FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Chow down with the chef? Now that’s cruising!
By Chris Cognac
You liked the midnight buffet. You loved the specialty restaurants. Now get ready for the ultimate culinary coma — otherwise known as dining at the Chef’s Table.
Food, as everybody knows, long has whetted the appetites of cruise aficionados. Now, major cruise lines are kicking it up a notch by inviting seagoing food junkies like me to feasts prepared by gourmet galley giants. These intimate, interactive dining experiences allow you to not only watch the chefs create your dishes right in front of you, but encourage you to ask questions and even participate in the preparation of a course or two.
A handful of major cruise lines offer their own take on the Chef’s Table experience, from Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line to Holland America Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean International. Here are three that I recently had the pleasure of attending.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Cost: $75 per person (approximately eight courses); available on all Carnival ships.
The Low Down: Intimate size (12 to 14 guests), great food, stellar service, and a look at how it’s done in the galley. A must-do for the ultimate shipboard dining experience.
The Experience: Our Chef’s Table was aboard Carnival Splendor. Guests are required to make reservations either prior to boarding or on board via the concierge. Participants are given a time and place on the ship to meet, are greeted by the executive chef, and are then escorted into the busy working galley during a main dining room service. Guests are given a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the preparation and cooking areas so they can see the actual inner workings of how a cruise ship galley is ran. The first course, or “amuse bouche,” is served at one of the work stations on top of a stainless-steel prep table. Guests are served champagne while a sous chef explains the dish in great detail, including the complexities and flavor profile. Guests are then guided to the next station and allowed to prepare the dessert they will be dining on that evening — Carnival’s famous chocolate melting cake. Another small course is offered before the melting cake is removed to be served at the end of the dinner. Guests are then seated at the final location of the evening: either at a large table in a private room such as the library or inside the galley where the rest of the meal takes place. The chefs, along with a team of waiters (made up of actual chefs) and wine stewards, present the next five to seven courses, which might include rock shrimp and apple beignets, aged filet mignon with three peppercorn sauce, or the most amazing chicken Kiev I have ever eaten, which are all plated in front of guests. Each course is explained by the chef and paired with a wine selection to enhance the experience of the dish. The service is outstanding, even by the already high cruise ship standards.
The Bottom Line: Carnival’s Chef’s Table is a fun, intimate dining experience. The dinner lasts about three hours and is one experience guaranteed to make your cruise special.