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Cruise ships these days have some of the best cuisine in the world.

Your knife cuts through crispy skin then slides through the tender flesh of a tower of lovingly prepared pork belly. You dip your prize into the caramelised fennel sauce before tasting your first, succulent mouthful.

Perfection.

The first experience of fine dining is unforgettable. Lovers of food experience a radical reappraisal. It is as if they have never truly tasted before and have now become aware of a completely new dimension.

Each and every dish requires meticulous attention to detail and, in many cases, the application of the scientific discoveries and inventions from the increasingly complex field of molecular gastronomy.

And more and more often, the best chefs in the business are teaming up with cruise lines to bring you at-sea fine dining experiences that are as delicious and considerably cheaper than those experienced on land.

Celebrity chefs have established two kinds of relationships with cruise lines: as guests on food-themed cruises or as partners in delivering onboard restaurants of the highest order.

Guest chefs

The recent marriage of cooking with popular entertainment has not gone unrecognised by the cruise industry. Cruise lines are now regularly attracting cruise passengers with gourmet-themed voyages starring world-renowned celebrity chefs.

MSC Cruises

Only recently MSC Cruises announced five gourmet cruises, each featuring a celebrity chef from a different part of Europe. Departing between November 2011 and June 2012, passengers will experience seven-day cruises in the Mediterranean, stopping at a number of exotic ports, as Michelin Star chefs from Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Germany provide demonstrations and tastings of their special take on the traditional favourites of their home country.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises is presently delivering its 15th Annual Wine and Food series of cruises. Going from strength-to-strength, these cruises are a winning combination of feature chef demonstrations, wine tastings, pairing sessions, cocktail making classes and epicurean shore excursions. Guests also have the option of a $1,000 per person, seven-course Ultimate Vintage Room Experience prepared personally by the guest celebrity chef.

They’re everywhere

Celebrity chefs are regulars on cruise lines. U.S. award-winning chef and culinary author Michelle Berstein made a recent appearance on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, for example. Closer to home, New Zealand’s Simon Gault will be delighting Captain Cook Cruises’ passengers on a four-night Northern Yasawa Islands Fiji cruise on MV Reef Endeavour this November.

Only the best

The popularity of cooking programs has led to a rapid evolution of taste. Aware of what makes great food, cruise passengers are now demanding quality. Cruise ships have responded by teaming up with celebrity chefs to deliver at-sea fine dining restaurants that rival those on land. And while the celebrity chefs themselves are only occasionally in the kitchen, they give the restaurant its name, design the menus, rigorously train the onboard chefs in their land-based restaurants, monitor the food quality and many play a significant role in the restaurants’ design and layout.

Luke Mangan and P&O Cruises

Australia’s own Luke Mangan, who has popular restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore and Tokyo, has also lent his celebrity touch to P&O CruisesPacific Jewel, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl through his onboard restaurant Salt grill by Luke Mangan.

Like most good chefs, Luke likes to focus first on acquiring quality local produce, particularly Australian meat and seafood. His recipes are light and simple, and cooked with absolute care to allow the produce to shine. The restaurants have featured many of Mangan’s signature dishes, but a recent survey revealed the ‘Pan Fried Gnocchi with Parmesan and T-Bone Steak’ as the passenger favourite.

Luke visits the onboard restaurants every month to ensure that quality remains consistent – and sometimes passengers are lucky enough to have their food prepared by the man himself.

A chef for every cruise line

Partnerships of this kind are becoming increasingly common. Cunard Line has Todd English, an American chef who appears frequently on television and has restaurants all over the world; Oceania Cruises has Jacques Pepin, a famous French cookbook author, star of a U.S. cooking show and one time chef to French President Charles de Gaulle; Seabourn has Charlie Palmer; Costa Cruises has Ettore Bocchia; Crystal Cruises has Nobuyuki Matsuhisa…

So if you’re going on a cruise, it is increasingly likely that a fine dining restaurant awaits you.

Why deny your self?