From what I have heard at press conferences (I think it was on Solstice) Blau is pretty much out of the picture and Jacques Van Staden has taken over the Celebrity Cuisine.
Blau is really just a food consultant whose main job is pairing celebrity chefs with hotels in Vegas. She got the nod from Celebrity Cruises when Michel Roux's contract ended, and my guess was that they were going to consider doing a few "name" restaurants on their ships like the hotels in Vegas do.
My next guess is that RCI then decided that wasn't a marketable or profitable concept, so they just went with "nobody specific" as a head chef for awhile, and then decided their food needed an identity. So they "fell in love" with Van Staden and now he is their guy. I don't think you will hear about Blau anymore.
Yes, the French Laundry is a well-known restaurant considered to be one of the best in America.
I ate at Emeril Legasse's Nola in New orleans a couple of times - excellent.
I think Oceania has excellent food - as I mention in the article. I also think Pepin's involvement with Oceania is genuine and fairly extensive.
I have to say, although I like Holland America a great deal, everyone in the food world I know agrees their food has fallen in quality a great deal. They use Rudy Sodamin who has been on ships almost exclusively his whole career - a situatuion that does not seem to help cruise line food as much as having an outsider.
Furthermore - as Janice Wald Henderson was explaining to me - cruise lines have a lot of difficulty maintaining food quality when they specialize in disparate cruising regions. It is far easier for carnival to control quality of ingredients when they are mostly just privisioning the Caribbean, while HAL and Princess have ships worldwide. You can't provison locally because there is no quality control, so most lines actually provison the entire fleet from one source - which makes quality control better, but freshness harder.
Also - cruise lines have steady customers who don't always welcome change. That is why you will find the best food in alternative restaurants where they pay out more for infredients but also experiement more. Dining rooms are more about feedling large groups of people.
In you agree (like I believe now) that alternative restaurants on cruise ships actually represent excellent value as far a getting a gourmet meal, then you have to believe the a la carte pricing model for food makes more sense.
As for Royal Caribbean, no I don't think they focis on food quality enough. It is not one of their major concerns. It says a lot for Carnival that they have Georges Blanc (who just worked with them as recently as June 2008) creating special menu items for them.
However, on Oasis, Royal will have the first actual "ched d' cuisine in residence" restaurant in 150 Central Park and I am looking forward to trying it. There chef is a young but accomplished lady who is considered very good. Keriann Von Raesfield.
One cruise line chef pairing I did not mention is Windstar and Joachim Splichal - because I don't think it is on anymore and I dont think it really ever went far - but he is a well-known chef.
I also just tried the Cathouse in Vegas which has Kerry Simon as the chef. he is famous for making "all American desserts" like cotton candy, snowballs, etc. I had the banana cotton candy and it was great (for $9.00 it should be).