Andreas Kretschmar, corporate executive chef for Viking River Cruises // © 2017 Viking River Cruises
Feature image (above): Viking’s Longships feature a clean, elegant design in dining areas. // © 2017 Viking River Cruises
Sometimes simplicity can be so perfectly done, so innocuously presented, that it’s overlooked or slighted for something more flamboyant. But guests sailing with Viking River Cruises know better than to discount what sets the line apart: its commitment to understated elegance, a philosophy that extends to everything from its ship design to its food.
One man who helps implement this straightforward approach to luxury is Andreas Kretschmar, corporate executive chef for Viking River Cruises. The Munich-born chef, who has more than 20 years of professional cooking experience, has spent the last five years with Viking ensuring that the food and beverage experience leaves cruisers satisfied and yearning to return.
During a Rhine river cruise this March, Kretschmar sat down with us in the Observation Lounge onboard the newly christened Viking Longship Hild to discuss how the line seamlessly maintains its graceful approach.
What is your sourcing process, and how do you incorporate a destination into your menus?
Because we’re on the river, we have an opportunity to buy local goods, and we have some local markets contracted with us. Our suppliers know our expectations, and anything not up to our expectations we send back. Our chefs are always aiming for top-quality products.
There are certain places we go to check for special fish, seafood and vegetables, always according to the season. For example, there are some well-known places around the rivers that we know we can pick up fresh asparagus, mushrooms and salad. What could be better than going to a farmer and getting the salad fresh from him?
How much creativity can Viking chefs have with the menu?
We have very different cultures among our crew, as you can imagine, so everyone has their own local influences in their cooking style — it can come from where they grew up or what they learned in their education.
As the corporate executive chef, I make decisions on what we’re going to serve; we work out menus beforehand and have workshops, but everyone can influence the decisions about food. And if there are local, seasonal purchases available, chefs have a free hand to get some great, high-quality stuff for guests. They have an influence on the food that we serve. Of course, we also train them on Viking’s standards and expectations, as well as what has to be delivered to our guests.
On my end, I’ll make changes to the menu based on trends. For example, this year, we have a fantastic upgrade — we’ve added lobster back onto our menu. In the past years, we weren’t satisfied with the quality, so we didn’t serve it.
There’s a simplicity about the presentation of food onboard Viking ships that’s quite beautiful. Can you tell me a little about the intentional displays?
Cooking is a kind of art, and everyone has a different understanding of art. So, the galley staff and chefs have guidelines of how the food should look. We want them to focus on it being fresh quality, fresh-cooked and professionally prepared. The dish shouldn’t be too fancy; it should be clear what is on the plate. For example, fish doesn’t need to be covered in gravy if it’s good-quality fish.
For the most difficult dishes, we have pictures for the chefs to follow, so we can show them what guests expect. We know our guests very well, we know the cultures of the guests, and we try to make them happy and feel at home.
How does the food onboard Viking's ships reflect the company's overall philosophy of understated luxury?
We have an understated way of delivering the product. It should be clear, not fancy. Everything — the food, the design of the ship and the service — reflects quality. It’s what we’re really aiming for. This is also where we improve every year with our staff; the company invests a lot into training crew, management and more.
We’re always looking for new habits, trends and innovations in food and hospitality as well, and we’re always asking guests what we can do better.
The main message we want to send is: We are looking for quality, and presenting it in an understated way. I think, compared to our competitors, we have the best-equipped galley on the rivers.