CRUISE CAREER COACH: INTERVIEW WITH CULINARY EXPERT – CORINNE LEWIS

CRUISE CAREER COACH: INTERVIEW WITH CULINARY EXPERT – CORINNE LEWIS

For Corinne Lewis, who moved to the United States from France 20 years ago, turning her passion into a career has always been important.

“My passion is food and beverage. I’ve always been in food and beverage. I went to culinary school then did an MBA in hotel management. From there I started working in hotels and restaurants and cruise lines,” says Lewis. She is currently the director of food and beverage development for the Apollo Group, which provides for Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Island Cruises, and formerly worked for Royal Caribbean.

While her projects vary, one example might be helping chefs—whether it’s a bar or a specialty eatery or an ethnic-focused restaurant—develop a new menu. Working in the cruise industry on the culinary side served as an education about not only ship life, but also about appealing to different tastes for cuisine, with many driven by ethnicity and cultural background.

As a culinary expert in the cruise industry, you spend a great deal of time sailing on ships, working closely with the food and beverage teams – some of the largest, most culturally diverse groups onboard. What challenges have you encountered and how did you resolve them when getting these different cultures to work together for a common goal?

We always say on a cruise ship that we are bigger than the United Nations. It’s always really interesting to see the different nationalities interact and witness their common goals. After you’ve worked on a cruise ship, you have friends in every single part of the world. Wherever you want to go, there is somebody you can see. It is a big, huge family.

What advantages did you discover as a result of the cultural mix?

It’s interesting to see how different nationalities will look at a problem and deal with it in a different fashion. It’s a very big eye-opener and something you take for granted, and don’t always think twice about.

As a native of France, how would you describe your management style?

It’s a lot faster than what we are used to in America. I have a tendency to work real fast and expect people to work fast as well. I am always directly to the point, too. Instead, in America, it often goes around a couple of times before we get it right. Americans have a tendency to change companies every five years. In Europe it’s not that way. We have a tendency to stick with a company for a long time. That’s why I stayed with Royal Caribbean for a long time.

Do you have to alter your approach when you visit ships in order to achieve your goals with these culturally diverse teams?

When you come onboard a ship you usually already know your team. Every single ship is managed a different way. Every management has a different style. As a result you have to adapt to that style. And then you have the final layer, which are your workers. You have to make sure they understand the concept but not necessarily the financials. Cater to workers’ needs and only give them the information they need. Do they really need to know that a certain area of the ship is going to change from green to yellow for whatever reason? They just need to know that it will be closed for a few days.

Besides the staff and crew onboard, the passengers bring another mix of cultural diversity to the equation. You have pioneered several “firsts” in the industry — including the first kosher for Passover cruise and the first Indian wedding at sea. How do you tackle catering to the tastes of so many different palates when planning shipboard menus?

With the Indian wedding, I was lucky to have some really good contacts in India. Because you work on a cruise ship, you have a lot of nationalities onboard the ship. You pick and choose whoever you want to put into the group—that’s how you start the process. It’s not just me doing it. It’s putting your team together and starting to figure out what the client wants. What can I provide to the client that he or she wants without affecting my food cost and my service quality? It’s the logistical and also the organizational that come into play.  After that, the project just evolves. And that’s how you get your first Indian wedding at sea. You create that Sahara-Indian theme into a lounge. It’s a lot of teamwork and a lot of hours spent researching.

You have played an integral part in many new ship launches and revitalizations. As one individual leading huge shipboard teams to execute new concepts, what do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

It came out of a dream team, basically, about 10 years ago. They put 15 or 20 of us in a room and asked us to design what we thought the dream ship of the future would be. The ship was the destination: it had neighborhoods and different concepts, the zip line and all that. It was really what we had envisioned when we were designing the ship and didn’t even know if it would go anywhere. Everybody that was in that room at the time was still there for the launch of the Oasis of the Seas. It was like a puzzle to put together. That’s probably the greatest achievement. It’s not mine: it was the team putting it together.