Interview with Mr Derek McKnight, Executive Chef, Royal Caribbean

On this day of the US Presidential Election and a very cold one indeed, I thought I would bring a little bit of the Caribbean, some heat and dreams and a chat with one of Irelands finest chefs, Mr Derek McKnight.

Derek has been the Executive Chef for Royal Caribbean holiday company since 2008, and this year took up the mantle of food and beverage director on board Oasis of the Seas. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to chat with him yesterday for half an hour. Derek hails from Cork and is 49 years old, married (in 2000) with three children aged 11, 13 and 16. He was telling me that his love for the culinary art was more of necessity which became a passion. His parents both worked and it was a case of “make your own dinner” when he was younger. Fortunately for him and all of us he turned this into his life. His formal training started in Rockwell Hotel School in Tipperary and as they say he broke the mould as his year was the last year (1987) to be taught!! He finished his qualification at Cork Institute of Technology (1988).

Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships, Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and the new Harmony of the Seas, greeted each other at sea for the first and possibly only time on 06.11.16. In a meeting of unprecedented proportions, the three record-breaking sisters came together to celebrate the U.S. arrival of Harmony of the Seas on the eve of the ship’s debut in her new permanent homeport of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 

His first placement was at the Hotel Europe in Killarney where he spent a summer season under the tutelage of German workers, with whom he followed back to Germany in October to spend the winter season. He then came back for the summer season, before another winter stint. 1989 saw Derek join the Cunard Queen Elizabeth II in Tokyo where I suppose he got his “feet wet” at sea. He then became the Executive Chef at The Westin in The Hotel Grand Cayman. As many chefs want to be their own boss at some stage in their career, this happened to Derek in 2003. He and his newly married wife, opened up The Black Sheep, a bar and restaurant in West Cork. The Celtic Tiger was roaring but had started to quieten and in 2007 he sold up. Then 2008 saw Derek join The Royal Caribbean as the Executive Chef of Freedom Of The Seas and the rest is history.

 

Derek is still very hands on. He is more of a “Roving Chef” on board helping out in whichever galley he is required in. He is responsible for the food for upto 8000 people (passengers and crew), for the hiring and firing of staff he is fully involved and was telling me that approximately 40% are from India and that 32 different nationalities work on board!! There are stringent health and safety checks of all the food and all dietary requirements are catered for.

Derek eagerly told me many amazing facts and figures about his new ship Oasis of the Seas. These include:

· Oasis of the Seas boasts an amazing 24 dining options throughout the ship that ensure there’s something great to eat day and night, 24/7.

· There are 20 separate galleys around the ship, plus onboard facilities ranging from a butcher shop to a fish prep room and a commissary kitchen – a Royal Caribbean first – which takes care of all the major prep work for all the galleys of the ship.

· Nearly 1,100 cooks, waiters, assistant waiters, bartenders, bar servers and cleaners in the food and beverage operations on board Oasis of the Seas, running venues that range from the spectacular three-level Opus dining room, which is divided into three independently operating 650- to 1,100-seat restaurants, to the most intimate venue, the 14-seat Chef’s Table

· For the health-conscious, not only has the entire Royal Caribbean fleet been transfat-free for three years, two outlets especially focus on healthy eating

· Oasis of the Seas is an architectural marvel – it spans 16 decks, encompasses 225,282 gross registered tons, carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and features 2,700 staterooms.

· There are 20 chefs, 222 cooks and 102 sanitation and cleaning culinary crew.

· All breads and pastries are made fresh onboard. The bakery has a machine that makes 4,000 rolls an hour.

· Consumption in an average week: 15,600 pounds of beef; 9,700 pounds of chicken; 18,000 pounds of potatoes; 8,000 gallons of ice cream; 10,200 bottles of beer; 60,000 eggs; 40 different varieties of fresh fruit; 80 kinds of fresh vegetables; 2,225 bottles of wine; 479,314 gallons of fresh water consumed daily; and 18,000 slices of pizza, wow!!!!

 

A sample of the different dining experiences are below:

THE BOARDWALK

01 Seafood Shack: A casual indoor/outdoor family restaurant on the Boardwalk;

seafood, over-sized desserts and a vast selection of ‘mocktails’

02 Boardwalk Bar: The main bar on the Boardwalk; offering fruit, salads and

sandwiches

03 Boardwalk Donut Shop: A classic haunt for casual snacks and delicious treats

04 Ice Cream Parlour: A variety of ice cream flavours and toppings take centre stage

against a backdrop of 1950s kitsch

05 Johnny Rockets: ‘50’s-style Diner with server-entertainers

 

CENTRAL PARK

06 150 Central Park: A trendy, upscale and intimate restaurant with a tasting menu with

customized wine pairings

07 Giovanni’s Table: An Italian trattoria with both indoor and alfresco seating featuring

Italian classics served family-style

08 Park Café: An indoor/outdoor gourmet market featuring salads, sandwiches, soups,

pastries and to-die-for fudge

09 Vintages: A wine bar with pre-dinner tapas and cheeses along with a robust

selection of fine wines

10 Chops Grille: Royal Caribbean’s signature steakhouse with views of Central Park,

and premium cuts or quality meats

 

POOL AND SPORTS ZONE

11 Solarium Bistro: A health-conscious dining option for lunch and healthful fare and

dancing under the stars in the evening

12 The Wipe Out Café: A casual self-service buffet with pizza, hamburgers,

sandwiches and fresh salads

13 Izumi Asian Cuisine: Featuring mouth-watering flavours and a sushi bar with hot-rock

Cooking

 

ROYAL PROMENADE

14 Mondo Café: Open around the clock this café offers coffee, sandwiches and

pastries like those found in Italy, Spain and Cuba

15 Sorrento’s Pizzeria: Featuring New York style pizza, with both made-to-order pies

and by the slice

16 Café Promenade: Offering Seattle’s Best coffee, fruit shakes, pastries and

sandwiches all day

17 The Cupcake Cupboard: Featuring fresh-baked gourmet cupcakes as well as

parties and design classes

 

 

VITALITY AT SEA SPA AND FITNESS CENTER

18 The Vitality Café: Offering healthy snacks, sandwiches, wraps, fruit and smoothies.

 

THE CLASSICS, Royal Caribbean hasn’t forgotten the classics of its fleet:

19 Opus Dining Room: The ship’s main restaurant features a three-tier venue with a

1920s Art Deco style; flexible My Time Dining and traditional assigned seating

20 Windjammer Marketplace: A casual buffet fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner

21 In-Stateroom Service: Order from the complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner

menus, or choose an original Johnny Rockets hamburger or Ghirardelli chocolate

cookies from the new Dine In Delights menu

 

I am absolutely starving just reading about all the different genres of food available!!! I asked Derek how often he works and how often he is at home and he said it was 15 weeks on and 8 weeks off- I could certainly do that!!! Downtime for Derek is back in Cork with his family, walking the dogs on the beach. He loves cooking a good seafood chowder, so I invited him up to Belfast to get fresh amazing seafood at St Georges Market and then to cook it up at my place!! Derek has been to Belfast many moons ago when he played rugby so I would be keen to get him and The Royal Caribbean up here!! He is currently reading the book, “The Battle” by Paul O’Connell and he loves watching any Police themed movies- Derek my favourite is The Untouchables!! Thank you Derek for your time and Caroline for arranging the chat.

 

Right Derek book me in!!!!!

 

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