Monday, March 1, 2010

A Conversation with Chef Jacques Van Staden of Celebrity Cruises

By: Anne M. Raso

This spring, Celebrity Cruises welcomes the third Solstice class ship, Celebrity Eclipse, and Jacques Van Staden, VP of Culinary Operations, recently spoke to us about Qsine, the new fine dining venue on the ship which has a quite hip style and design!

Interestingly enough, at Qsine, there are no appetizers, entrees or course dividers. It is just food, intended to be shared and delivered as it is ready (AKA “family style”)!

The wine menu will be presented to diners on an Apple iTouch via an app called the Qsine Wine Waiter. This app brings up roughly 100 bottles available divided onscreen by each wine type with a thorough description! Van Staden states, “Nothing has ever been done before with Apple and this is something we are working on very diligently with Apple for the (April) opening.”

Van Staden gave the back-story on Qsine: “The project has been in production for a year-and-a-half—and it is the culmination of a lot of epiphanies I had during that time…. we are enhancing the Celebrity culinary reputation. We keep it fresh and want to provide a different type of culinary experience. It is a global influenced cuisine—but none of the dishes are actually fusion!”

What exactly is Qsine? It is a new designing venue exclusively on Eclipse and it launches this April in Southampton. Says Chef Van Staden, "We will be preparing dishes from around the world. We are taking food that is familiar but doing it with a twist that makes it really ‘Qsine!’ We are taking modern classic as well as comfort food. Food has become more of an experience—50 per cent is the actual ‘culinary’ and the other 50 is the actual dining “experience.” It is really a 180-degree view of food. We will place a lot of emphasis on childhood favorites—and meals you might have enjoyed worldwide whether it be China, Mexico or America.”

The James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star” Award winner continues, “The biggest focus placed on the cuisine is, ‘How do we present it and make it uniquely unordinary…how can we make it interactive for our guests?’ We are giving food a whole makeover. One of the biggest playful items is spring rolls that actually are placed in a stainless steel spring mounted onto a granite top. So that is a great example of making food a fun experience. There is nothing serious about it. We also serve five Chinese dishes in martini glasses - with one that is called the Chi-Tini!”
He adds enthusiastically, ”We have a soup and soufflé combination that has three varieties of chilled soups with three different soufflés! We also have Disco Shrimp—which is a version of Shrimp Louie with a flashing ice cube in the center! It comes with a lobster and crab cake called Lava Crab which gives the visual of exploding. So many of the dishes are interactive!”

The Qsine menu is full of “palate pleasers.” Van Steden says with a smile, “It is all Palate Pleasers—it is not a standard menu. We have sushi on lollipop sticks with a light Wasabe mousse and an assortment of toppings and a lobster escargot instead of a regular escargot. We also have a bento boxful of cupcakes—and you have to assemble all the cupcakes yourself and ice with pastry bags provided. We also have a dish called a Slider Party (another DIY dish).”

Has the chef fallen in love with any of his creations? “My favorite is the Meat Ball Trilogy. We do a trilogy of meatballs—a Kobe beef meatball, a veal Marsala meatball and a turkey meatball with a cranberry liquid center and sage gravy (on top). So that represents everything from Thanksgiving classic food to Italian food! It is like taking meatballs and putting tuxedos on them.”
Beef lovers would also be overjoyed to hear about Chef Van Steden’s new take on beef tacos! He says, “What we have done with tacos is make them rectangular instead of round. These "Tacos Royale" are filled with aged Black Angus beef and sit on a vertical three-tier stand. There will be marble bowls that have every single ingredient to make your own guacamole—and you are given you own mortar and pestle!” The master chef adds, “There is a pastry encrusted filet mignon served in a painters palette with five different side dishes and sauces—including chimichurri sauce and spinach -  so you can paint the sauces/sides onto your entrée!”

Dessert-wise, dinners will be handed a brightly colored cube style menu resembling a Magic Cube. Included are the Silver Bullet (which includes beignets) and the aforementioned Cupcake Affair (which includes Van Steden’s favorite flavor, Red Velvet). Pardon the pun, but the whole Qsine concept sounds like it will be “an affair to remember” for Celebrity Cruises Eclipse travelers! We can’t wait to hear the reviews from passengers on this virgin voyage this April out of Southampton, England! For more info, check out and do a search of “Qsine”!

[Photos Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises]

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