10.12.2018 11:59:09 //
Kari Martiala

Top chefs creating culinary delights

Passenger ferries have traditionally offered good eating, and food is very much one of the key comfort factors aboard ships. New ideas are being sought from well-known top chefs.

In the 70s and 80s, the buffet tables on ferries offered delicacies beyond anything we had seen in Finland. Ship restaurants taught Finns to eat shrimp, lobster, scallops, and other new treats. For many passengers, the buffet remains a cornucopia that must be experienced at least once per trip. 

In the turn of the 80s and 90s, à la carte restaurants became common aboard ships. At these, guests might be offered springbok antelope, camel, Hereford steaks, or even alligator!

In support of themed weeks, ship kitchens employed top chefs of their era, starting with the legendary Paul Bocuse himself showing up to finish up the dishes for the France-themed weeks aboard the M/S Wellamo of Silja Line’s Helsinki line. Meanwhile, Silja’s kitchen staff visited Bocuse’s restaurant in Collonges sur Mer, France to study kitchen art. The themed weeks were carried out with utmost care. During the France weeks, even the majority of ingredients – from veal to truffles – was imported from France.

In the 70s and 80s, culinary influencers from Sweden visited the ships. One of them was Gert Klötzke, who is still the head coach of the Culinary Team of Finland.

In recent years, the era of top chefs has begun again aboard ships. Distinguished professionals are brought in to design menus, train staff, and attract customers to the ships. Food is still one of the key factors of comfort aboard ships.

Matti Jämsén’s touch is felt at Tallink Silja

Top chef Matti Jämsén worked for a couple of years as Silja Line’s restaurant manager. Jämsén is remembered for his fourth place in the Bocuse d’Or competition, and currently he serves as the president of Finland’s Bocuse d’Or team. Like every top chef on their turn, Jämsén was able to leave his own “personal touch” and a little bit of himself in every ship kitchen.

The chefs on the Tallink Group’s ships are guided by Estonian Anti Lepik, who won his fourth world championship of opening oysters this year. As such, Lepik and the ship chefs know best what their guests truly want to eat on board ships.

Until January 2019, passengers get to feast on the Menu Nordic by Estonian chef Peeter Pihel. Pihel himself has taught each ship’s chefs to prepare the menu. 

– Because of the wide selection, choosing ingredients was very difficult. However, I believe the choices I made do justice to today’s Estonian food culture and attract Tallink’s passengers to try Estonian cuisine and restaurants on land as well, says Pihel.

Until March 2019, the ships’ Italian Tavolata restaurants offer a menu by Italian chef Valter Gaiaudi. 

“I teach at the hotel and cooking school of Arma Di Taggia, which is one of the national schools of excellence in Italy. I am heavily inspired by different seasons and scents. I like to look around fish, fruit, and vegetable markets and find out what ordinary housewives are buying and cooking”, says Galaudi.

Tallink Silja has received the MSC certificate for its responsibility. The MSC is an environmental certificate for fishing and the traceability of marine animals. Its aim is to reduce overfishing. The ferry company was also awarded Finland’s first Golden Fish Prize for its efforts to secure marine animals’ production for current and future generations.

Chef of the Year and Server of the Year at Viking

Over the years, many well-known top chefs have appeared aboard the red ships to create delights for passengers. One of the most famous is Micke Björklund from Åland, who has been voted Chef of the Year in both Finland and Sweden and has appeared on television as well. 

– We have many top cooks and chefs on board, and their expertise is used in different working groups where they plan upcoming ship menus. What’s also new is that we have started a multi-year cooperation with the ELO Foundation, the Finnish Food Culture Foundation, Viking Line’s restaurant manager Janne Lindholm says.

Thanks to the ELO foundation, Viking ships currently offer the Champagne Menu designed by Chef of the Year Kalle Tanner and Server of the Year Noora Sipilä. 

– Kalle and Noora have been visiting our ships to inspire the staff.

Viking Line also does a lot of work with the Swedish National Culinary Team at the The Buffet restaurant. This year’s Christmas spread is created in cooperation with them.

– This past summer, we worked with the Swedish Junior Culinary Team to create a healthier buffet table for children. It was a huge success. Now we’ll work with the Juniors to give the kids their own Christmas buffet, the likes of which has never been seen on a ship, says Lindholm.

Viking offers the ship’s very own champagne, Essentiel by Essi, whose amount and quality of sweetening has been influenced by Master of Wine Essi Avellan. 

– The Piper-Heidsieck 2012 vintage champagne is rich in fresh and dried fruit flavours. The taste is creamy soft, hearty, and vivid, Avellan describes.

Eckerö educates its customers as well

Top chef Aki Wahlman started at Eckerö Line two years ago with the goal to develop staff skills and the ship’s culinary products. 

– Our chefs, Tuomas Sillanpää and Kai Honkamäki, have created a changing menu for the Eckerö Buffet and Cafeteria Satama, ensuring that even repeat passengers can experience new tastes aboard the M/S Finlandia, says Eckerö CEO Taru Keronen.

Meanwhile, the Nordic Tastes at the Baltic Sea academy offers culinary lectures to passengers. At the Academy’s events, guest lectures from visiting professionals provide passengers and staff alike with information about the latest trends in the field, as well as reinforcement to their own expertise. Themes in the autumn of 2018 have included gluten-free diets, the responsibility of the domestic meat chain, and cheeses and wines. 

Aboard the ship, seasonal thinking is followed and thus there are seven different menus available during the year. 

In celebration of Estonia’s 100-year anniversary, Eckerö’s M/S Finlandia has been serving Estonian delicacies this year. Food, domesticity, and self-production rate are the areas of emphasis on the Finlandia. Approximately 80 per cent of the Finlandia’s buffet cuisine is prepared in the ship’s kitchen.