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Behind the Scenes with a Cruise Ship Chef

By HannahFriday 07th June 2013

Chef Mcknight On Board


The man responsible for feeding 5,000 guests on board Allure of the Seas®, Executive Chef, Derek McKnight, takes time out of the kitchen to answer our questions.

Imagine arranging dinner for more than 5,000 people every night... only to have them stay over and expect breakfast and lunch too!
Sound a little overwhelming? Well, this is a reality for Derek McKnight, Executive Chef on Allure of the Seas®, one of the largest cruise ships in the world. He has thousands of smiling faces to keep happy.
Having worked in the cruise industry for over 30 years, Derek’s cooking skills are hard to beat, so we’re thrilled to welcome him on board at Royal Caribbean International® 6 years ago. Born and bred in Ireland, Derek trained in Cork, Killarney and Stuttgart before joining the cruise industry. Since then he’s opened his own restaurant in Cork, before returning to the ocean as Executive Chef on Allure of the Seas®.

We Ask Chef McKnight…

Q: For a man who  sees so much of the world, is there a destination which still makes you go WOW? I love all our ports of call but Ville France I would say is very special. It’s just so beautiful.
Q: What is the most challenging thing about working on a cruise ship? Missing my beautiful family – My wife Sarah and three kids, Morgan, Holly and James.
Q: What do you like to do when you have free time on board the ship? I like to go to the on-board gym.
Q: One of the things our passengers love most about a Royal Cruise is the friendliness of the staff – what do you like most about our passengers? I love it when guests tell me that they keep coming back because of the great food. As an Executive Chef, it makes me very happy.
Q: For those taking their first cruise, do you have any top tips for dining on the ship? Enjoy the huge range of food options on-board and book specialty restaurants early as they book up very fast.
Q: Where in the world would you love to make your next port of call? Grand Cayman, so I can walk on Seven-Mile Beach.
The sun, seven miles of golden sand and a dinner waiting for you which is cooked to perfection…sounds like a dream to us!
Mcknight 3

Day in the life

With 24 venues and more than 350 staff to supervise, Chef McKnight’s job is every bit as huge as Allure of the Seas® itself! It’s a long day involving a massive range of tasks, from quality control to customer relations. With such an essential role on the ship there is a long list of skills Derek applies to make sure things run smoothly.
“Leadership, communication, teamwork creativity and accountability are all really important”
6am Derek’s day starts with a ‘pre-inspection inspection’ of his work area, before Derek joins forces with his food and beverage and sanitation teams to fully assess the food hygiene standards on-board.
Management meetings follow, and then it’s time for quality checking all the produce delivered to the ship. The last task before lunch service is to taste everything prepared for the Windjammer embarkation buffet.
11:30am Boarding has begun, so afterwards Chef will supervise the opening of Windjammer before visiting all the other lunch outlets.
3pm It’s finally time for a short break, but by 4pm Chef McKnight is back on duty, starting his evening in the Garden Café (staff mess).
4:45pm Derek and his main galley team congregate for the enviable job of sampling all the dishes prepared for dinner service. Then it’s time for the Chef de Parties to get a grilling themselves, as they’re tested on their knowledge of the menu. This meeting is also a great chance for Chef McKnight and his team to catch up on feedback from the previous voyage, and talk about options for any guests with special dietary requirements.
As Executive Chef, Derek likes to visit dinner restaurants to make sure guests are happy with the food and service.
“I always encourage my management team to do the same, because guest satisfaction is really important”
11pm finally rolls around and it’s time for Chef McKnight to perform his last job of the day—quality checking the late night buffet at the Garden Café (staff mess). Of course, sometimes he gets to indulge himself with a meal at one of the onboard restaurants.
“one of my favourites is Giovanni’s Table and the veal dish is what I have each time I go there”
We can’t argue, it’s delicious!
Chef McKnight

Food Facts on Allure of the Seas®

  • All our breads and pastries are made freshly on-board. Our bakery can create 4,000 bread rolls in 1 hour
  • The ice-cream found at Ice Cream Parlor is made on-board by our own fair hands
  • In an average week, 18,000 slices of pizza are consumed on the ship
  • 86,400 fresh eggs are cooked on board in a week along with 62,000 lbs. of fresh vegetables.
  • There are 25 food service areas to choose from on Allure of the Seas®
  • Our 20 Chefs, 222 Cooks and 102 Culinary Cleaning Crew make it all happen
What was your favourite meal on board Allure of the Seas®? Share your cruise dining memories with us below. Is there a Royal Caribbean employee you’d like to hear more about? Leave your suggestions below and you could be reading about them here on our blog.

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