Discover who's behind Thomson Celebration's fine dining experience
The head chef of a cruise ship needs to be a good cook: Rosauro Peciller is both. But for him cooking is a passion, not just a job, he tells Xenia Taliotis...
There aren't many restaurants that can proudly claim to serve the food of kings, but that's what passengers dining at any of the restaurants on board the Thomson Celebration can look forward to, thanks to executive chef Rosauro (Ross) Peciller whose impressive CV includes catering for weddings and conferences attended by kings and sultans. "Cooking is my absolute passion," says Chef Ross, "and I put my heart into every dish I prepare. You cannot do this job unless you love food, love the way you can take a handful of even basic ingredients and make them explode with flavour when you bring them together." To him, creating a great dish is a bit like building a good relationship: you need to find balance, harmony, to find ways of helping one ingredient bring out the best in another, and like all successful relationships, you need to keep working at it. "I have been learning to cook since I was 14," he says, "and even now, 40 years later, I do not know it all. I would not want to. My grandfather, a celebrated chef in the Philippines, advised me always to keep learning, keep improving, keep creating new dishes that surprise people; that is something I now try to pass on to my own staff."
Each day, chef Ross (pictured, right) and his team of 59 cooks, which includes specially trained sauté, fish, roast, pantry and pastry chefs, prepare close to 100 different international dishes for up to 1250 guests and 520 crew. As well as the fine dining options available in Meridian restaurant, the team also lays on a 24-hour, self-service buffet in the lido, pastas, speciality salads and steaks in the Terrace grill, and 24-hour room service. In addition, passengers are treated to two sumptuous feasts per week – the Captain’s Cocktail Party and Gala Dinner, at which grilled lobster and Chateaubriand will typically be served, and the Buffet Magnifique, a night of spectacular food and entertainment.
The kitchens on the Thomson Celebration never close: guests can order food at whatever time they like, knowing that each mouthful will have been freshly prepared. "Every bread roll, every sauce, every pastry we serve is made on board, using the best-quality ingredients," says chef Ross. Like other fine restaurants, all those on the Thomson Celebration mainly use local, seasonal produce. Each week chef Ross will plan his menus in accordance with what will be available at the ship's next port of call, taking delivery of his ingredients on arrival. At the same time, he'll also receive an enormous block of ice – weighing up to 70kg –
from which the ice sculpture that forms the centrepiece at the Buffet Magnifique will be carved by an expert craftsman. The designs vary, but some of the more recent creations have included Singapore dragons, horses and egrets.
"We have guests who return to us year after year," says chef Ross, "so we always aim to have something new for these passengers. My best day is when one of these repeat customers tells me they think the food is even better than the year before, or that the ice sculptures and vegetable carvings are even more fantastic." Chef Ross and his team are clearly out to impress all their guests, regardless of whether they choose to dine in one of the many restaurants included in the cruise price, or treat themselves to an unparalleled dining experience in another restaurant on the ship, for which there is a surcharge. "Food is at the centre of all good holidays, but on a cruise it is even more important," says chef Ross. "To have a great cruise, you must have great food – and our customers expect the best. I would not be happy with myself if I didn't create exciting dishes for everyone, even people who have very strict dietary requirements."
Asked about the challenges of catering for thousands of people on board a ship, he laughs and says that they are really no different from those he would face in a normal kitchen. "This is what I am trained to do; I have worked in top hotels throughout the world, including the very highly rated Tower Club restaurant in Makati, Philippines, and have spent more than 10 years working for the world’s premier cruise lines, on ships carrying up to 3000 passengers. Plus, I am working with the best food and the best staff, who have also trained in five-star hotels and on luxury liners."
Judging by the standard of the cuisine and the comments from passengers who tell chef Ross his food is "outstanding" and "as good as any I’ve eaten in a five-star hotel", his grandfather taught him well. Does he serve any of his grandfather’s signature dishes? "Oh yes. I like to make a Chateaubriand with red wine sauce and grilled peppers that was one of my grandfather's specialities. He was the first person who showed me that cooking is an expression of the heart. That was his philosophy, and now it is mine, too."