By Mimi Kmet
After training as a chef and working in Germany for a few years, Peter Degner thought he’d try working on a cruise ship for six months. It’s been over 15 years, and he’s now executive chef of Crystal Symphony. Overseeing the dining experience on a luxury cruise ship is a challenging role but one that continually rewards him, as the ship travels the world and allows him to explore a multitude of flavors. He tells us in his own words what it’s like being executive chef of an award-winning luxury cruise ship:
I started working with Crystal in 1999, and I’ve been on Crystal Symphony since 2007. I have the fortunate job of working with my fellow chefs to create all of the ship’s menus. Prego and Silk Road & The Sushi Bar have standard menus, like land-based restaurants, which I help develop. But the Crystal Dining Room has a different menu every day. I am inspired every day by the ports we visit — the local influence, the local markets, the seafood markets, street food, and so on. That is where I get my influence. Also, the Internet and social media offer some great ideas.
There are many aspects to consider when planning the cuisine for a 12-day — or even week-long — cruise. The local influence where we are sailing is a key factor, as we strive to offer the freshest ingredients from the places we visit. Then we must consider availability of quality produce and quality meats, fish, and seafood. This is very important. That is our concern all the time: to get the best ingredients in the areas where the ship cruises and to have them on board when we really need them. And of course, we want to stay on top of market trends — what people expect to see on the menus.
One of the best ways to reflect the cuisine of a destination is through local street food. We dress it up and make it better and more elegant. A very simple example is a classic fish ‘n’ chips for lunch. We upgrade it and get the best out of it. For example, we make the batter better so that it stays crispier. And simple things, like sandwiches — there are so many fantastic sandwiches, especially with food trucks being so popular. We found a beautiful Cuban sandwich in Miami and turned it into something fantastic. The guests love it.
We are always in contact with Toni (Neumeister, Crystal’s vice president of food and beverage operation and hotel procurement, and an accomplished chef himself), to determine the best ways and places to source the finest ingredients. He is also often on board to help see to those things in person. If ever we cannot source a specific ingredient, or what is available does not meet our standards, we re-think the entire menu if we must. We find a creative way to get around it — make another dish, something different, with what we have available. But we have to make it as exciting as the originally planned item.
Our full culinary team includes 101 people, including myself, who are involved in the whole galley operation. That includes bakers, butchers, seafood preparation cooks, cold galley chefs, Prego and Silk Road chefs, the Lido Café team, and so on. Then, there are 26 supporting galley staff members for cleaning and other preparations.
I also work closely with the wine and cheese sommeliers to ensure that our main dishes and our wine and cheese selections complement each other. Whether it’s for an elaborate Vintage Room Dinner or the daily menus in the dining room, we always consult each other.
Taste Chef Peter Degner’s creations on one of Crystal Symphony’s voyages through Northern Europe, with additional savings available if you book by August 31, 2015.