Tom Goetter is the VP Oceans Hotel Operations for Scenic Group, including Scenic Eclipse and sister brand Emerald Cruises. He oversees all the dining experiences on board the World’s First Discovery YachtsTM, managing the chefs and menus from producers to table. He has championed culinary innovations you won’t find on any other ship at sea, like the authentic street food in Night Market @ Koko’s and the new micro herb Chef's Garden @ Epicure on Scenic Eclipse II. He’s proud to showcase the work of his expert team on Maritime Masters.
Can you tell us how you became interested in becoming a chef? Where does your passion for food come from?
In Germany, you have these little books in kindergarten that you give to your best friends and then they put in their favourite colour, favourite food and what they want to be when they grow up. Well, whenever I got one of these books, I always put in chef or clown. I was very determined. Clown school didn’t really work out, so I went with my next option. I started my chef training when I was 15, which takes three years in Germany, and I’ve just never stopped.
How did you start working with Scenic?
Before I worked with Scenic, I was working with another luxury cruise company, but I had decided to end my career in ocean cruising. I felt it didn’t really match my free spirit. But when I got the call from Scenic, they explained there would be multiple restaurants, they were developing exciting new concepts and I could have a lot of freedom. I flew to Cologne to cook a few dishes for the owners, they liked what I did and now it’s been five years.
What's involved in preparing for each region Scenic Eclipse visits?
It’s a never-ending challenge, but I think that’s why I’m still on board and why I like this so much. You need to plan six to eight months in advance. Antarctica is especially difficult because it’s at the end of the world. It's not like when you’re in Italy and you can say, ‘I don't like my parsley, I’m just going to go out and buy some’. There’s only penguins and ice. So, I need to be extremely organised and really accurate with my orders. But I also have to be extremely flexible because it doesn't matter how organised I am, there's a very high chance I won't get everything I asked for.
LEFT: VP Oceans Hotel Operations Chef Tom Goetter and his team
The dining experiences are at the heart of what makes a Scenic Eclipse cruise an unforgettable voyage. Who is behind the scenes of making this happen?
My job on board now is mostly culinary direction and tasting, so I’m grateful for the huge team on board. We have the great distinction of having many nationalities in the kitchen, and there’s a huge amount of respect, loyalty, and love. Everyone feels free to talk about their ideas and put their egos behind them, and that creates something really special. I can tell you at least one story about a dishwasher who invented a dish, inspired by something they ate back home, that I ended up putting on the menu. I think that really captures what Scenic is.
Can you walk us through what a typical day on board Scenic Eclipse is like for your culinary team?
First of all, it’s really important to remember that our team on the ship basically works 24 hours a day. We have always someone, somewhere, working. Every single chef has different duties during the day and usually it involves at least two different locations and kitchens. So, there’s no such thing as a typical day. With so many dining venues – plus dining experiences, the demonstrations, the cooking classes on top of it – everybody has at least 10 to 15 side jobs. Every single day looks different.
RIGHT: Chef Tom Goetter, VP Oceans Hotel Operations
How do you ensure that you can provide guests with a variety of dining experiences?
I think the interior of the ship itself gives us a huge advantage here. When you go on a regular cruise ship, you only have a handful of dining venues, and one is usually a buffet. So, it’s easy to get bored. With up to 10 dining experiences on board, Scenic Eclipse has many more options. They all have different teams and changing menus every single day. On top of that, we are updating menus quite frequently based on what we see in port and the flavours of the regions we sail in.
What inspires you when creating these ultra-luxury dining experiences?
My main motivator is definitely the crew. There are a lot of people in the industry that say cruise ships are not as good as restaurants on land. So, I want to prove them all wrong. And that comes down to the crew; we truly believe that we can make a change here. We’ve done it in many aspects already. We put street food and herb gardens on a 6-star cruise ship. It's the only cruise ship in the world providing its own micro herbs. I want to make sure we are completely elevated from everybody else and that the guests feel that without us saying a word.
Can you tell us more about the concept of Chef’s Table @ Elements?
The idea of Chef’s Table was to develop a unique dining experience, looking at old school dishes but really creating them in a new way. One of the dishes we do is entirely inspired by mushroom; mushroom brioche, mushroom dust, mushroom mousse covered with chestnut, all together in a dish that looks like a mushroom. There are also some fun elements, like a foie gras lollipop on candy floss. It’s such a nice feeling when a new dish is created by one of the chefs, then worked to perfection and implemented at Chef’s Table.
LEFT: Chef's Table @ Elements, Scenic Eclipse
How did it feel to be part of the Maritime Masters project?
I'm extremely happy that they chose me to be part of it. It's great to show the culinary aspect of Scenic Eclipse. Obviously, it’s an incredible Discovery Yacht on an expedition journey, but it’s a culinary expedition too. And I'm really, really happy to have the opportunity to showcase some of my chefs because they deserve it. They’ve worked hard for so long now and I want them to see that it's worth it to fight hard. It's certainly not the easiest life as a chef, but it's definitely a nice way to explore your soul a little bit.
Can you share with us a moment that was remarkable for you while filming Maritime Masters?
I'm a nice guy, but in the kitchen I’m definitely a tough cookie. So, it was incredible to hear the chefs say they love to work with me, even though I'm not easy and I'm pushing them hard. During the filming, there were several chefs saying that I'm their mentor and that they want to stay loyal to me for a very long time. And they became very emotional for me. It just showed me that, even though I hadn’t realised it, I have bonded with these people over the past few years, and they mean so much to me.
RIGHT: Jason Flesher, Director of Expeditions, Captain Erwan Le Rouzic and Chef Tom Goetter, VP Oceans Hotel Operations
What’s your advice for guests who want to get the most of their culinary journey on board Scenic Eclipse?
I always have the same advice for guests: try something you would never normally order. It’s very easy to elevate a lobster because it’s lobster. Instead, I want to surprise with really normal and humble ingredients, which can be life changing. It’s the same reason we choose to have the night market on board, because who would go on a 6-star cruise ship and eat street food? People will say ‘I’ve never had food like this’. And then if we hear that from a guest, then I know we are doing the right thing.
What’s the part of your job that you love the most?
Well, that's easy; it's the cooking part. In my new role, I obviously can’t cook as much as before. So, every single opportunity I get to even just look at the chef’s jacket, I know already that's just going to be the best day of the week.
What's next for Scenic Eclipse's dining experiences or new innovations on Scenic Eclipse II?
The coolest place on board is the new Chef’s Garden. It’s transformed Epicure restaurant into a cozy, intimate space where the guests are closer to the chefs. I wanted to create an atmosphere that feels like you are back home cooking with your mother, grandmother, and cousins. We are also going to talk about the micro gardens a lot. It feels more healthy, warmer, it has more energy. I'm on the ship right now every day to inspect them; it has become my favourite room and I can’t wait to get in there every day.
LEFT: Night Market @ Koko’s, Scenic Eclipse
Why is sustainability important when it comes to cruise ships?
Sustainability as a new word comes 10 years too late; we should have started it way earlier. I think it's extremely important. When I joined Scenic Eclipse, the first question I asked was ‘how many buffets do we have?’ They waste so much food, so the first thing we did is eliminate as many buffets as possible. Secondly, our biggest restaurant is just 80 seats, meaning we can cook a la carte, from a fridge to the pan, not prepping 2,500 steaks in advance. We have nine dehydrators on board to sustain fresh produce, like dehydrating excess lemons and oranges to use in cocktails. Another really great example is our decanting system in the suites. Instead of buying little bottles of wine or spirits, we have beautiful decanters and a decanting menu on your screens. It’s great for guests because they have a bigger selection, but it also saves about 11,000 little bottles every month.
Do you have a motto you live by?
If you would ask my most loyal chefs, they would say ‘lions don't care what sheep are thinking’. That's kind of cheesy and arrogant, but it's also true. I've never been the kind of guy who turned left just because everybody else said we have to go left. I just ask why.
What differentiates the Scenic Eclipse experience from other ultra-luxury cruises?
There is no ship currently on the sea that offers the a la carte spectrum we do with as many variances and recipes, and the flexibility. We adjust to the individual chefs and to the areas we visit, and that's really a hundred per cent unique so far. We heavily involve local producers and try to pick up as much in port as we can. When we passed by South America recently, we picked up 150kg of tonka beans to make our own chocolate. Every single time you have a guest taste fresh chocolate for the first time, without all the sugar and fat inside, it is an absolute game changer.
RIGHT: Herb Garden, Scenic Eclipse