Merrill Shindler / November 2007
Food Arts presents the November 2007 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Toni Neumeister, the visionary chef and executive responsible for making sure the cuisine on Crystal Cruises not only plies today's international culinary currents, but rides the frothiest f&b crests. He has persisted in raising the bar on shipboard food and drink programs to a competitive level with the highest end landlubber restaurant and hotel industries. Even his all-you-can-eat buffets are hailed as fine dining experiences.
Born and raised in Austria, and trained in the kitchens of Europe, Neumeister became fascinated with the challenge of shipboard dining early in his career, moving from Silversea and former Royal Viking Line to Crystal Cruises in 1995, where he rose from executive chef to his current position as vice president for food and beverage operations. And from this lofty perch, he's been able to rethink how food afloat might work.
"Traditionally, shipboard cuisine has been European, with little regard for where the ship was going. I wanted to change that. If a ship is in the Caribbean, we offer dishes from the Caribbean. If we're in Southeast Asia, we offer a taste of the lands we're visiting. I wanted our ships to become resorts with options from all over the world".
Where cruise ships usually had no more than one or two restaurants, under Neumeister's hand there are many—"Italian, Asian, Japanese, casual, a bistro, a wine bar, a coffee bar, a tea room, and, of course, the buffet". To do this, Neumeister has had to create sources for ingredients around the world. And in the process, he's often had to educate locals in how to prepare their produce for shipboard use, as in teaching Uruguayan packers to dry their lettuces.
In the process, Neumeister turned Crystal Cruises into what may be the most food-ambitious cruise line in the world, with an annual Wine & Food Festival that's currently in its 11th year. He's helped lead his ships to a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, to 12 consecutive years as Travel + Leisure's reader's choice for World's Best Large-Ship Cruise Line, and the choice of readers of Condé Nast Traveler as Favorite Cruise Line: Large Ship. He's created a series of Vintage Room Dinners, in an exclusive new paneled retreat, where guests have paid to sample everything from a 1959 Lafite to a 1996 Screaming Eagle to a 1983 Château d'Yquem. And he's the man behind the cruise line's Connoisseur Club, where the world's best cigars and patrician spirits can be enjoyed in hermetic comfort without disturbing the smoke wary.
But Neumeister isn't just a facilitator; he's also a man with a passion for cooking, one of the few cruise line chefs ever to be invited to cook at the James Beard House, where he was saluted "for bringing a new level of excellence and acclaim to cruise ship cuisine", specifically for his innovation, dedication, and superior standards. Standards that have Neumeister sailing far ahead of the fleet, when it comes to food and wine on the ocean blue.