As a child, Karl Hallberg played with knives and… his mother let him! He also played with spoons, spatulas, bowls and his food. From the age of three he knew he wanted to be a chef.

He set his sights on the culinary arts and, at the age of thirteen, he began his internship in a restaurant in his native Sweden. Karl enrolled in a hotel and restaurant culinary course in his senior school years and graduated as a chef. When not studying to become a chef he spent his spare time working in local restaurants, beginning as a dishwasher then graduating to chef's assistant. At the age of eighteen he was running several of the chain's restaurants.

Next on Karl's agenda was the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality in Passugg where, as part of the three year curriculum, he spent a year at the Zurich Development Centre, a hotel/conference complex. It was here he honed his guest relations skills by accepting a 'front of the house' position since he already was well versed on the food and beverage side of the hospitality business.

Upon graduation from the Swiss School, Karl traded the chill of Europe for the heat of the Caribbean and, for the next nine years, worked for Sandals Resorts in Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, Antigua and St. Lucia. His final three years he spent as Food & Beverage Director for the company.

“Working in the Caribbean you always see the cruise ships,” he told me. “I knew about the cruise ship industry before and it was something I always wanted to try on. Friends were urging me to apply and so I went online and Celebrity got back to me and offered me a position as assistant food and beverage manager for my first contract to see if there was a fit. It was a big choice in my life since I enjoyed my relationship with Sandals but I also looked forward to a new challenge and so I accepted. The first year with the ships was a big learning curve.”

Karl's first position was on Celebrity Equinox and the next, his first as Food & Beverage Director, was aboard Celebrity Solstice. He then sailed on Celebrity Century followed by more than one and-a-half years on Celebrity Constellation. He returned to Equinox and, as of this writing, is still on the big Solstice-class ship.

“The biggest change I found between my job shore side and on the ship was… just finding my way around! It took me almost a month. The watertight doors, the stairways, the fire screens, the storerooms… everything looks similar and, if you don't see the windows… you don't know where you are!” He adds, “Then I moved on to my next ship, Celebrity Century, and it was totally different. Now, however, I have been on all our classes of ships and I feel that I pretty much know my way around. Also I realized that there is so much more emphasis on safety and sanitation on the ships than there is elsewhere in the world. That is so important and I learned about that aspect very quickly.”

As Food & Beverage Director, Karl Hallberg heads a crew of more than six hundred. He is responsible for the Galley Department consisting of all the chefs, cooks and utility crew; the Bar Department with the bar managers, bartenders, servers and sommeliers; and the Restaurant Department including the managers, servers, maître ds and waiters.

Karl, like many of his fellow officers, is very visible throughout the ship and he considers it a very important part of his job as F&B Director. "I think food and beverage is a front line management kind of style. I need to be out and about, I need to see the operation all the time because the guest is the one who evaluates you at the end of the day, whether they are having a good stay or not. And the only way to see that is to spend a lot of time in the operation and… to hear the feedback from the guests. I would say that I spend about seventy-five percent of my time out of the office, overseeing the various departments I am responsible for, watching the operation, attending meetings and interacting with our guests. The remaining twenty-five percent is administrative work and communication with shore side and other departments on the ship. The scope of the job is very large and the responsibility is huge at the end of the day."

He also tries to find time to get involved with a lot of the social events held throughout the ship. If there is a pool volleyball game you can expect to see the 6'6” Swede right in the thick of it. Ping pong, bocce ball, food demonstrations and other Celebrity Life activities… Karl tries to attend as many as his schedule allows.

In recent years many cruise lines have begun to offer specialty dining venues onboard their ships. Skeptics jumped on the 'cash grab' bandwagon while other cruisers looked forward to an alternative to the main dining rooms and buffet venues on their ships. For a surcharge that varies with each offering, you can upgrade your meal choices and service levels at rates still well below similar dining experiences on land.

I asked Karl to summarize the specialty options on the ship on which we were travelling, Celebrity Equinox, followed by the current surcharge rate.

"Elegant, chic and gourmet, I would have to say. Very detailed service, very knowledgeable crew and exquisite food. It is a gourmet restaurant based on French cooking methods influenced with international flavours. You have your live cooking done right in front of you. You have your Dover Sole, lobster tails and Chateaubriand prepared at your table by your server. I think it's spectacular!"
$45 per person
Tuscan Grill
"Tuscan Grill is a little less formal, a little more lively and enthusiastic environment. You are sitting in an Italian restaurant overlooking the stern of the ship. You get some great steaks and some great pasta. A little bit simpler food than Murano however it is cooked to perfection. A fantastic Mediterranean concept… with steaks!"
$35 per person
Silk Harvest
"It is an Asian-Oriental Fusion restaurant in a very relaxing environment. There are several dishes you can order that are placed in the middle of the table that have enough portions that can be shared with your table guests. The servings are very generous with a wide variety of dishes. You will go away feeling full."
$30 per person

I have had the pleasure of dining in all three of the restaurants and, in my many travels over the years, I would put have to spend about three times the amount of the ship's prices to get a similar meal and service on shore.

As to the future… where might we find Karl Hallberg another ten years down the road… or across the sea? “I've always been a very goal-oriented person, otherwise I wouldn't be where I am at 32 years of age. I want to continue to develop myself and, within the ships, I would like to become a Hotel Director. Sometimes it's a dream to have your own restaurant and bar somewhere however… sometimes simpler things can be more beneficial. Whenever and wherever I find that ideal place to open up something, I'll open up something. In the meantime, I love what I am doing, I'm getting to see the world and… I'm getting paid for it!”

Bob Rice
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