Marco Pierre White, the enfant terrible of British cooking, takes time out from his land-based restaurants to talk about the month a year he spends on board P&0 Cruises’ Ventura, how to feed 3,000 passengers a day and why he always heads to Harry’s Bar when in Venice
What tempted you to open a restaurant on board a P&O ship in the first place?
I’ve always liked a challenge and, to be honest, I never thought about having a restaurant on a ship. But I’ve always had a fascination – like most young boys – with cruise liners. I remember the Normandie, Mauretania and all the White Star Line ships and the romance of them has stayed with me.
One day, in my restaurant Luciano, I was approached by someone from P&O Cruises and was asked if I would consider a restaurant on a new cruise ship. P&O was about to launch its newest and largest ship Ventura, [April 2008], and were keen for me to open a restaurant on board. I was invited down to Southampton and went on a two-day cruise.
What were your first impressions?
What I found extraordinary was my perception of who went cruising was entirely wrong. Young, old, couples, groups of friends and so many families, it really was a crosssection of society and ages. I was involved in all the planning of the restaurant, The White Room. I chose the colour scheme, the table settings and linens. It is my name above the door, so it has to be representative of me and my ethos. I went to Trieste to see it in the shipyard and then went back for the blessing of the ship by a priest and watched the dock flooded in for the float-out ceremony. It’s quite special and a great privilege to be able to see something from its conception through to its launch.
What specific challenges are there in running a restaurant on board compared to on land?
Feeding more than 3,000 passengers a day breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and midnight snacks is quite remarkable. If we forget something or run out of something you can’t just pop out and get
it. It’s about looking at the produce and creating menus that can last for a two-week cycle. So there are ingredients we can’t use for example, although we always try and use the ingredients from the countries we are cruising to and I adapt our menus accordingly. I’ve learnt a lot from being on board. There is a real precision and a strategy, it’s an incredible balancing act.
‘I love waking up somewhere new everyday,
there’s something magical about that’
What made you think about running cookery classes on board?
What’s incredibly important when you’re cruising, especially those days that are spent at sea, is to give the passengers options. For example, yesterday there was an opportunity for us to give a cookery demonstration to children on the ship and then we did two sessions with adults. A class may last for two or three hours and it gives me the chance to interact with people on board, which I enjoy enormously. What is fantastic is the positive feedback. It is extraordinary how people are converts to cruising and they would never imagine any other type of holiday. They just see all the qualities cruising provides.
Your book signings are usually very long, why is that?
When someone queues for a long time and you just sign the book and that’s it, it’s not very nice. I have my photo taken with them and I talk with them. People turn on the TV and they buy your
books; you have a duty towards them. It’s amazing what they will tell you about the ship. They feel they know you. They have a fascination towards you. It’s like confession, like I’m a priest or something.
What do you like about cruising?
I love waking up somewhere new every day, there’s something quite magical about that. I like the way cruising ‘teases’ people into a place and gives them a glimpse of it and makes them want to come back. I also like the fact that [with P&O] there is no getting on a plane and flying.
Out of everywhere you’ve visited, where is your favourite destination and why?
My favourite places are Venice, Portofino, Santa Margarita, Cannes and Vigo. I love to walk in the fish markets and, of course, try the local cuisine – fantastic!
In each of these places I have my favourite seafood restaurants and enjoy the freshest fish or handmade pasta with local wine. I just ask the maitre d’ to bring me his recommendations. I can’t resist going to Harry’s Bar in Venice as it brings back so many happy memories. However, I’m always pleased to get back to the cool atmosphere of the ship though, it’s like going home.