On The Line: Todd Henderson of The Queen Mary, Part One

We originally planned on interviewing the chef behind Sir Winston's Restaurant. Then we realized Todd Henderson was also the same chef as Chelsea Chowder House, their Tea Room, and the rest of the foodservice offered on board. Therefore, it's no exaggeration to say he governs the gourmet side of Long Beach's luxury liner.

Your earliest food memory:
Making omelets at my parent's bed and breakfast in Newport, Rhode Island.

Favorite meal growing up:
New England clam chowder with a sourdough grilled (Kraft American) cheese.

Your best recent food find:
Surf City Tacos in Huntington Beach where I live; great carne asada.

Most undervalued ingredient:
A good, well-made stock– either chicken, beef or fish fume.

Does the menu offer seasonal items for the winter months?
We do add seasonal items to the menu, and also offer specials depending on what we find from our vendors, butchers and fishmongers. We use autumn squashes for soups and our vegetable Wellington.

Tell us about “Dining with the Spirits”
Dining with the Spirits features a three course meal served in Sir Winston's. After you dine, you go on a guided tour of some of the ship's most notorious paranormal hotspots with a paranormal expert. You also get a great story in each activity area.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Pho. Can't find that in Phoenix [Editor's Note: Keep reading for why he references Arizona].

What fast food do you admit to eating?
I will admit I love the #2 combo at In-N-Out, minus raw onions and upgraded to include a chocolate shake.

What is the finish on the New York strip?
Cabrales cheese and a demi glace fortified with a great red wine.

Are there challenges to cooking on a vessel?
Not so much today. You have to remember the ship was retrofitted when I arrived in Long Beach. We do occupy original kitchen space, but not original kitchen equipment. I would say the biggest challenge is moving around the ship with food or equipment. We do use original lifts, and some equipment does not fit. Also, the ship slopes from bow to stern, port to starboard, so things roll around a lot. Imagine what it must have been like at sea.

One food you can't life without:
(Smooth Jiffy) Peanut butter goes great on anything, don't you think?

Where was your most recent meal?
There is a great little Italian deli/butcher shop around the corner from where I live called Lucci's. They have awesome meatballs.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Gentle hands. Especially when working with delicate lettuces, herbs, etc. I tell my cooks all the time we are not in a wrestling match with the chicken or salmon.

How do you create a vegetable Wellington that's as tasty as its beef counterpart?
The biggest mistake is that most people try too hard to make it taste like beef. That's why I take the freshest vegetables I can find and toss them in some loosely chopped herbs and a little grape seed oil and grill them off with some nice, juicy Portobellos. Then we wrap everything up in delicate puff pastry and bake it to perfection. You could say it's not the same, or you could say it's better.

Where were you working before the Queen Mary?
I worked for Marriott hotels for a number of years in Colorado, Arizona,and California Desert. Most recently, I was with Barney's New York in Scottsdale, Arizona as Executive Chef of Fred's Restaurant.

What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
I take it as a compliment. I do the same thing when I go out; I have been known to hold the plate up in the air to take a picture of the brand– sometimes with food on it.

Where is the best table in the restaurant?
Anywhere along the “horseshoe”, that is the area that extends from the rest of the dining room, to afford a better view of the water.

Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Most recently dragon fruit. I have a tree in my backyard, and had to figure it out. I made smoothies at home with it.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own).
Anywhere that has great sushi. Nothing better than the clean flavors and freshness.

You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Pancakes with help from my 7-year old and 4-year old daughters. Now I've just got to get them to help clean up.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
We had a guest who wanted a raw T-bone steak. Yes, I said raw, out the cooler and on the plate. I thought they wanted it black and blue. That's when you use reserved fat trimmings on the grill to create a flame, then you cook the meat on top of the fire. This chars the outside, but keeps the inside raw. What can you say, every one likes something different.

Usually I tell servers that we can do whatever they want, just let them know the time frame. It could take all night, or it could take 15 minutes, depending on what it is.

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