Cornelius (Neal) Gallagher, associate vice president of food and beverage operations, is starting year two of a three-year strategic food and beverage plan at Celebrity Cruises that includes everything from fruit in staterooms to flair bartending, menu development and slow-cooking.

“Food and beverage is one of the brand pillars of Celebrity,” he told Cruise Industry News. “Guests that travel with us are food savvy, and their expectations are very high.”

Among the changes that have been implemented is a refresh of the line’s Tuscan Grille specialty restaurant.

“We’ve got talented chefs aboard, chefs who have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants,” Gallagher said. “We are launching a whole bunch of new concepts, including Tuscan Grille 2.0.”

Celebrity has partnered with Kendall Jackson, a winery in Sonoma, California, to roll out a custom blend for the fleet.

That will be followed by another custom high-end wine. “It will be a really high-end blend that would be a high cost to us but guests would get excited about it,” Gallagher said.

Wine innovation is not stopping there either, as the cruise line will introduce wine making workshops involving raw grape varietals and a host of other items needed to make wine.

“Guests will be able to create their own wine and taste it,” Gallagher explained. “They will be able to create their own label with photos and notes, it will look professional. They will be able to give bottles to others onboard. We will keep the blend on file too, so they can order it and have cases sent shoreside.”

The Martini Bar, located in the atrium of the Solstice-class ships, has become famous for its flair bartending. That will now extend to the Sky Bar, which is situated on the top deck.

Gallagher said flair bartending, which includes tossing bottles and 10-at-a-time martini pours, requires an extensive training program and is rarely seen shoreside due to legal concerns.

With more cruise ships come more competition for talented crew, which Gallagher called his most valuable resource.

 “One of the first things I did at Celebrity was to look at our crew food and feeding our employees. We have 7,000 employees (at sea) on a daily basis. We wanted to make sure everyone is happy”

So the company created 1,000 new crew recipes from scratch, with various national foods as well as a nutritional/healthy section.

Describing the food and beverage strategy, Gallagher said: “My rallying cry is finesse. It doesn’t mean fancy, but it’s about attention to detail and doing things the right way,” adding that a restaurant was a collection of a 1,000 details.

Overall, it is about trying to elevate the brand’s food and beverage experience and keep the passengers happy.

“Their expectations are continually rising,” Gallagher stated. “For me, I’d like to get to a point where you hear Celebrity out on the streets, that’s where they do that amazing food and cocktails.

“Another dream I have is to have nothing onboard the ship frozen, ever. That is a tough but long-term goal. We’re doing that in the Galapagos now. All the fish is locally sourced; it’s very difficult and we are juggling it, but we are doing it.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2016