Fresh meat and seafood dishes with an ocean view make The Patio Fred Bubner’s top choice onboard Azamara Journey
Casual al fresco snack bar by day, The Patio on Azamara’s boutique cruise ship Azamara Journey transforms completely every evening when pristine tablecloths and flickering candles set the mood for a sit-down fine dining experience. Add in a menu of fresh meat, seafood and other exclusive personalised dishes and it’s easy to see why The Patio is a favourite for the ship’s hotel director Fred Bubner.
“The Patio is the latest addition to our fleet and it’s a great space for dining at any time of day,” he says. “Not only does it have a varied menu, but it also provides the perfect spot to relax while looking out at the horizon and reminding yourself that you’re at sea. It’s particularly spectacular in the evening when the sun is setting.”
The Patio Grill is just one of many dining venues on Azamara Journey and her sister ships Azamara Pursuit and Azamara Quest. “We have our standard eateries – the Discoveries main restaurant, the Windows Café buffet and Mosaic Café – and two speciality venues: Prime C steakhouse and Aqualina, which serves contemporary Italian cuisine,” says Bubner.
To further elevate the dining experience, Azamara arranges special culinary events during each cruise. Guest favourites include the lavish chocolate buffet held in the Mosaic Café, the Dutch-Indonesian fusion Rice Table where guests all share dishes on one long table, and the Officers’ Barbeque where guests are served various grilled dishes by the ship’s officers. Topping the list of cruise highlights for many is the White Night party and buffet where – weather permitting – guests can head to the pool deck for a night of boutique wines, speciality dishes, live entertainment from the crew and plenty of dancing.
“Our guests don’t necessarily request these culinary events, but because they’re so out of the ordinary and well executed, they always create the wow factor,” says Bubner. “Not only do people get to enjoy a memorable dining experience, but the events also provide the perfect opportunity for the guests and crew to get to know one another and perhaps even form new friendships.”
Guests wanting an exclusive group dining experience can opt for the Chef’s Table to enjoy a seven-course meal of destination-inspired dishes paired with boutique wines that have been specifically selected to accentuate the flavours of the food. One of Azamara’s experienced sommeliers attends to guests throughout the dinner, guiding them through the courses and sharing their knowledge about the different wines.
“We have created nine Chef’s Table menus to enable us to offer whichever cuisine fits best with the destinations we’re sailing to at the time,” says Bubner. “For example, we’ll serve Alaskan dishes if we’re calling at Alaskan ports, but we’ll offer a Japanese menu in we’re sailing through Asia. We also have French and Italian menus that are popular regardless of where we’re sailing and, depending on the length of the voyage, we’ll try to offer multiple Chef’s Table menus during the cruises. Although guests must pay for the Chef’s Table, it’s immensely popular on every cruise because it offers a unique and unforgettable experience.”
In keeping with its Destination Immersion promise, Azamara’s menus are designed to reflect the regions on its itineraries. “I’m very lucky to have a generous food and beverage budget, so we can deliver a top culinary product by sourcing high-quality meat, fish and other fresh produce as we sail around the world,” remarks Bubner. “In Windows Cafe, for example, we have a daily themed dinner inspired by the region we’re in and we have a live station with dishes made from local ingredients purchased in port. We also listen carefully to our guests to identify their food and beverage preferences and use these insights to develop a range of dishes and dining concepts that will satisfy everyone. For example, Italian and seafood dishes are always among the top food preferences cited by our guests, so we ensure that we have these on our menus.”
Azamara tracks onshore trends too. “If we notice that a particular type of cuisine is becoming very popular onshore, we’ll certainly look at how we can incorporate that into our menus to give our guests the same wide variety of foods that they would have access to at home,” Bubner explains. “The number of people following plant-based and vegan diets, for example, is growing rapidly, so we introduced a special vegan menu in three of our dining venues – Discoveries, Prime C and Aqualina – this year.”
To create high-quality dishes and deliver a seamless and enjoyable dining experience, Azamara’s crew must be able to prepare, cook and serve food efficiently and safely. With space at a premium, this means that Azamara must carefully consider the layout of galleys, food services areas and cafes or restaurants.
“Galley staff have to complete tasks quickly and efficiently, so everything must be in easy reach and there must be plenty of space for everyone to move around without disrupting the rest of their team members,” says Bubner. “Similarly, restaurant staff need to be able to access tables and wait stations easily, so we must ensure that there’s a logical flow throughout both spaces.”
Galleys are also designed to the highest standard and Azamara uses robust equipment that can reliably withstand the rigours of mass cooking on a daily basis. “When our ships go into dry dock for maintenance and refurbishment work every two to three years, we take the time to thoroughly examine all galley equipment to determine whether it is working correctly,” says Bubner. “We also evaluate whether we should look at replacing it with a newer solution that may be easier to use, greener or more cost effective. Azamara always invests in the best possible tools to ensure that crew members can always do their jobs effectively.”
Whenever it does implement new equipment, Azamara trains all staff to operate it correctly. “Safety is the top priority on any ship, particularly in areas like galleys where there’s a high risk of injury if tools associated with preparing or cooking food are not operated correctly,” explains Bubner. “We carry out specific training so that our galley staff don’t put themselves, each other or our guests in any danger. Galleys also have plenty of fire hazards, so we ensure that everyone participates in thorough fire prevention and suppression training too.”
Crucially, staff are also taught how to work well together. “We feed hundreds of people several times a day and every single person gets a fresh meal that is prepared and cooked to suit their specific requirements,” says Bubner. “Most of these meals tend to be served within a short timeframe, so it’s essential that the staff on the restaurant floor and those in the kitchen work as one cohesive team. Both teams must communicate with one another and work to the same timings so that the guests get a hot and fresh meal that exceeds their expectations every time.”
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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