. “I have a knack for food. My study room was my mother’s kitchen—I did homework in the kitchen, and she’d have me taste as she cooked. And whenever my parents went to friends’ houses for dinner, I’d nag them to come along, because I wanted to taste everybody’s home cooking.”
But he did not start his career at sea. "I worked for a diplomat in New Delhi for six years, and then I wanted to see the world," he says. Responding to a job listing, Chef Raj, along with a room full of other applicants, was presented with "a basket of surprise ingredients—like the show Chopped. I had to prepare three dishes in an hour and a half."
This timed test was just one step in the application process, a testament to how rigorous Seabourn’s culinary standards are. After all, the food is one of the top reasons repeat guests come back on board so often.
Of the few dozen auditioners, only eight were selected for an onboard training program. "This was the first time I saw a Seabourn ship," says Chef Raj. "I was like, wow."
Though every aspect of Seabourn Odyssey is elegant, the culinary program is a particular point of pride for Seabourn. The emphasis on fresh ingredients sets Seabourn apart and has attracted the attention of leaders in the food world. Most notably, world-famous American Chef Thomas Keller, of Per Se and French Laundry, among others, has recently partnered with Seabourn to bring his Michelin-starred cooking on board.
Chef Raj’s professionally built palate now favors European food, and unsurprisingly, his favorite dishes to make are also some of the kitchen’s most often requested items. Chef Raj and the guests are fond of the osso buco, as well as chocolate chip lava cookies with ganache and vanilla ice cream. Midnight snacks are a common occurrence and the latter tends to be ordered at all hours. Chef Raj and his staff can guarantee that any culinary special requests will be fulfilled within 24 hours.
Those two items are available on all Seabourn Odyssey routes, but Chef Raj is able to slightly tweak menus based on ports of call, especially those with bustling markets. But it's not all heavy dishes that are available to guests. Those more tempted by seasonal fruits and vegetables will be just as happy—yes, fresh produce is abundant on Seabourn Odyssey! The kitchen crew, led by Chef Raj, will disembark at favorite ports to add local specialties to the offerings: Raj gets particularly starry-eyed about the tomatoes at French markets. "Fresh, crisp salads on chilled plates are always popular back on the ship," he says.
Find the full recipes straight from the Seabourn Odyssey kitchen here:
Some lucky guests even get to accompany Chef Raj on his market jaunts. He enjoys touring the Amalfi Coast, loading up on items like local lemons: “Nothing that can last the rest of the voyage, but a nice addition to the menu.” He’ll also take guests with him to Honolulu’s Chinatown, and if the ships lands in Wellington, New Zealand, on a Saturday, he’ll go to the farmers’ market and usually end up with a few kilos each of various local cheeses.
But surely he must have a favorite, right? “I love the Adriatic Sea. Venice, the market in Livorno…it’s so easy there for a chef to explore a lot. I love Istanbul too, and our guests love the market there.” It’s impossible to pick just one when the whole world is your grocery store.
Of course, Chef Raj can’t feed a whole ship full of people just from farmers’ markets. That’s why tons and tons of food are brought on board at the beginning of every voyage. The longer sailings actually get multiple deliveries at ports along the way, as the ship can only hold enough comestibles for about 10 days. Luxury items such as artisan cheese and Maine lobster are even flown in and brought on board before embarking. No ingredient is overlooked.
The food storage rooms in the underbelly of the ship are quite something to behold. Just like the kitchens, they are mazes of gleaming metal, polished practically into mirrors, each room filled to the brim with a particular category of food. The beverage room is the size of an apartment, different sodas and spirits filling racks seemingly as far as the eye can see. There are different meat storage rooms with separate butcheries, rooms for dry goods, a chilled room for juices, rooms stacked with fruits, and other rooms stacked with winter squash. (The amount of pumpkin needed on a cruise is truly surprising.) Even the caviar has a closet of its own.
Chef Raj has worked on every itinerary Seabourn offers. He picks up new techniques in every part of the world, often by learning from visiting guest chefs, such as a recent one from Hawaii who did inspirational work with tropical fruits and the underutilized taro. “I’m a complete package now—I can cook food from any of the countries we visit.”
A chameleon in the kitchen is a wonderful thing for guests, especially those who cruise exclusively with Seabourn. The Kellers, a Southern California couple celebrating their fifth anniversary this year, won’t travel with other cruise lines. “We love the (Seabourn) Odyssey, and we adore the food,” said Mrs. Keller.
They must mean it, as they’ve enjoyed Chef Raj’s recipes for five years running. And with the passion he displays in the kitchen, it’s no surprise.