Getting to Know Cruise Food With Chef John Suley

The words, “cruise food” don’t impart the idea of a delicious meal prepared with care while on vacation. No, usually these words invoke the thought of a insipid buffet on a giant ship—and this is one reason chef John Suley, the director of culinary operations for Celebrity Cruises, is trying to change his customer’s perception. From January 29 to February 1, Suley is hosting a popup restaurant in The Kitchen NYC to showcase what, and how, he is bringing gourmet back to ocean. For $40, you can try his three-course lunch, or $75 gets you a three-course dinner (tickets here). I caught up with Suley to find out how one gets into cooking on a cruise ship, what he hopes to change, and why food on boats has such a bad rep.

How did you get into cruise cooking? 
I was invited to be a guest chef on Celebrity Equinox, the second in Celebrity’s series of award-winning Solstice Class ships, and was fascinated by the fact that an operation so huge could also be driven by an unwavering commitment to creating the best food and beverage experience possible. The team onboard was energetic, engaged, excited, and genuinely passionate about what they did. These amazing individuals represent over 65 nationalities, each with their own outlook, experience, culinary influences, and culture.

What did you do before?
Earlier in my career, I worked all over the world with celebrity chefs in Michelin-starred restaurants, and found myself at a point where I too wanted to make an impact. When the opportunity to take a leadership role on Celebrity’s team came up, I knew that I could do just that. I could work, train, motivate, and inspire our crew onboard.

How does it work?
Operationally, our ships are similar to any large luxury hotel in the world. Each vessel has multiple food and beverage outlets, the only difference is that we are at sea. Celebrity puts the culinary experience at the top and wants to be recognized as the best operation on land or at sea.

What do people assume about cruise food that is and isn’t true? 
People have no idea that our food is made from scratch. That’s right, we make all products onboard, bring whole primals of meat, which our butchers break down for the guest to consume. All bread, pastry, soups, stocks, and sauces are made on board. The ship’s food experiences are consistently very high quality. Our food surprises a lot of people. 

Do you think the food on cruises is getting better?
Our food is outstanding. In terms of the perception that food on cruises needs to get better, Celebrity is working to change that belief. Last year, we not only became the first cruise line to cook dinner at the legendary James Beard House, we also created the first cruise-line, land-based, pop-up restaurant. We’re doing another one in Manhattan later this month.

What are you doing to bring gourmet food to the ship? 
We seek to procure the best ingredients from our various ports from around the world and incorporate those offerings into our menus. We’re partnering with SPE/Rouge Tomate to create healthy experiences onboard. We want to be diverse in offering multiple dining options to our guests on board. We want, and will, continue to be forward thinkers, trendsetters in our field who take our cuisine around the world to major culinary events as guests or participants. 

Are there obstacles you face when choosing a menu for a cruise? 
Because our ships are so large, and our consumption is high, we have to make sure we can source enough product to sustain a seven to 14 day cruise. We do one large loading on the first day of the cruise, and we do top off with fresh loadings of produce in daily ports to ensure the best quality and freshest product for our guests. Our ships can be in the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, the Mediterranean and beyond, so logistically, we have to be precise and organized with deliveries to our ships. 

Go French! A Bastille Day to Celebrate

America had its birthday, now it’s the French expats’ turn to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.Whether or not you like the French lifestyle, French food, or the French people in general, it’s a good excuse to continue the summer party and get your escargot quota in for the year with a week of French-themed events.

First up, get classic and classy with Michael Arenella & His Hot Eight band playing July 12 from 2 to 6pm in front of owner Georges Forgeois’ Cercle Rouge Brasserie in Tribeca. They will be offering games of petanque (which involves circles and balls), can-can dancing by The Love Show, and pommes frittes galore. Forgeois’ other bistro, Bar Tabac in Brooklyn, will also be celebrating on Sunday, July 15 starting at 11am with Pastis-laden drinks and croque monsieur. Of course, that’s not all for Cobble Hill, the whole block by Bar Tabac will be celebrating with music and the nation’s largest live petanque tournament.

Naturally, Beaumarchais in the Meatpacking will also be reveling in French independence on Saturday, July 14 by playing petanque to the beats of DJ Marco Peruzzi. For a mellower Saturday celebration on the Upper East Side, Brasserie Julien features dinner and jazz with Myriam Phiro from 7pm to 12am. Also on Saturday, Hotel Americano hosts a Bastille Day dinner by chef Thomas Boullault, which features his Presse de Homard appetizer, organic chicken with chanterelles, and his stripped bass dish, Bar de Ligne–all paired all paired with various bubbles by Billecart.

Of course, you can hit up the annual Bastille Day on 60th Street on Sunday, July 15 from 12 to 5pm. There not only will French goods being peddled, but you can fill up on crepes from Yorkville Creperie and other nibbles by Brasserie Cognac, Bel Ami Café, Rouge Tomate, and many others. Finally, if settling down for a French celebration on your own time is more your speed, make merry by heading to Astor Wines and Spirits and pick up a bottle of sparkling Cremant d’Alsace ($17.99) or change things up and try the Armagnac from Tariquet ($28.99). Grab some creamy Camembert or blue du Bocage and a baguette at Murray’s Cheese, it’s what the French would do.

Horsing Around at Richard Gere’s Bedford Post Inn

When Richard Gere went looking for a nice place to enjoy his horsies on an afternoon, he stumbled on Bedford, New York. The village’s proximity to New York City, its genial, upscale population, and acres of open land, make it irresistible to equestrians. After spending time there, Gere and his wife Carey Lowell decided to open their version of the good life to the public. Their hotel, The Bedford Post Inn, has become a local institution, hosting holiday parties, weekend getaways, and weddings, as well as something as simple as a great Sunday brunch. They’ve brought on significant new staff within the last year or so, including executive chef Jeremy McMillan, who loves partnering with local farmers to stock his pantry, and general manager Oscar Henquet, who’s bringing his background in hotels like the St. Regis and the Four Seasons, and restaurants including The Monkey Bar and Rouge Tomate, to a much more intimate scale. Just two months into the job, we checked in with Henquet to get his first impressions of his new property:

How would you characterize the overall feel of your property?
Luxurious Relais & Chateaux property set in a wooded area in the heart of Westchester, under an hour away from Manhattan.

What are some of its unique design features?
It’s a unique historic property that dates back to the 1860s. Carey Lowell and Tiffany Vassilakis did all the interior design and have created a magnificent property. Most rooms have working fireplaces, all original wooden beams are visible, and some rooms have beautiful terraces overlooking the property. 

What’s the best dish on the menu?
Fagotelli with fontina fonduta, chestnuts and shaved truffle.

Which room or suite is your favorite, and why?
Room 7 is my favorite. It’s very spacious, lots of daylight, California King bed, overlooking the woods.

What’s a special amenity or service guests should be aware of?
Guests who stay with us at the Inn receive complimentary yoga classes. We also offer in-room spa treatments. And we wake you up in the morning (at a requested time) by knocking on your door with with French-pressed coffee and some delicious breakfast treats.

Where do you send guests for a great excursion from the hotel?
 We send guests to the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation for hiking, and the Yellow Monkey Village in Cross River is great for antique shops.

What’s the best neighborhood to shop in your city?
Local shopping is best in the village of Katonah or in Chappaqua. Greenwich is nearby as well.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen happen at the hotel during your time there?
So far every day has been special at Bedford Post. The unexpected snowstorm in late October that cut us off from the outside world for brief a moment created a magical picture. Since we have a working generator we quickly became a safe haven not only for our inn guests but also for the local community. It was amazing to see it all come together. Recently we had a guest who flew in the famous Troisgros family for a special event to cook alongside our chef Jeremy McMillan, which was a special moment for all of us at the property. And then there are the endless guest stories, but their stories are safe with us, as that will make them come back time after time again.

BlackBook Protests at SL & I Land in the Hospital

Any night that ends up in Bellevue can’t be all bad. Your humble servant managed to hurt himself badly enough to require attention and numbing pills. The cute doctor quoting Gloria Gaynor said “I will survive” with the oomph and believability of the disco diva. I believed her and here I am. Instead of flowers, send sympathy notes to Kenmare, which has just won The Eater Award for Best Shitshow of the Year. The other nominees were Artisanal, The Lion, Rouge Tomate, Shang, and Abe & Arthur’s. What do I know? I love most of those joints. I was downstairs from Abe and Arthur’s last night, attending the Blackbook magazine November issue release bash at SL. I told everyone that the joint was named after me, and everyone protested. November is themed “The Protest Issue” and I wrote a piece for it about those “Shitshow” winners from Kenmare, Paul Sevigny and partner Nur Khan.

Sante D’orazio shot my pals with Don Hill, at Don Hill’s. Freida Pinto, the babe from Slumdog Millionaire, is on the cover. I don’t know what she is protesting about or who, so I’ll be reading my copy after this to find out.

I didn’t know too many people at the soiree. I don’t know how you get invited. I usually hear about BlackBook events from unrelated people, and call up protesting: “Hey! How come I wasn’t invited?” It’s invariably an “oversight” or something like that, but sometimes I feel like the black sheep of BlackBook. I kind of don’t mind that and will not protest. Maybe that should be on my business card. DJ Anna Cavazos and Patron tequila kept everyone from protesting anything. As I departed into the night, unaware of my eventual fate, I stopped by Abe and Arthur’s to see if it was, indeed, a shitshow, as Eater implied. It was packed and vibrant. I guess the crowd hadn’t heard about the nomination, or they showed up in protest. Somewhere in the night I imagined Nur giving Paul a high five.

I was on my way to the Blind Barber when I was miss-happed. My face, which earlier in the day was described by my potential television producer as one “made for radio” got even worse. Something about a tooth getting infected and the inner ear and all that made me look like Deniro’s Jake Lamotta, late in the Sugar Ray fight. I would have protested, but only my Amanda was on hand to get me much needed help. I have spent many a morning at Bellevue over the years. Sometimes I did something to me: fell off a ladder changing bulbs at my fab 80’s joint, Liquid Sky, a punch not ducked, or a bad meal from a late night pre-letter-rating restaurant. I always preferred the late great Saint Vincent’s Hospital—better crowd. Mostly, I was there for others who scuffled their way in or took something that eventually put them in an unconscious situation. Last night it was me, a dozen cuffed creatures of the night, and all sorts of miss-happing people. My Amanda was cruising cute doctors while I drifted into sleep from my medication. She liked the one who looked like Rob Lowe. I couldn’t protest.

According to my pal Dani Baum, Blind Barber was hot. It was hosted by stylelikeu.com, with my super chic friend Malcolm Harris hosting. Louis XIV DJed this happening. Dani was waiting for me along with stylelikeu editors Elisa Goodkind, and Lily Mandlebaum, but alas, I was a casualty. I wanted to go to the Royalton to visit the newly renovated 44, now called Mon Chouchou, where my old pal Lyle Derek is clearly bringing it. Last night was a party/dinner for Debbie Harry as she celebrates her new tour. I have known Lyle since the 90’s. I’d say he worked for me forever, but he would protest, and in the end the story would conclude with me working for him. The good promotional people are like that. They own everything they are part of, push it forward and make it work. It only works if it’s that way. Half the club “owners” in town don’t even own their own shirts, but that’s another article. Lyle is one of the best— taking events through the soup and nuts, making them super fun for the attending nuts. Over the years he has produced legendary events and weeklies. He gave me Joan Jett as well as Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Spa. He also did Ben Sherman’s first US fashion show for me, some early Vice Magazine events, and some events so unforgettable that no memory survives to talk about them.

He has done it all: doors, go go dancing, producing, and promoting. He put Courtney Love at Plaid, which ended up in all the papers as a mic stand somehow ended up attached to somebody’s face. I wonder if the dude went to Bellevue for that? He was behind that Squeezebox film about the long-running party at Don Hill’s. He told me yesterday that he will return home to Don Hill’s on November 21st with a new weekly called Dropout. He even has a clothing line called God Save New York. Coincidentally, when I went to Bellevue last night, my Amanda was sporting a GSNY hoodie. It’s all Sex Pistol font and fabulous. These days they sell at Ricky’s. He tells me Moby, Debbie, Karen Finley, ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, and a gaggle of others sport his wares. The amazing Miss Guy will DJ Sundays. She was the Squeezebox spinner, and more fun than anyone, except maybe last night’s Bellevue crew. I don’t really miss them and I haven’t slept much or well. I would protest, but who would listen?

Photos by Zhanyi Jiang.

New York: Top Green Joints for Earth Day Dining

Happy Earth Day! Time to jump on the bandwagon and make a couple of conscientious decisions that will make up for the fact that you’re a lazy, meat-eating oaf who leaves the water running whilst brushing his teeth the other 364 days of the year. So where to begin? By now you’ve already googled “eco-chic” and “organic” and it’s left you hopelessly confused! All of these certifications and standards — it feels like someone is pulling the eco-friendly wool over your eyes. So let’s make this easy. Here’s a short list of GRA-certified New York restaurants that will shrink the size of your size-13 carbon footprint today. These restos are certified green, and like Kermit once said, it ain’t easy. Once joining the GRA program, restaurants must use a comprehensive recycling program, must never use Styrofoam products, and complete four “Environmental Steps” a year, like using biodegradable or tree-free products and energy-efficient lighting.

Dirt Candy (East Village) – It just sounds healthy, doesn’t it? ● Vento Trattoria (Meatpacking District) – Modelized girls dining here are more into their stilettos than Mother Earth, but what they don’t know won’t hurt ’em, unless the planet blows up.

Rouge Tomate (Midtown East) – Not only are they GRA-certified, but they also use greenmarket ingredients. ● Wildwood Barbeque (Gramercy) – The South may bring to mind big diesel trucks with a Confederate flag on the back window, but at least this southern-style BBQ joint is diesel free. ● Boat Basin Café (Upper West Side) – You’ll feel even healthier hanging outside, if the pollution levels on the Hudson are low today. ● Dirt Candy (East Village) – It just sounds healthy, doesn’t it? ● Del Posto (Chelsea) – Eco-friendly never tasted so good, thanks to Mario Batali’s sprawling Italian resto. ● Eletarria (Greewich Village) – The interior may look recycled too, but that isn’t what gives it the GRA certification. ● Blue Water Grill (Union Square) – Net a bounty of MILF and cougar attention at the bar with your extensive knowledge of the GRA program. ● Dos Caminos Soho (Soho) – Is your new green approach to eating making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, or is it the fifth margarita?

Openings: Rouge Tomate, New York

imageNow that our national beer (along with a few more measures of our national pride) has been sold off to the Belgians, we’re just going to have to get used to having them around. The good news: They’re arriving and bringing food! Indeed, an outpost of Brussels’ unceasingly chic and stylish Rouge Tomate (in the trendoid pecking order, probably the equivalent of our Pastis) will open late October amidst the Madison Avenue designer decadence. Occupying the old Nicole Fahri space, its seats are sure to be filled with fashionable fannies, whose owners will dig in to San Francisco chef Jeremy Bearman’s Euro-y New American take on the brand’s organic, health-conscious, authenticity-obsessed cuisine. Best of all, $100 will equal $100 here, as opposed to back in the Belgian capital, where our dwindling currency is weaker than NATO.