Even before the server approached our table, I knew full well what I would order for lunch. It was my third day on board Celestyal Cruises Olympia. Each time I was handed a luncheon menu, I didn’t have to open it for my taste buds had already signaled a response: “Would you make a Greek salad for me?” Our server politely smiled and responded “Nai,” which sounds a lot like “No” in other languages but means “Yes” in Greek. Or say “Fysiká” meaning, “Of course.” Within minutes, he would return with a glistening salad that wondrously set a higher flavor bar than what I was served the day before.
When I told my salad scenario to Dimitros Tsilivakis, I got the impression that he had heard similar stories before. Tsilivakis is maître d’hotel for the Olympia. He has sailed with Celestyal Cruises for more than 10 years.
Tsilivakis credits the excellence of the food service to the talent of the ship’s chefs and the kitchen crew. He also gives a nod to the mindset of passengers, suggests sea air may play a part and then there are the fresh provisions the ship picks up each time it docks.
“Our galley is busy 24 hours a day,” Tsilivakis said. Breads rise and bake overnight; food prep for the buffet and daily menus are sliced, diced and, if needed, marinated. The cruise line’s brand is authentic Greek and that extends into the kitchen and the wine cellar. The buzz word, Enogastronomy, which means the very best in Greek food and wine, is very real on board the Olympia.
From simple salad ingredients (for me) to singular experiences created from, say, Mizithra bougatsa (phyllo filled with a local cheese like mizithra and topped with course sugar), mastika or a sap from the mastic tree grown in Greece. Often called the “tears,” the sap is sometimes dried, sometimes used in a marinade, even as the base for a liqueur.
For guests with dietary restrictions or food allergies, like my shellfish allergy, Tsilivakis only asks to be made aware. On any given cruise, he says 10 to 15 guests may have a dietary restriction. “People just diet,” he said. “Others are on a special diet. We ask only to make it known and we will take personal care of them.” The ship offers kid’s menus, gluten-free menus, dairy-free and can provide food selections for other allergies.
Onboard dishes are made with extra virgin olive oil of premium quality, he said. The same for Greek wines — onboard sommeliers present some of the most prized Greek wines and encourage guests to try them. One reason I may l-o-v-e my salad so much, he suggested, is the cheese. The feta served on board is Kefalonian cheese, which dates to the Homeric age. “It is a white, soft cheese and kept in brine for at least two months,” he said.
Tsilivakis visits the buffet each day to see what dishes disappear first and what doesn’t. Mostly, it is the former. He and his team help to develop menus and test dishes for future cruises. The buffet offers seasonal, Greek flavors and international foods for all nationalities.
“It isn’t difficult for us,” he said. “In the Mediterranean, when correctly done, a Greek salad can be a full meal.”