How many times did you eat Alaskan King Crab, filet mignon or baked Alaska? Ask anyone who has taken a cruise and they’ll probably admit that they let out a notch on their belts and gained weight.
Who manages the food preparation for 1,970 passengers and 900 crew members on a Princess Cruise to Alaska?
All that great food and so little time on a cruise. Who’s behind the scenes making it happen?
Learn how Chef Thomas landed the job of traveling the world, cooking and eating.
GutsyTraveler’s Specialty Correspondent, Carly Redgers joined a group of travel writers and bloggers on a cruise off the Alaskan coast with Princess Cruises. and reports about the behind-the-scenes tour of the galley when she interviewed the chef Thomas Ulrich.
Carly sampled food in all the traditional, specialty, casual and ‘anytime’ restaurants during her cruise along the coasts of Alaska. No matter what genre of food, guests are impressed. This explains how and why the entire fleet was inducted into the prestigious Chaîne des Rôtisseurs gastronomic society!.
Chef Thomas, how did you get your start in cooking?
I grew up in a hotel, (in hometown Lucern, Switzerland) always lived in hotels with mum and dad, running them. After school I would go to the kitchen, with my homework. I remember sitting in the Chef’s office and some of the sous chefs would help me with my school work when I was a young lad. So yeah, it was a natural progression…was never given much choice of what I’m going to be. My mum always said if you want to see the world, the best chance would be to learn to be a cook and that would take you places.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of working in a hotel vs. working on a ship?
Hotels are set in a routine, you work 8 hours, come home & switch off –I would say that’s the good thing. The bad thing about a hotel is you have to squeeze everything into one shift. It’s more stressful, more issues with employees, and you are much more involved with hiring and firing – the positive thing on a ship is that you have nothing to do with this. On a ship you embrace the crew, look after each employee and make sure they make it. There’s a lot of training involved, but the good thing is you have all day to do this.
How would you describe the cuisine onboard?
The cuisine is made to suit the American market with influences from all different countries.
What 3 things can’t you cook without?
Fresh bones to make the basic stock, fresh produce and a good imagination.
Is there anything you won’t eat?
I eat everything for the sake of trying. I won’t eat shark fin soup or any whale product.
For your “Last Supper” what would you order?
A nice home-cooked lamb roast
If you found yourself in a British pub, what would you order?
Bangers and Mash or a pie.
What advice would you give a cooking enthusiast?
When you start cooking, make a little plan of what you need and what you want to see on the plate so you don’t have to run away in the middle of it. Make everything fresh, for example, cut chicken, take out bones, use bones for chicken stock, reduce stock for a sauce and take your time, never rush.
What’s the career path of a cruise chef?
Executive Chef Thomas Ulrich was born in the town of Lucerne in Switzerland. His parents were hoteliers and Thomas experienced the rigors of a professional kitchen at an early age. He often assisted with preparation in the hotel’s kitchen and demonstrated a culinary aptitude which gained him the respect of the kitchen team.
After graduating from high school, Thomas completed a diploma in modern languages and business at Estavayer-le-lac and embarked on a 3 year chef’s apprenticeship in a family hotel in the Bernese Alps. He worked at several hotels and restaurants in Switzerland before joining Swissair. His career has led him to Turkey, New Zealand and Australia.
Thomas has held the position of Executive Chef for 25 years and has worked for several exclusive hotels and resorts including Hilton, Sheraton, Park Royal and Inter-Continental. He has had the honor of being the culinary host of the 2000 & 2001 Australian Tennis Open held in Melbourne. Since joining Princess Cruises in 2003, Thomas has served on several ships including the Fairstar, Fair, Sea, Sun, Dawn, Island, Pacific and currently the Coral Princess.
When home in Australia where he has lived for the past 20 years, Thomas enjoys family outings with his wife and two daughters often entertaining friends with an exciting menu depending on what he finds at the local market.