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"Celebrity" Sightings on the Solstice

Elyse Glickman

What can discerning Celebrity Cruises passengers expect with the line's upgraded culinary and beverage program? Whatever floats their boat!

A Celebrity Cruises "Solstice" class liner.

In May, Celebrity Cruises invited a select group of food journalists and travel agents to attend a splashy Seattle-originating inaugural cruise. However, it was not for a new ship or fleet, but for a transformed food and beverage program designed for travelers demanding sophisticated alternatives to the buffet. Aboard Celebrity's "Solstice" class liners, several on-board fine-dining venues and an upgraded main dining room anchored with an impressive wine tower punctuate the upscale cruise line's campaign to redefine the cruise experience as "Modern Luxury," which in turn implies every individual passenger can customize his or her on-board experience. (Other ships in the Celebrity Cruises fleet will eventually incorporate Solstice-class features.)

The dashing young chef behind Celebrity's food and beverage overhaul is John Suley, who honed his skills at some of the world's top hotels (Fontainebleau in Miami, Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, Mandarin Oriental) before taking his flair and work ethnic to the high seas.

"We are the first cruise line to win aWine Spectator award, as well as the first to host James Beard Award dinners," states the Miami-based Suley. "A big part of Celebrity's heritage has been its culinary arts-centric approach to everything we serve. We really put ourselves out there to be the food and beverage standard bearers [for other cruise lines] when it comes to wine service, and exceeding expectations. The wine tower in the Grand Epernay dining room? That's who we are."

Suley adds that the ship has 650 bottles and numerous varieties on board in the Grand Eperney, while the specialty venues such as Murano (French), Tuscan (Italian) and Blu (light/contemporary) will have their own dedicated wine lists specific to their regions and genre of cuisine.

Chef John Suley is Associate Vice President of Food & Beverage for Celebrity Cruises.

A cellar master in charge of program on board as well as 25 to 27 sommeliers and numerous bar servers, meanwhile, ensure every passenger and his or her meal will be perfectly paired.

"While we feature larger, well-recognized brands, we also source wines from smaller boutique wineries and growers," says Suley. "While we do need to have mainstream brands people are familiar with from their local supermarkets and liquor stores, we also have smaller wine distributors representing things like single vineyards with wines that will be exclusive to those restaurants on our ship. [Staff training also involves] a very extensive certification program for the sommeliers which we're implementing."

A wine tower anchors the Gramd Eperney dining room.

While Suley's recent promotion to Associate Vice President of Food & Beverage requires him to be even more hands-on with the beverage program, he points out Chanelle Duarte brings her instinct for branding and marketing to her role as Celebrity's Manager of Beverage Development. During her five-year run, she has implemented the design and product placement of Celebrity's wine lists and bar menus to elevate the program to its Wine Spectator-levels of excellence.

She oversaw the transformation of the ships' cigar bars into a hip beer lounge and introduced mixology into the ship's successful formula. She also oversaw the makeover Grand Epernay's wine list, painstakingly changing out more than 100 wines to add depth and relevance for the AquaClass's worldly guests.

Both their stars are shining even brighter with the fact that on their watch, Celebrity Cruises and U.S. television network Bravo developed a Top Chef version of The Love Boat, with a lineup of star chefs-Tom Colicchio, Hubert Keller, Tim Love, Jennifer Carroll, Michael Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn, Hosea Rosenberg, Angelo Sosa and Casey Thompson-so successful that a Top Chef cruise was staged for this past spring. Elements of that experience, via guest chefs, wine dinners, classes and interactive dining, will be brought aboard on future cruises throughout the line.

Speaking of shows, bartenders at the ships' Martini Bar venues put on the kind of bartenders-as-acrobats show that would make loveable Love Boat bartender Isaac Washington gasp with amazement. However, mixologist Junior Merino, founder of The Liquid Chef, is pushing the envelope further with the Molecular Bar venues. Merino and his teams are not only raising the standards for cruise ship bartending but also turning the definition of "molecular mixology" on its head.

Junior Merino.

"Just as Celebrity's fine dining options are focused on exciting the senses on the food side, we are trying open passengers up to unexpected, new experiences on the cocktail side," affirms Merino. "We take extra steps to create cocktails that are lower in sugar and carbohydrates, and come in under 200 calories. We also post the names of the brands of spirits we feature to assure the guests we are using top-shelf products made with care at their distilleries."

Merino explains that his company was approached by Celebrity Cruises to create the specialty program. Once he determined his company and Celebrity were a perfect fit, he used his "Molecular" concept as a platform to correct and transform customers' notions of what makes up an artisanal cocktail chemically.

"'Molecular' is a misused word in that it implies things in a recipe are artificial and created in a lab," he explains. "However, the natural ingredients we bring together have their own naturally-occurring molecular structures. When customers understand the molecular structure of a lime, or different varieties of lime for that matter, and structures of the premium spirits we use, the customer understands what it takes to create something that is fresh and delicious. When people experience the Molecular Bar on a Celebrity Solstice cruise, they are getting a quality experience of a cocktail that is organic and natural. With that comes understanding of the molecular composition of fresh-market ingredients and how these elements come together to create a specific flavor profile without artificial chemicals."

Currently, there are five shipboard locations of the Molecular Bar, and for the Seattle-based launch, Merino's wife Heidi was on board to continue his mission to have the tastemakers—food writers and travel agents selling the cruises-experience with all senses what they do rather than read about it in a press release.

"The highlight of the cruise was the day we staged three different presentations," recalls Heidi Merino. "It was amazing to see how the momentum for Molecular intensified with each presentation. At the first one, there were 100 people, with crowds expanding exponentially for the second and third demonstrations. It is proof that word of mouth traveling through the ship is the best tool to bring customers in. It was also interesting to observe how the passengers brought energy to what our staff was doing, and exciting to see people's eyes light up and respond in different ways to the cocktails we were offering. The creation process behind the bar is something universal people can relate to, in terms of seeing something like one of our cocktails come together."

The following recipes were developed by Junior Merino for Celebrity Cruises' Molecular Bar on its "Solstice" class ships: 

Coming Up Roses

½ oz. Dainzu Rose Syrup*
3 to 6 limes
3 red rose petals
2 oz. Bacardi Razz
2 oz. brut champagne

Muddle the syrup, lime, and rose petals in a mixing glass. Add the rum and ice. Shake and then add the champagne. Pour contents into a tall glass and garnish with Raspberry Rose Foam* and one rose petal.  


½ oz. Dainzu Hibiscus Syrup*
½ oz. fresh pink grapefruit juice
1 oz. aloe vera juice (drink)
¾ oz. lime juice
¾ oz. Cointreau
1½ oz. Russian Standard Vodka

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice, shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Top with a touch of Liquid Nitrogen, but do not serve or drink until the liquid nitrogen completely evaporates.

Avocado Mezcal Cocktail

¼ avocado
1½ oz. fresh lime juice
1½ oz. oz Scorpion Blanco Mezcal
¾ oz. Midori
½ oz. Cointreau
1 oz. Dainzu Agave Nectar* Add all of the ingredients into a blender. (Merino recommends a VitaMix BarBoss) and add 1½ cups of ice. Set blender to #5 setting. Pour contents into either a Margarita glass or a rocks glass rimmed with Junior Merino Cactus & Lemongrass Rimmer*.

*Denotes products available at www.juniormerinostore.com.

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