Although I like to cook, the various celebrity chef shows have never held much interest for me.
Still, when Celebrity Cruises announced a partnership with "Top Chef," a food show on the Bravo cable channel, I was curious how elements from the show would translate at sea.
On a recent sailing of the Celebrity Silhouette, I got a chance to find out.
As fans of the show know, "Top Chef" pits aspiring chefs against each other in cooking competitions. In one of the contests, the Quickfire Challenge, chefs make a dish out of a surprise list of ingredients.
The Top Chef at Sea program adapts that by making guests the contestants. On the first sea day of my seven-night cruise, four guests were picked for a preliminary competition.
All said they were avid home cooks. They were tasked with a series of kitchen basics: peel 10 potatoes, juice half a dozen oranges, grate a half-pound of cheese and whisk whites from a half-dozen eggs so they will stick to the bottom of an overturned bowl.
The chefs were given tall, white paper hats, the food items and equipment. The two who finished the quickest would be finalists later in the cruise. About 100 people cheered them on as they furiously peeled and grated under the spotlights in the ship's main theater.
One contestant, Karen Way, of suburban Washington, jumped ahead of the pack. She won a spot in the final cook-off along with Theresa Janisse, of Burlington, Ontario.
Meanwhile, another aspect of the Top Chef partnership was presented in the main dining room that evening, where the menu included winning recipes from the show, such as a salmon confit from season three and a strawberries-and-cream dessert with red licorice and citrus from season one.
The menu and the show tie-in underscore Celebrity's long-time emphasis on cuisine, said Silhouette hotel director Daniel Simon. "We wanted to show off cooking," he said. "It's in our DNA."
From what I could tell, the food hadn't slipped a bit in the nearly two years since I'd last cruised with Celebrity. To start with, it just seems a little more flavorful than on many cruise lines. The breads and desserts are excellent. Vegetables are, if anything, too crunchy, but much better that than soggy.
We ate in three of the four specialty restaurants on the cruise and had dinner once in the main dining room, Grand Cuvee. Unexpectedly, my favorite of all was the Lawn Club Grill. The lamb chops were delicious, but there's just something about dining outdoors amid greenery as the sun sets in the Mediterranean that makes for special memories.
Every cruise line that sails in the Med should figure out how to exploit their outdoor dining areas.
The Silhouette was the fourth in the five-ship Solstice class, delivered in 2011. Parts of the design work especially well in the Med. On the last day of the cruise, a calm blue Adriatic was the perfect foil for the natural grass on the top deck. Partly shaded by the ship's taut, curved canopies, dozens of sunbathers lolled on the grass or occupied the for-rent cabanas.
On the same deck, the aft Sunset Bar was the place to be for sail-aways.
Other areas were a bit neglected, such as the Sky Lounge one deck down, a beautiful and large bar area that was all but empty despite its fine views because it was indoors.
The new Canyon Ranch Spa did not seem overly busy on this port-intensive Greek itinerary.
The ship's jogging track must be used early or late in the day, as it gets clogged with sunbathers midday. My teen daughters said one pool was too shallow and another too deep for them.
The Silhouette's mellow vibe and ambient music was just right for me but a bit too sedate for my wife. The teen contingent on the ship was often using the Hideaway, a whimsical two-story space with lots of nooks and niches.
For fans of Michael's Club, the sad news is the space has been privatized for suite guests and VIPs. Its draft beers have moved to CellarMasters, but suds in a wine bar isn't quite the same.
The Top Chef contest resumed on the penultimate day of the cruise. Each contestant was paired with a staff cook from Celebrity and had 15 minutes to prepare either sea bass or beef tenderloin. Three guests from the audience were empaneled as judges.
The upset winner was Theresa Janisse, whose wine sauce with shallots, mustard and creme wowed the judges. Janisse, who is a travel agent at Orion Travelinx, said she makes the sauce often at home.
About 150 people showed up to witness the final. Janisse won a dinner for two at one of the ship's specialty restaurants for her efforts.
Some competitions from previous cruises have been recorded and are available on the in-cabin TV system for preview.
Carlos Fernandes, executive chef on the Silhouette, summed up what the contest show brings to the table: "It's entertaining, it's amusing, it's a lot of fun. There's blood sometimes.
"This really is a test of your culinary skills."
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.