Anthony Mauboussin, the culinary director at Viking Cruises , oversees both the company’s river and ocean operations. Following the recent christening of seven river ships, there are now 72 in the fleet along with six ocean cruise ships. In terms of the workload, Mauboussin describes Vikings’ new ocean ships as the equivalent of “twelve river ships on top of each other” as each contains seven different restaurants and one hundred kitchen staff.
A tour round the spotless galley confirms how fastidious and organised the food operation on board needs to be. Often a port stop will mean they can stock up for 6-7 days with fresh produce – such as blueberries, of which 25kg are consumed each day – although orders are placed with suppliers three months in advance. The kitchens are vast, as is the storage: there is space in the fridges and freezers for 14-17 days.
Menu tastings occur in the galley at 5pm every day to ensure recipes are followed and consistency is correct, and for every menu there is a detailed recipe book. Having to engineer menus across 242 destinations, each of which must be consistent on every ship, is no mean feat, but then as an athlete in his spare time, who is also part of the world’s long-distance running elite, Mauboussin’s inherent discipline and dedication are an essential part of this culinary architect’s toolkit.
Frances Marcellin: How did your career lead you to become culinary director of Viking Cruises?
Anthony Mauboussin: I started working on Celebrity Millennium in 2004. It was a kind of a chef de partie, and I had a station in one of the speciality restaurants, the Olympic, where Michel Roux was officially in charge.
Then I made my way up to the next level, sous chef and chef de cuisine, and moved to launch another company, which was Azamara Cruises, back in 2007. I stayed on at my first position as executive chef for about three years, and then moved as a chef to Oceania [Cruises] for a couple of years.
I then had an opportunity to be the head chef of The World Residence at Sea, which is an exclusive private yacht with more than one hundred residents. So that’s what I did for five months. In March 2014 I left the ship. Two days later I had interview with Erling [Frydenberg], my boss today, on leading the Ocean project – and so that’s about five years ago now.
FM: In 2018 you competed in the renowned UTMB ultra mountain trail race in the Alps which is 171km over three days and 10,000 metres of ascent. How do you fit your training around your work?
AM: I started training really hard five years ago, doing 30/40km races in the first year, 60/70km in the second year and then up to 100 for those long races. If you’re on the ship the only thing you think of apart from your job is where you’re going to train. Every place the ship docks I have a map of where I could find a hill and go train. If I go to LA with Viking I have a 25k running trail not far from Hollywood.
FM: How do you keep standards so high and consistent across the entire ocean fleet?
AM: It’s not an easy thing. Part of the success is having the people that have been part of this project for the past four years. A lot of the crew have been promoted and they are the ones carrying the standard from one ship to the next.
FM: Your menus reflect the itinerary destinations; how did that idea come about?
AM: When we started, Viking Star had the 49-day cruise and the idea was to have 49 different menus – but I said that’s not possible. You need to have stability in your offering, and then include that as the destination or recommendation of the day.
There were 49 destinations for 2015, so of course a lot of research. It’s a twelve-month job now we have 242 destinations.
FM: How do you maintain control over such a huge project?
AM: I would compare it to an architect. I think the same way maybe the first thing he starts with is history, then after this is the plan, where you start drawing on paper, and then you go more into details and finally get the product out.
FM: So, you’re a culinary architect?
AM: Menu engineering – that’s exactly what it is.
FM: How do you ensure the best quality of food?
AM: We have a bidding programme where [the suppliers] come up with a selection. The idea on food specification is to make them understand our philosophy: why it is important to have the same thing all the time, consistency, because 55-60% of our guests are repeaters, and we have guests who travel two to three times a year, so expectations are set.
FM: You grew up in rural France in the Loire Valley with your aunt until you were eight years old. Did these early years impact and influence the way you eat and create food?
AM: It influenced me a lot in the way that I make food today. My grandmother was doing the cheese, milk and cream, and we had cows, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and horses. I was outside all the time and I didn’t know a supermarket until I was eight years old. My aunt used to take care of children from difficult families and she was cooking for everybody.
FM: Viking is renowned for its five-star quality food. Do you have certain places that you source specific ingredients from?
AM: For the flour we work with a French company. When you want a baguette you don’t go to Germany or China, you go to France. We source our bacon from the US and we have good applewood-smoked bacon. Our guests are 95% American, so we make sure they get the products they are used to when they go to an upscale breakfast. For the salmon, it’s Norwegian-raised and the company supplies us with our seafood programme.
FM: What are some of the most unusual ingredients that you work with?
AM: Well, reindeer – I’m not sure there are many cruise companies that work with this product, but we’re a Norwegian company, so we do certain Norwegian items. There is Fenalår, dry-cured lamb leg, which is unusual and very traditional for breakfast in Norway. Another is Lutefisk, salt, dry cod, which is dipped in water for 2-3 days by changing the water every 12 hours to get the salt out and served with boiled potatoes.
FM: Do you think the high standard of cuisine makes the cruise ship a destination in itself for guests?
AM: I don’t think all of it. I think there are three things: the ship’s comfort, the whole ambiance of it, this is for me the top number one. I think the crew, that’s another one. And I’m not saying this because I’m in charge, I truly believe that in terms of the food we serve – and I’ve worked with different companies, so I know what is out there – that we’ve brought it to the next level.