We talk taking afternoon tea to the high seas with P&O Cruises Food Hero, Eric Lanlard.
Hi Eric, thanks for speaking to us and giving us a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the world of cruising’s favourite patissier. How did your relationship with P&O Cruises first come about?
The P&O Cruises creative team approached me a couple of years before the launch of their newest ship and, after swearing me to secrecy, told me all about The Britannia Project. Our first meeting happened in London, over afternoon tea funnily enough, and they told me how high a priority food would play on board this new vessel. I have always loved cruising, ships and life at sea, so I couldn’t turn down the exciting opportunity to serve a signature afternoon tea on board and to look after the first patisserie at sea.
Having had plenty of time to explore Britannia during your time on board for various Food Heroes cruises, what are your impressions of P&O Cruises’ most recent arrival?
One of the most exciting things in the build up to the launch of Project Britannia was how involved we were from start to finish. We made regular trips to the ship yard in Monfalcone to see the ship being built and had input into designs, layout and service ideas. We all felt a big part of the process. I remember feeling quite emotional when walking through the atrium for the first time following the ship’s delivery, as it really was a ‘copy and paste’, if you will, of all the computer generated images we had seen over the previous two years. For this, I must applaud P&O Cruises. They really stuck to their ideas for the design and high standard of décor and service. The ship flows very well and you notice amazing little details at every turn. As an art collector, I love the artwork on board, all of which is contemporary and stylish. Britannia is unlike any other cruise ship; the luxury surroundings and all of the dining and drinking options really do give the ship the feel of a 5-star hotel at sea.
The Market Café has received rave reviews since Britannia’s regal launch in April. Do you think people’s perceptions of the food on board cruise ships have changed?
Like most travellers, cruise passengers are far more food-savvy than they used to be. It’s no longer just about all you can eat buffets but rather an appetite for experimenting with new flavours and new types of cuisine. You only have to speak to passengers to realise that they are becoming more adventurous with their food, having watched cookery shows or eaten abroad, and they want to experience this in a celebratory way on board.
The position of the Market Café, right in the heart of Britannia’s gorgeous atrium, couldn’t be more perfect. It is the place to be seen and to people watch, yet still far enough away from the buzz of the public places. Each time I am on board, I love to see people start to descend the grand staircase from about 4pm onwards, looking to enjoy an afternoon treat. It is terribly chic and sophisticated, and you can see that the passengers feel like a million dollars as they sit there enjoying their fine patisseries. This is exactly what we wanted to create with the Market Café.
In the past you have been quoted as saying that, despite your sweet surroundings, your treat of choice is actually cheese. Did this play a part in the decision to offer a combination of both sweet and savoury at the Market Café?
Well, I cannot take credit for Charlie Turnbull’s cheese selections on board but I have to admit, I was really pleased to find out that we were going to share part of the Market Café. This savoury addition is perfect for passengers who are looking for light bites instead of a full dinner, usually after having my afternoon tea a little earlier in the day. It does of course go without saying that I absolutely must exercise some quality control whilst on board and simply MUST try each cheese platter for that reason!
Along with the Market Café, you have also created an exclusive afternoon tea, which is served in Britannia’s Epicurean Restaurant. With savoury macarons and edible perfumes it’s quite unlike the traditional ‘sandwiches and scones’ affair. Why was it important to you to put a fresh spin on a British institution?
I have always been a great fan of the traditional afternoon tea; as a child, we used to cross the channel from Brittany just to have High Tea in London. We obviously serve tea at my patisserie Cake Boy and I design afternoon tea for luxury hotels around the world too, so it just made sense to create a fabulous afternoon tea at sea. The dining room in which it is served on board Britannia is absolutely stunning. It is one of my favourite dining rooms on board and is the perfect place to take tea. When it came to the food itself, it was important for me to keep the main components of a traditional high tea – the savouries, cakes and scones – but to give it a contemporary twist and a very fun, interactive feel, without appearing gimmicky. The edible perfume always takes people by surprise but it really opens the senses and gets you in the mood to enjoy the whole experience.
Baking was once considered the hobby of housewives but right now it has never been cooler. Why do you think its popularity has soared in recent years?
Again, I think it is due to a wider exposure to the world of food on TV and also due to travel giving people an appetite to learn and become more creative when it comes to their cooking. Baking’s popularity has increased across all ages and genders, which is great!
In addition to the cookery demonstrations you hold on Britannia, you also run a cookery school at Cake Boy’s London HQ. Why is it so important to you to pass on your skills?
When I began my training as a patissier, I was lucky to be working under some of the world’s top chefs, all of whom made it their mission to share their time, passion and love for the profession to help make me a better baker. I look at the masterclasses I run at Cake Boy, on board Britannia and indeed all over the world almost as payback time. It’s now my turn to share the patisserie love!
Does your love of travel inspire your recipes?
Absolutely! I love travelling and food is always on the agenda wherever I am. I am inspired by new ingredients, presentation, spices and I often take note and create something using these new ideas. I never copy dishes though, that would be cheating!
What is your dream destination?
I have a few favourite destinations but the British Virgin Islands are where I go to relax and do almost nothing. For food, I love visiting South Africa, especially the Cape Town region. The food scene there has become huge in recent years and they have a very fresh and simple approach to food that we don’t really have in Europe. Also, I do love my South African wine and fizz, but don’t tell my dad – he still thinks only French people cn make decent wine!
How big a part does food play in your travels?
Food is a big part of my travels and I will never visit a destination without at least 80% of my lunches and dinners already pre-booked in advance; I get super excited about the planning! Being on vacation allows you to enjoy food so much more because you are relaxed and have time to appreciate each dish properly.
You are an author, presenter and teacher, and have baked for everyone from the Beckhams to Madonna, even creating a 101st birthday cake for the Queen Mother (complete with tiara-wearing corgis). What is next for Cake Boy?
Following the success of my afternoon tea ventures, I am in the process of putting the final touches to my sixth book, which will be called ‘Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea’. It makes sense and people will finally be able to recreate my signature macaroons at home. The book will be out in May/June 2016.