The last supper

The talented team at Newcastle’s Centre for Life is about to create one of the most complex and challenging dinners of their culinary life with a version of the last dinner aboard Titanic. Jane Pikett meets head chef and kitchen captain, Colin Bowden

Chef (he is never addressed as Colin – never!) is up to his eyes in Titanic ephemera; research for a dinner which will bring back to life a bygone age of extravagance and leisure; an age when a luxury liner was the emblem of a great empire, and her sinking a symbol of its imminent demise.

A version of the 21-course first-class dinner served on April 14, 1912 will be served at Newcastle’s Centre for Life on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, and head chef Colin Bowden has called on all the skills of his classical culinary training to create a seven-course soupcon of the last supper enjoyed by Titanic’s most privileged travellers.

On the evening of April 14, 1912, it is said that few of the first-class diners in Titanic’s a la carte restaurant noticed anything was wrong,
so engaged were they in the lavish repast before them.

The evidence of survivors indicates that their last supper most likely included an hors d’oeuvre of Quail eggs in aspic with caviar; a soup course of Spring pea potage; a fish course of Lobster thermidor; an entrée of Tournedos with morels on a bed of braised cabbage; a Rose water and mint sorbet palate cleanser followed by Quails with cherries; a vegetable interlude of Asparagus with hollandaise sauce; a fruit course of Fresh fruit salad or Orange surprise (kin to Baked Alaska, which is ironic, considering the involvement of the iceberg in this sorry story); a selection of fruits and cheese and after-dinner coffee and cigars.

The many courses would each have been served on a silver salver accompanied by a different wine with Port to finish. The surroundings were lavish and the diners, who included members of English and American high society, were entertained by musicians playing popular standards.

Head chef Colin Bowden

Now head chef Colin Bowden has recreated a version of that fateful dinner for the Titanic Centenary Banquet at Centre for Life on April 14; an event which will be hosted by Life’s head of education, Noel Jackson, who will share anecdotes which put the food and Titanic’s passengers into context.

It’s an extraordinary opportunity for Chef and his team to showcase their talents, and the menu is the result of many hours of detailed research and culinary experimentation.

“It has been a lot of hard work and experimentation,” says Colin, “and all the preparation ensures I feel secure that on the night we can pull it off. It’s been fascinating to go back to how food was served in those days and create a version of it that is both faithful to the original and pleasing to the modern palate.”

With champagne and canapés on arrival, the menu includes a duck terrine, consommé, a salmon dish, a palate cleanser, a lamb dish and an extravagant sweet, with specially chosen wines to accompany each course.

“It’s designed to be as reminiscent, in terms of presentation and taste, of the original menu, as possible,” says Colin.

And while the menu is extensive, each course is surprisingly light, as it would have been at the time, explains Colin.

The presentation is exquisite and absolutely precise – a legacy of Colin’s 35 years’ experience which has included jobs in some of the world’s best kitchens including The Savoy,  and his early training at the hands of a highly demanding French chef.

“There was only one way of doing things in those days,” he says with a smile, “and you can’t get better than that sort of classical training. It is superb preparation for a menu like this one, and I think we have succeeded in creating something which properly reflects what they ate on Titanic that night which also pleases a modern palate.

“We’ll see. It’s a huge amount of hard work and a big event for us. I’ll be glad when it’s over and I can go home, secure in the knowledge that it’s gone well. Until then, I shall keep worrying about it!”
The Titanic Centenary Banquet will be held on April 14 at Life between 7.30pm-1am and costs £60 per person. To book, tel
0191 243 8216 or see


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