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James MartinTV chef James Martin has taken on a new challenge - three years as head chef of The Bistro on P&O Cruises' new ship, Ocean Village.

Passengers dining in The Bistro on Ocean Village this summer may well come face to face with TV chef James Martin, who, working around his filming commitments for the BBC, has taken the position of head chef of the restaurant for the next three years. And it won't just be the occasional, celebrity-style appearance; Martin has planned and designed the menus and will be doing a spell in the kitchen at least twice a month.

Martin, 28, has shot to fame during the last five years with his appearances on the popular show 'Ready, Steady, Cook' and Channel Four's 'Why Weight?'. He has filmed four series of his own for Carlton Food Network's Taste channel: 'For Better For Worse', 'Simply Fish', 'Entertaining with James' and most recently a 50-part show, 'Food For Lovers'. He is also co-presenter on 'Use Your Loaf' with Paul Hollywood and 'Master & Servant' with Antony Worrall Thompson, who in fact gave him his first job as a college-leaver. He has just finished presenting a 24-part daily cookery show, 'Kitchen Invaders', for BBC 1 and is currently the resident chef on BBC 1's live, daily hour-long show, 'Housecall'.

Martin clearly has cooking in his blood; his father, for a start, was the resident chef at Yorkshire's Castle Howard. "I started cooking when I was four years old and I cooked for the Queen Mother when I was twelve," he says. "I came down to London after college in Scarborough and worked for Antony Worrall Thompson. I got spotted for TV about five years ago and never looked back. It's been crazy, a roller-coaster ride."

The offer to work as head chef of The Bistro on Ocean Village came after Martin had taken the plunge and finally taken a cruise with his mother on P&O's Oriana. "I had been invited several times to do demonstrations on cruise ships but had resisted because I'd been told you didn't get any time to yourself," he says. "But Oriana was fantastic. I did some demos and got a huge response. Shortly afterwards, I was approached to work on the new ship."

Why take a job at sea? "I thought it was time to get back into cooking. I'm a better chef now than I was. When you're in the kitchen, you tend to get very blinkered to what's going on outside but I've been working on all sorts of projects and travelling for some time now, and I thought this would be ideal. It's a huge undertaking and I'm on board for three years."

So does cooking on a cruise ship differ from cooking in a restaurant? "For a start, you might be 3,000 miles away from base," says Martin. "The whole logistic of buying food is different. In a restaurant here, you order supplies at 11pm and it's with you the following morning. On a ship, you order three or four weeks in advance and you plan for months ahead. We've been costing, testing and re-testing. There are eight or nine thousand covers a day overall, after all. In the Bistro, there will be about one hundred and eighty covers a night.

"It is different on a ship. The hygiene in the galley is far, far greater than on land. Restaurant kitchens are immaculate, of course, but cruise ships are severely immaculate. The hygiene of the chefs is incredibly strict. And the kitchen's a lot bigger. The maximum number of staff you'd have in a restaurant might be about twenty, more like seven or eight, but on a ship you might have up to one hundred. It can be hard to organise a kitchen when you can only see one tenth of it! But the camaraderie is fantastic."

There is hardly anything, Martin says, that can't be prepared in a ship's galley. "More, in fact. We make all our own bread on board, for example. Ice cream is a bit of a problem because you have to use raw eggs and we have to meet American standards as well as British ones." And is the motion of the ship a problem? "We've been doing lots of testing in the Bay of Biscay when it's really rough," says Martin. "The chefs were dropping like flies. I was OK, though. You all get used to it."

Martin describes his style as 'Modern British with a hint of Mediterranean', which is essentially what diners in the Bistro will be enjoying this summer. "There will be risotto, and ham from Spain and Italy, and cheese from Spain," he explains. "The type of people we will be serving will be well travelled. They'll know about food. You've got to have a balance, something that will suit everybody." Guests will be treated to such delicacies as prosciutto-wrapped, three cheese-stuffed chicken breast with wilted spinach and roast tomatoes, followed by white chocolate and whisky croissant butter pudding.

So what is Martin most looking forward to in his first job at sea? "The Caribbean next winter, of course," he says. "Any chef would be daft not to be. I love all the places we' re going - they're great for foodies. But I like the whole idea of Ocean Village. It suits me, the informality, the fact that people won't have to book for dinner or eat with the same crowd every night. It all adds up to a good package."

Sue Bryant


To be made well, James Martin's signature dish needs a good quality white chocolate containing at least 40% cocoa solids, good Scotch whisky and a combination of eggs and egg yolks. The reason whole eggs are combined with egg yolks is that although the whites make the mixture tough, they're actually needed to make it set. The extra yolks make the mixture more smooth and creamy. Please note that over-cooking the dish can make the custard curdle.


500ml (18floz) milk
500ml (18 floz) double cream
1 vanilla pod
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
200g (7oz) caster sugar
3 large croissants
25g (1oz) sultanas
25g (1oz) butter, melted
175g (6oz) good quality white chocolate, grated
3 tablespoons whisky
55g (2oz) apricot jam, slightly melted
icing sugar


  • Pre-heat the oven to 200C (400F) Gas Mark 6. Pour the milk and cream into a pan, add the vanilla pod, and gradually bring to the boil.
  • Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and mix well.
  • While the cream is heating, slice the croissants and place in an ovenproof dish, slightly overlapping the pieces. Sprinkle with sultanas and pour over the butter.
  • Once the cream has boiled, take it off the heat. Add the egg mixture and chocolate and stir well. Set on one side to allow the chocolate to melt, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the whisky to the cream mixture. Next, using a sieve, strain the cream over the croissants, cover with foil and bake in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until almost set.
  • Remove from the oven, coat the top with the jam and dust with icing sugar. Caramelize the topping using a very hot grill or, if you have one, a blow torch. This is best served at room temperature, with a spoonful of good ice-cream.

This feature originally appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of Cruise Traveller.

Sue Bryant has been a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster specialising in travel for over ten years. Before launching Cruise Traveller, she edited consumer and business-to-business magazines including What Cruise, Hilton Guest, The Great Business Travel Guide and World of Travel. She currently acts as editorial consultant to American Express Business Travel's Focus magazine and ABTA Magazine's annual golf guide.

Sue has also contributed to The Times, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Financial Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph, Business Traveller, Junior, Voyager, Ski & Board, RCI Holiday and Virgin.net. She has written six travel guidebooks and appears regularly on The Travel Channel's Travel On . . . programme.

In 1999 she was shortlisted by the Periodical Publishers' Association as 'Business Writer of the Year' for her contributions to Business Traveller.

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