A highly experienced German chef is integral to the culinary success of the luxury cruise ships owned by the world's largest cruise ship operator, two of which recently docked in Vietnam during its Asian itinerary.
Executive Chef Jean Peter Seidel is currently in charge of six P&O Princess cruise ships owned by Carnival Corporation & Plc – a British-American cruise ship group.
Among the six ships, considered some of the world’s largest, Diamond and Sapphire have just left Vietnam.
Sapphire, a five-star vessel, recently completed her journey from Singapore to Thailand before docking at Phu My Port in southern Vietnam’s Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.
Chef Seidel, who used to serve British Queen Elizabeth II, is currently one of the world’s leading sea chefs for both his massive amount of work and managing over 2,000 cooks whom he handpicked from around the globe.
During the ship’s current 17-day itinerary through several Asian countries, over 280 European and Asian cooks work under the German chef’s command.
Seidel invariably has his hands full from 5:00 am to midnight, overseeing his staff’s performance to serve more than 14,000 helpings a day for 2,670 passengers and the crew of 1,100 members.
He also works hard to make sure that the dishes and drinks served at the nine restaurants aboard please even the most fastidious diners.
The Sapphire vessel has 14 decks, with the huge kitchen occupying the main chamber of the sixth deck.
The ship receives food supplies every week.
According to Seidel, food suppliers have to meet stringent food safety criteria set by European countries.
Ninety-five percent of the dishes, including cakes and ice cream, are prepared manually right on deck.
During buffets, all the dishes are displayed for four hours at most before being replaced with new courses, the German chef added.
Two doctors are always available to cope with any emergency or allergy to certain food among some passengers.
Once a dish is completed, Seidel’s sous-chefs taste it for assessment before he himself decides if the dish is good enough to be served.
“My job is to make sure that every single passenger’s tastes and specific requirements are met, if the ship company’s and my own reputation aren’t to be undermined,” the master chef shared.
The nine restaurants on board offer a wide range of delightful culinary experiences.
Alfredo’s Pizzeria offers fine-quality pizzas, while enthusiasts of Southeast Asian delicacies can find such dishes as Indonesian “Nasi Goreng” fried rice or Singaporean “Won Ton” noodles at Vivaldi.
Meanwhile, Sabatini’s is a perfect choice for seafood lovers, and Sterling Steakhouse is ideal for fans of American beef and Japan’s Kobe beef.
Seidel added that as the majority of passengers are elderly people from different continents, it is quite a challenge to satisfy all their eating habits and tastes.
For example, Italian diners prefer their rice to be slightly tough and crunchy, while Mexicans want it a bit dry.
Meanwhile, Chinese people favor fully-expanding rice and Vietnamese people like it soft and glutinous.
Westerners are always ready to voice their comments and insist on what they need, while many Asian diners, including Vietnamese, tend to give compliments.
Japanese customers typically stay non-expressive, but after the voyage they will send their negative feedback to the company if they find something unsatisfactory, the chef observed.
“So I usually mingle with the passengers to find out more about their tastes and eating habits to properly adjust our menus and recipes,” he added.
To ensure diversity, Seidel himself selects fixtures and additions to menus.
Every year, he travels to different countries to find new food suppliers.
Seidel, who has worked and lived for 20 years in Asia, inherited his gastronomical gift from his father – also a famed chef.
Vietnamese delicacies to be on the menu
Despite the rich food diversity on Sapphire, Vietnamese delicacies have yet to be on the menu.
“Chef Seidel’s food is remarkable, as he and his cooks skillfully adjust the flavors of specific local dishes so that all diners can enjoy them. But it’ll be wonderful if his menus include some Vietnamese specialties,” remarked Thanh Tram, a Vietnamese passenger from Ho Chi Minh City, who has been back from her first cruise on Sapphire from Singapore to Vietnam.
A Singaporean passenger surnamed Liu also hoped that “pho” (Vietnamese noodle soup with beef or chicken), which he fell in love with during his two previous trips to Vietnam, will be added to the ship’s menus.
Seidel shared that he does love Vietnamese delicacies such as “pho” and spring rolls and is most impressed with “sa” (lemon grass).
He added that the inclusion of Vietnamese dishes into the menus depends partly on the rising number of passengers from the country, particularly during P&O Princess’ peak season from November 2014 to February 2015.