Dispatch, Crystal Serenity: The culinary science project


Travel Weekly's Tom Stieghorst was invited aboard the Crystal Serenity to cover the 23rd Sales Achievement Awards Gala, which rewards about 90 travel agents who sold more than $500,000 of Crystal Cruises in 2013. Tom's second dispatch follows. Click to read his first dispatch.

The new menu at Crystal Cruises has been rolled out and is peacefully co-existing with the old one in what can be viewed as an attempt by Crystal to have it both ways.

The new menu is a variation of “molecular” cuisine, in which familiar foods are deconstructed and reassembled in different shapes or given unexpected textures or colors.

About 90 of Crystal’s top-producing travel agents got a sometimes-comical demonstration of the new techniques, as well as a tasting of items such as red beet caviar and white tomato foam.

Dressed in their kitchen whites, several of the top chefs aboard Serenity were put on the spot as they tried to explain how to prepare the food and why anyone would want to.

Crystal Serenity - molecular cuisine

They administered a long table replete with unusual cooking equipment such as an immersion circulator, a device that produces a hard-boiled egg with a silky, buttery texture.

It was a valiant attempt to demonstrate some techniques that clearly needed explaining. But under the glare of stage lights in the ship’s Stardust Club, the chefs seemed out of their element.

Bret Bullock, vice president of entertainment at Crystal, served as master of ceremonies and gamely tried to keep the show on track as it sometimes bogged down in minutia.

The cause wasn’t helped when Captain Egil Giske came onto the ship-wide public address system with a daily update of the ship’s position, intended course, speed and other nautical readouts.

To be fair, some of the new food preparations are delicious. By using a smoke gun the size of a small pistol, the chefs pumped apple wood smoke into small jars layered with beef carpaccio. The lids are then snapped tightly shut.

By the time the jars are delivered to the table, the smoke dissipates. But the sweet, smoky odor greets the diner when he opens the jar, and the flavor is infused into the meat. Yum.

The intent of the molecular cuisine, which requires a lot of specialized equipment and a custom galley, is to keep Crystal in the forefront of cuisine innovation and provide what luxury guests might get on land.

“This type of food is very wait-listed, if you will, at fabulous restaurants around the world,” said Crystal President Edie Rodriguez.

Even so, there remain enough fans of rack of lamb, roast duck and prime rib among Crystal’s customer base, that Crystal couldn’t take the plunge and replace its existing menu entirely.

The result is a two-page menu with the new-style cuisine offered on the left-hand page, facing the old guard cuisine on the right-hand page. Whether that represents the best of both worlds or merely indecision only time will tell.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.

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