While a group of bartenders are mixing classic cocktails, another class could be learning glassware selection or the subtle skills of a sommelier; a third group might be developing a new dish or perfecting some twist on an existing one, while yet another group is examining and testing a new piece of physical equipment or software. All this can and does happen simultaneously in the Apollo Group’s new Eric Barale Culinary Center.
The nearly 4,500-square-foot facility has a fully functional bar, kitchen, and classroom settings for addressing the training and testing needs of an ever expanding cruise industry. Chef Barale has been at the forefront of that process since joining Apollo in 2003.
“The culinary center was created to supply a certain amount of research and development when it comes to menus, beverages, wine selections, mixology, tabletop, and also training for the new software used onboard. When it comes to management policy, procurement, anything related to the operation, like public health training with the CDC for basic sanitation programs, bakery and anything else that is needed to run a proper food and beverage operation,” Barale said.
“Everything is under one roof. And we can convene five different workshops at the same time due to the size of the space. So, that is why I can run a workshop in the patisserie bakery, one in the kitchen, one in the cold kitchen, one in the classroom hall – which would be software training, development training, anything that could be conducted inside the classroom. Beverage training, tabletops, I could do a dining room with waiter and sommelier service training too.”
The key is not to drive tastes or invent initiatives, but to facilitate smooth implementation, remove obstacles, and give each cruise line partner the product and training expertise suited to their differentiated brand.
“For example, Oceania and Regent are very classic and traditional, so we are working with all the classic cocktails and beverages that you find in a luxury hotel ashore. While, for other clients we make something more fancy or more South Beach or New York style. So, it depends on the expectations of our partner and the type of client we are have onboard the vessel,” he said. “Our job is to stay very low profile. We are not interjecting ourselves. We are very dedicated to what the expectation and style of our partner is.”
While Apollo may operate out of the limelight, their influence is substantial. Beyond research and development, Barale said the group has roughly 8,000 employees embedded on ships, and provides expertise training for another 100 or more a year, mostly in management skills. Current partners include Oceania, Regent, Marella and Virgin Voyages.
“We are doing costing, we are doing sourcing, and everything is from scratch,” he said. “Our job, actually, is to go away from any trouble. Our job is to find the best outcome, to make it successful. What is the merchandise that will fit the best, what the requirements are, but also what are the right skills and the right people to execute the product we want to deliver. And this is why we have the training part, it’s a huge impact on the final delivery because the training is associated with the level of expectation and the level of difficulties required by this new implementation or this new program. So of course, we’’e involved at the same time with human resources, we involve ourselves in staffing, it’s really a lot of satellite departments that are providing various services.”