Gary Buchanan eats his way round Oceania’s flagship and discovers how and why the cruise line spends more on its culinary offering than any other operator.

It is undoubtedly an audacious claim, but during a recent journey aboard the 1,250-passenger Riviera, I became convinced this is a cruise line which is unswerving in its policy of no compromise when it comes to everything epicurean.

Cuisine at sea has evolved from Thermos to thermidor. A century ago passengers were served hot soup during arduous voyages across the seven seas; today Oceania Cruises boasts menus that offer a world of choice – a preponderance of then from France.

The entire nation has an ongoing love affair with food; aboard Oceania Cruises the culinary management team is almost exclusively French. When the company was founded in 2002, celebrated Master Chef Jacques Pépin was appointed Executive Culinary Director. One of America’s first ‘celebrity chefs’, Monsieur Pépin was personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. He was instrumental in the company’s decision to enlist twice as many chefs in their galleys as other deluxe vessels carrying similar numbers of passengers, thus ensuring every meal is prepared á la minute.

Franck Garanger takes up the story, “There is so much emphasis placed on cuisine by Oceania that we have to ensure that food is the alpha and omega aboard our fleet.

“Marina and Riviera were designed to have a higher galley-space ratio than any other cruise ship. Indeed 25 per cent of the crew on each Oceania ship is employed in the preparation of cuisine; while 20 percent of the ship’s staff is employed in the dining rooms.”

Oceania chefs have worked in the world’s most prestigious hotels and restaurants, including the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in the U.S. and La Maison du Seigneur in Belgium. Little wonder it is the only cruise line to have been inducted into L’Association des Maîtres Cuisiniers de France.

As Riviera headed south through the Caribbean, Franck talked about his career. “My passion for cuisine began in my father’s patisserie-boulangerie in the Loire Valley. This inspired me to enrol as an apprentice in the Michelin-starred restaurant ‘Le Vert D’Eau’ in Angers with French Master Chef Jean-François Piers. This was followed by tenures at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Antibes; as well extensive work with such culinary greats as Paul Bocuse, Alain Passard and Thierry Marx.

You can read the rest of Gary Buchanan’s article in the April/May 2015 edition of World of Cruising magazine available here. You can subscribe to our cruise magazine here.