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Behind the Scenes at Wonderland

By HannahTuesday 29th March 2016

Wonderland’s food doubles as a work of art. Wonderland’s food doubles as a work of art.

Wonderland - where food meets magic and every mouthful is a delightful surprise. In case you didn’t know, Wonderland restaurant was born from two of the culinary world’s best: Michael Gilligan and John Suley. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, these talented chefs let their imaginations run wild, creating an onboard restaurant unlike anywhere else.

At a special onshore event in London, we ventured down the rabbit hole and went behind the scenes at Wonderland. Here’s what we found out.

The Menu

Once you’ve taken in the amazing surroundings – dazzling wallpaper, hanging ornaments, elaborate table settings and more – you’ll be presented with the unique menu. This is where the story begins. The menu is split into six elements – Sun, Ice, Fire, Water, Earth and Dreams – and each section is made up of dishes that will tantalise your tastebuds, ignite your imagination and surprise your senses. Choose from tempura caviar and vanishing noodles, or key lime lollipops and Boston cream pie maze… the decision is yours. L to R: Michael Gilligan (Director of Food & Beverage), Natalia Garcia (Culinary Analyst), John Suley (Vice President of Food & Beverage Operations), Dominique Gamba (Manager, Restaurant Operations), Bruce Venter (Executive Chef) L to R: Michael Gilligan (Director of Food & Beverage), Natalia Garcia (Culinary Analyst), John Suley (Vice President of Food & Beverage Operations), Dominique Gamba (Manager, Restaurant Operations), Bruce Venter (Executive Chef)

The Chefs

John Suley, Vice President of Food & Beverage Operations

Having previously worked at upscale, internationally renowned restaurants, including the Ritz Carlton-South Beach, John Suley joined Royal Caribbean with a wealth of experience and knowledge, and has continued to impress time and time again.

Michael Gilligan, Director of Food & Beverage

With over 25 years of experience, numerous awards and a string of noteworthy restaurants under his belt, Michael Gilligan is a chef like no other. Together, Suley and Gilligan are unbeatable. Crisp crab cones – delicious. Crisp crab cones – delicious.

In Their Words…

What’s it like to see Wonderland onshore in London?

John Suley: It’s very exciting to have Wonderland in the UK as Harmony of the Seas will soon be setting sail from Southampton to Barcelona, and Harmony will have the newest, biggest Wonderland restaurant. This new Wonderland is double level, with a beautiful bar on top where we’re going to be serving great cocktails. This new space is going to completely transform the experience for people.

Where did the concept for Wonderland come from?

Michael Gilligan: Like everything, it was a team effort. The idea was to have a venue on a ship that was a little out of the ordinary. We already had fantastic steak houses, Japanese restaurants and Italian restaurants, but we wanted to do something outside the box, something you wouldn’t normally expect to find on a cruise ship. So our chefs and our culinary directors did a lot of research, a lot of eating, a lot of drinking, and we came up with the idea. We didn’t want it to be all molecular gastronomy; we wanted something with a little more substance. In essence, it’s a whimsical take on food and the dining experience. Guests waiting eagerly for our onshore Wonderland to open. Guests waiting eagerly for our onshore Wonderland to open.

Where did the Alice in Wonderland theme come from?

Michael: We came up with the name, Wonderland, before we started researching and developing everything else. We didn’t want to be too kitschy, but we decided to use it as a guide.  In the story, some things are really big and some things are really small, so we translated that into the food. One dish is served on giant sharing plate, the next is a small bite. So we just took it as inspiration.

What makes Wonderland so special?

John: The surprise. When you come in, you don’t really know what to expect. You see the chandeliers, you see the glasses, you see every little thing – it’s very detail-oriented. Things are kind of out of place, but they’re in place. Rather than choosing straight from the menu, the waiters guide you through it, recommending what you should eat to make the experience a little more exciting. Each dish is completely different so you don’t really know what to expect. Some dishes are meant to be shared, some are meant to be for just you. It’s this whole experience that guests really enjoy, and they come back more than once as well. The magical menu at our onshore Wonderland event. The magical menu at our onshore Wonderland event.

What’s your favourite dish?

Michael: That’s a tough one because this menu is evolving. The menu on Harmony is not going to be the same as the menu on Anthem, and the menu on Quantum has evolved to have a few more dishes which will be geared towards the Chinese market. It’s ever-evolving, ever-changing. If I had to pick my favourite today, I’d pick the new pork belly dish. I love pork belly. That’s something we’ve been playing around with, so yes that’s my favourite! John: There are so many new, exciting dishes. We’re always changing it up and keeping it interesting for the guests so they keep coming back. I really like the crispy crab cones. It’s a bitesize crab cone with a little bit of spiced avocado and marinated crab meat. I think it’s delicious. People don’t want to eat an appetiser, an entrée and a dessert then go home. They want to have these different little tastes, small little bites, like the crab cone. It means that, in one meal, you could probably try 10, 12, 13 different flavour profiles. Berkshire pork belly with a twist! Berkshire pork belly with a twist!

What’s the future of onboard dining?

Michael: What’s the future? It’s going in a hundred different directions; there’s not just one theme. Guests are very food savvy, so you have to give them new, high-quality dining experiences. We already have all kinds of restaurants, and we’re creating new concepts all the time. Just last year, we came up with a Mexican concept, Sabor. We’re now working on our first French-themed restaurant for a ship yet to be named and a destination yet to be named. We’ve also got our partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), where we’ve made a commitment to have all of our seafood to be 100% sustainable. It’s an expensive commitment that needs a lot of research, but it’s more than worth it. John: I think technology is going to be really important. We already have bionic bars with robotic bartenders to make you a drink, which is amazing, so we’re looking at new ideas, like having the bionic bar create some culinary dishes, so you could pair a cocktail with a food element. As well as looking at new technology, we’ll continue to focus on great products, great execution and great presentation. Because that’s what’s most important. Using Michael’s talent, my talent and our internal talent to keep pushing new ideas and making sure all of our dining experiences are the best they can possibly be. Cocktails were served all night. Cocktails were served all night.

Hungry?

Join us at Wonderland onboard Harmony of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas or Quantum of the Seas, for a culinary experience you’ll never forget.

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