Guest Blog: Finding Culinary Talent for 150 Central Park

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I must say, asking my colleagues to do guest entries is becoming an irresistible attraction! Of course, I’m very fortunate to have such outstanding colleagues to ask to contribute to this blog. Plus this amazing business has no end of topics to write about. In this particular case, I am asking Frank Weber, our VP, Food & Beverage, to go into more detail on our approach to 150 Central Park on Oasis of the Seas, the most upscale specialty restaurant concept we have undertaken to date.

Frank Weber, VP, Food & Beverage

Frank Weber, VP, Food & Beverage

There is no doubt that the rise of celebrity chefs over the last decade has been a phenomenon which has elevated the interest in food, cooking & dining to levels never seen before. The popularity of The Food Network on television as well as magazines such as Food & Wine and Gourmet is to be credited for educating consumers and helping them to understand and appreciate the art of food, cooking and wine, which used to be the privilege of a few. This has created true celebrity status for chefs and has created a generation of “foodies”.

Over the years, a variety of ‘celebrity chef’ concepts for our ships have been presented to me for consideration. My responsibility is to review these proposals and assess their value. It is no secret that celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay are well known amongst the general population and come at a price. Rachel Ray, for example, according to Forbes earns $18M a year!

So in reviewing the opportunities, I asked myself ‘what would we gain by engaging in such relationships? Certainly the association of a big name has great PR value. But would our cruise customer choose a Royal Caribbean International cruise over our competitors just because we hired a celebrity chef? I do not believe so.

One might in turn ask, what about the culinary talent and expertise we would get from the celebrity chef? Often times, it appeared we would be dealing with one of the ‘no-name’ chefs hired by the celebrity chef and not with the celebrity chef him/herself. I compare this to the culinary talent I already have at my disposal with Josef Jungwirth, our Director of Culinary Operations and the entire Royal Caribbean culinary team. Their talent, professionalism, level of execution and expertise is simply unmatched. So, really there seemed to be no need for me to hire the chef of a celebrity chef simply for the name association.

One of the great perks of my job living in the culinary world is that I get to try many different restaurants, including those of some famous celebrity chefs. I have to say some of these restaurants have been exceptionally good. However, I have yet to meet any of those celebrity chefs personally in the restaurants I visited. Not that this is a big deal, but in the back of my head I always hoped that perhaps Emeril, Wolfgang or Bobby would actually be in the kitchen cooking and that we could have a professional chat, chef to chef. I know that this is really an unrealistic expectation, yet there is always a little bit of disappointment and I feel that our guests would have a similar expectation.

So when we developed the 150 Central Park restaurant on Oasis of the Seas, we wanted to make the restaurant extra special, not only in the design, service, menu and concept, but also with a chef specifically for the restaurant. We tossed some names around, but ended up with an idea to find the ‘culinary talent’ of a future celebrity chef instead – a raw culinary talent. In the same way that TV shows such as “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol” find new talent, we wanted to discover someone we could develop and help grow. After a long search, we found Keriann von Raesfeld. For us, she represented the total package. Not only is she extremely talented and creative and certainly on her way to culinary stardom, but she also had the right attitude and a ‘down to earth’ personality. Keriann is highly approachable, speaks the culinary language yet in a way our guests can relate to. She simply fits right into our Royal family.

For Keriann, this is certainly an opportunity of a lifetime, but what’s in it for Royal Caribbean and our guests? The experience of having Keriann actually onboard, executing her menu in 150 Central Park on a daily basis and giving guests the opportunity to interact with her, not only in the restaurant in the evening but also during the day on their cruise. Remember she will be living on Oasis of the Seas! And for me personally, I will have the satisfaction of seeing Keriann grow as a chef, hone her skills, and gain the experience of running a restaurant on the world’s most revolutionary ship and have her become the next name to join the list of celebrity chefs.

Adam’s note: Frank did an eloquent job of articulating what a wonderful asset Keriann will be to Oasis of the Seas and our brand. Nevertheless, our readers who will experience 150 Central Park will still be surprised at just what a talented chef and engaging personality Keriann is. I hope you have the opportunity to meet her.

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