The (Azamara) Quest for Good Food.

As a follow up to the story regarding the boarding delays for the Azamara Quest’s maiden call in Chennai yesterday, Susanna Lazarus posted a piece locally on the food aboard during her brief visit.

The Quest is now about to head to Singapore where we will be join her for a 14 night Christmas and New Years Eve sailing.

Here is the story:

Luxury cruise liner Azamara Quest’s executive chef Fabio D’Agosta talks about the ship’s dining experience.

The ship berthed at Chennai port seems huge. One of the ladies waiting in line to board laughs, saying, “It’s just mid-size. You should see the ones which carry 3,000 passengers or more.” We continue to stare at the Azamara Quest, taking in the lifeboats, portholes and all those other things we have only read about or heard of before.

With only James Cameron’s version of Titanic to compare it to, we walk up the gangway out of the uncomfortably warm sun into the cool, carpeted lobby of the luxury cruise liner.

In Chennai for the first time, the Azamara Quest is buzzing with activity as she gets ready to set off on her latest voyage to Singapore. We make our way to Deck 10, with its jogging track and spectacular views of the sea beyond the harbour. The deck also has ‘The Drawing Room’, a wood-panelled library with plush leather chairs, and this is where we meet Fabio D’Agosta, the executive chef on board.

Being a chef on a ship, especially one serving guests who expect high standards of luxury, is no mean feat. Fabio, who has over a decade of experience on cruises, heads a kitchen crew of 55 cooks and 19 cleaners from 33 different countries cooking over 3,000 meals each day. “We all communicate in English in our small galley,” he says; one can only imagine the Babel it would be otherwise. “We bake our own bread and pastries. Very few of the things we use are packaged, like the kosher meals and yoghurt. One chef is allotted exclusively to prepare the special order meals — vegan, vegetarian and Jain foods apart from meals for those with specific allergies,” he adds.

With six full-fledged restaurants apart from a cafe, a pool grill and bar and a casino bar, the chefs are kept busy. “We plan the entire menu before the journey so it is different every day. The local cuisine and ingredients of the places we visit are also part of the dining experience. All this planning is why I lost my hair,” he jokes, pointing to his shaved pate, adding that the challenge of making sure that the guests are not bored with the offerings is what drives them to innovate.

“There’s a steakhouse, an Italian specialty place and 24-hour-buffet. If you’re not in the mood to dress up, we have a casual dining room. We also have a formal restaurant. There are opportunities to try out different cuisines over the course of the cruise. Of course, we have 24/7 room service,” says Fabio. Theme dinners are organised according to the region they are passing through. Apart from this, the staff and crew mess is one of Fabio’s top priorities: “Happy staff equals happy guests. We want to offer the best service possible by making our staff feel at home.”

Most of the kitchen crew come with at least a couple of years experience under their belt, but at times there are new recruits as well. Fabio says, “It can be hard to get used to the high volume of work every day. It’s not like a restaurant on land where the crowd comes in on weekends; here it is weekend every day! So we have a buddy program, where one senior person is assigned to the newest member to guide them for a month.”

After a rushed tour of the ship, we settle down at Aqualina, the Italian specialty restaurant, for lunch. Sadly, it’s the only restaurant that’s not facing the sea at the moment, and so we end up having our meal overlooking an ugly blue building filled with cars.

We start with seasonal tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. There’s also chopped Ahi tuna with Hass avocado, roasted pistachios and baby arugula. Rich, meaty lobster bisque follows: it’s warm and comforting. The highlight of the meal is the breaded eggplant with a filling of ricotta cheese spiked with Pecorino romano (a hard, salty Italian cheese) and served with linguini and a rustic pomodoro (tomato) sauce. The sole filet with sun-dried tomato risotto is not to our liking, but the fantastic berrymisu topped with fresh raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, the Chef’s special, makes up for it.

Going off board, we take one last look back at the ship, making plans to some day, go back, not just for a tour, but at least a week-long vacation floating around and sampling delicacies from around the world.