Bravo and Celebrity Cruises have created a series of delicious culinary-themed sailing adventures featuring chef’testants from the Emmy® Award-winning television show Top Chef - and the experiences will have you drooling! I recently set sail aboard the Celebrity Solstice from Seattle to Alaska to explore the various Top Chef-inspired activities and what I got a taste of was a whole lot of fun and an abundance of great food - not to mention a handful of recipes and cooking tips to add to my culinary repertoire.
Each Top Chef Signature Sailing features four chef’testants. On board my trip was Paul Qui (season 9 winner), Tiffani Faison (season 1 runner-up and competitor on Top Chef All-Stars), Brooke Williamson (season 10 runner-up), and Nina Compton (season 11 runner-up).
The week-long adventure is filled with culinary and non-culinary experiences so there truly is something for everyone to enjoy, even kids. All guests on board the ship can experience Quickfire Challenges presented by each chef’testant and, if you’re lucky, you just may be selected to join them on stage as sous chef in the challenge!
Guests will enjoy a Top Chef-themed menu night in the Main Dining Room where the multi-course meal is designed by all four chef’testants (see the full menu from our trip below). Additionally, Top Chef fans can purchase private cooking classes and private dinners with the chef’tesants of their choice for an additional fee. I highly recommend experiencing at least one private dining experience and one private cooking class as this once in a lifetime opportunity allows you to interact with the chef’testants in a much more intimate setting. I enjoyed a private dinner with Paul Qui and a handful of my shipmates in Murano, one of the ship’s beautiful specialty restaurants featuring classic French cuisine. Chef Qui, originally from the Philippines, was trained in both classic French and Japanese cuisines. He was the winner of Top Chef season 9, winner of the San Pellegrino Cooking Cup 2013, named one of Food & Wine magazine's 2014 Best New Chefs, and Top 10 Empire Builders of 2012. His culinary style combines traditional Japanese dishes with European and Southeast Asian flavors while using fresh, local ingredients.
Seated next to me at Chef Qui's dinner was Tanner, a 5th grade budding chef who was traveling with his mother. Tanner told me that watching Top Chef with his mom is their "thing" and he couldn’t wait to go on the trip to meet the star chefs. He, along with our other table mates, peppered Paul with questions ranging from behind-the-scenes of the show to cooking tips and favorite dishes. We then noshed on a 4-course meal designed by Chef Qui that started with an appetizer of fried Brussels sprouts with grilled prosciutto. Next came a beautiful salad of charred endive with candied hazelnuts, coffee, lobster and an orange yogurt followed by a succulent falling-off-the-bone coffee-glazed beef short ribs with a fish sauce caramel.
For dessert we enjoyed a wild berry sorbet topped with a delectable French toast-like brioche and finished with an herb gastrique, one of Chef Qui's winning Quickfire Challenge dishes. But the real dessert was seeing Tanner enjoy an incredible meal with one of his culinary heroes.
The next day, I whet my appetite even more with a private cooking class in the Murano kitchen with Nina Compton. Chef Compton, also known as the "Gnocchi Queen" for her adept skills at creating the perfect light and fluffy Italian "dumplings," hails from St. Lucia. According to Chef Compton, the key to making great gnocchi, a difficult dish to master, is to "cook your potatoes whole, don't over mix the dough, and use 00 pasta flour." Cooking can be daunting for many, so I asked her for tips on creating great food at home. "Have respect for the ingredients, and the ingredients will respect you," a creed she learned from her mentor renowned chef Daniel Boulud.
I was eager to learn more from this amazing French, Caribbean and Italian trained chef, so off we went to the kitchen. Each student’s station was equipped with the appropriate cooking tools, a Top Chef apron (signed by Chef Compton) and paper toque (chef hat), as well as the recipe we were about to prepare. The dozen of us students donned our aprons and chef hats and gathered eagerly around Chef Compton in the small kitchen as she demonstrated a dish that won her a Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef. This gorgeous Mediterranean dish featured a tender tentacle of marinated and grilled octopus that was sautéed with a bright and bold combination of fresh herbs, anchovies, capers, baby heirloom tomatoes, olives and potatoes, then served atop a velvety potato crema.
How often do you get to cook on a cruise ship with a Top Chef star? This experience was truly unforgettable!
You don’t have to be a budding chef or even a passionate home cook to enjoy the Top Chef at Sea activities. I spoke with many guests who admitted they lacked skills in the kitchen but still thoroughly enjoyed the entertaining culinary experiences, especially the demonstrations where each chef gave tips and tricks that both novice and experienced cooks found useful. Best of all, it was like being part of a live studio audience where you could ask questions.
The remaining sailings with chef’tesants will take place in Europe in September and the Caribbean in November. For details, visit www.celebritycruises.com/topchef. All participating chefs have been announced, so don’t miss out on these great adventures! You won't go hungry.
Top Chef at Sea Night Menu
Each guest on board will enjoy a complimentary multi-course dinner in the Main Dining Room presenting some of the creative and delicious dishes featured on Bravo’s Emmy® Award-winning show, Top Chef. These were some of the show’s winning dishes that tantalized the taste buds of the judges.
Kinilaw Filipino Ceviche by Paul Qui
Hamachi, Ginger, Coconut, Thai Chili, Cilantro, and Olive Oil
Mediterranean Octopus by Nina Compton
Potato Crema and Olives
Brussels Sprouts Salad by Tiffani Faison
Arugula, Hazelnuts, and Parmesan
Smoked Salmon and Forbidden Black Rice by Brooke Williamson
Pea and Parsnip Purée
Soups & Salads
Endive Salad by Paul Qui
English Pea Soup by Nina Compton
Spot Prawns and Compressed Pork Terrine
Tom Kha Gai - Shrimp Coconut Soup by Tiffani Faison
Oyster Mushrooms, Cilantro and Roasted Tomatoes
Kale Salad by Brooke Williamson
Brussels Sprout Leaves and Lemon Vinaigrette
Grilled Trout by Paul Qui
Rainbow Trout With Southeast Asian Tomato Salad
Pork Tenderloin by Nina Compton
Pancetta Wrapped Pork Loin With Cauliflower Purée and Braised Cabbage
Spicy Fried Chicken by Tiffani Faison
Swiss Chard, Coconut Rice and Fish Sauce Caramel
Grass Fed New York Strip Steak by Brooke Williamson
Smoked Onion, Figs and Cauliflower Purée
A taste of more cuisine featured on the cruise...
Ravioli ai Funghi Selvatici
Wild mushroom ravioli with parmesan cream sauce and white truffle oil from Tuscan Grille.
Toffee Panna Cotta : A spectacular quad of desserts
From Tuscan Grille
From Tuscan Grille
Murano's Classic Goat Cheese Soufflé
Herb Crusted Lamb Chops
Diver Scallop Wellington Style Baked in Puff Pastry with Black Truffle Emulsion and Spinach Fondue
Cognac Flambéed Warm Water Lobster Tail, Fresh Basil, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Dijon-Cream
Amazing Imported Cheeses
Grand Marnier Soufflé
From Silk Harvest
From Silk Harvest
Scrumptious Fat Lobster Tail from the Captain's Dinner
Main Dining Room
Main Dining Room
Didn't get enough dessert? The Celebrity staff is there to make sure you don't go to bed hungry.
Mini sweets from Murano
A taste of the trip...
Captain Zisis Taramas' Stripes.
Downtown Seattle from the bow.
Tracy Arm Fjord
View from Tuscan Grille (stern).
The Solarium, toasty warm even if it's chilly outside.
Editorial disclosure: Foodista's travel and expenses were generously provided by Bravo and Celebrity Cruises, no other compensation for this post.