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Chef’s Table With My Chef

Hi friends! So as you might remember Marlowe and I went on a ladies cruise trip last January (one year ago already!) to the Caribbean. Well, we had a great time on our getaway and when Carnival asked if we wanted to team up again, of course we said yes— this time making sure we could bring Alex too! And to make it even better we travel with my dad and family over Thanksgiving 🙂 It was so nice to get away and not have to worry about the stress of the holidays and just enjoy sometime together– especially after  such a long and hard year.

One of the evenings on the cruise we had the opportunity to try the Chef’s Table—- I was more nervous than I’d like to admit about this experience. My diet is obviously SO restricted these days and even with them knowing this, I wasn’t sure what I would be served — I imagined rice and peas. I was more than surprised and pleased by the food, service, and experience as a whole. I documented my meal with pictures of course. Alex’s meal looked a bit different that mine, but I didn’t take photos of his, cause I’m biased and liked my vegan meal better 😉  Anyway, this is officially Alex’s first post on the blog— yep! We thought it would be fun to have the post written from his point of view– since he is a chef in a pretty nice and high end restaurant 😉 Welcome to Alex’s mind…..

It’s not often that Drea and I get out for an evening just the two of us.  Also, it’s not often that we get out to a really nice dinner, some nice dinners, but not really nice dinners.  So after being offered seats at “The Chef’s Table” during our last Carnival cruise, we happily obliged.  “The Chef’s Table” is a unique private dining experience that includes evening cocktails, a tour of the ship’s galley, and a multi-coursed dinner hosted by the executive chef of the ship.  Now we are usually not the sort to be dining on white table cloths dressed with three different wine glasses, but if an opportunity comes to indulge we’ll take it.  For me the idea of going out is simply to eat something delicious in an environment that I can really enjoy the company of my wife, family, and friends.  I am never looking for thrills, frills, the latest and greatest, the trendy, the popular, or the most raved about.  Usually we end up at places that we know cook honest delicious simple food.  That is not to say that we cannot enjoy something on the upper end of the dining spectrum and take advantage of something special too.

Our meal began with a champagne toast and a tour of the main galley of the cruise ship.  I have worked in some big kitchens but I have never seen a kitchen on a cruise ship.  Truth is, it looks like every kitchen I’ve been in except really, really big!  So many people, so much organization going into every service.  Let’s be real here, these guys are banging out 1,200 covers in 2-3 hours.  That’s a lot, like… a lot.  Anyway, after our champagne we were served several different canapés and then headed out to our table in a private dinning room.  This is where I started to really pay attention.  The level of service we had was pretty incredible. We were at a table of twelve being served by 6, 7, maybe 8 chef’s and two servers.  On top of that the executive chef and sous chef of the ship were overseeing the entire process.  These dinners have to be fun for these guys, I mean I know if I was serving over 1000 guests every night, I would be really excited to get a break to prepare one special meal for only 12 people.

I work for a luxury hotel on the island of Palm Beach.  I operate one of 8 restaurant outlets within the hotel, ours being mainly a dinner and cocktail venue as we are open later than other restaurants.  In my kitchen we typically have 12 to 15 cooks serving just over 200 seats in our dining room.  We serve a modern menu of small plates designed for sharing and trying new things.  Each cook operates a station that is responsible for 3 or 4 dishes.  This keeps the volume, consistency, and most important quality at a very high level.  Although each dish we serve is broken down into extreme detail for service, we are still able to push over 400 covers on a busy night (that is full tilt boogie slammed for us).  I often get to work with our banquet team helping plate for some of the larger functions we have in our hotel.  Here is where I can relate to the work that goes into a dinner service aboard a Carnival cruise.  The easiest thing I can compare it to is an industrial assembly line.  Each cook is responsible for one item on the plate usually.

There are always a lot of hands available to be able to plate up to 1000 dishes in an hour.  My kitchen, like virtually every other professional kitchen in the world operates the same, however, we prepare everything to order.  Instead of everything being partially cooked ahead of time, each one of our plates is started as soon as the guest orders it.  I was really impressed during our galley tour to see an operation like that, so organized, everyone knowing exactly what they are doing, and moving.  Though I am not a banquet chef and have never had to serve that many guests at one time,  I can relate to the efforts and planning it takes to pull off an operation like this every night.  Its impressive and we should be thankful. 

So back to the service, we were poured several different wines to go with different dishes, each course had corresponding silverware to match, if I dropped my napkin, someone bolted to pick it up for me, if I needed to use the restroom I was personally escorted, chairs were always pulled out and pushed in for us, every course was served and plated at the exact same time to every guest.  I mean this is the type of stuff I imagine happens in Buckingham Palace.  The meal went on with a tasting of specially made breads and seven very eclectic courses.  These guys pulled all the stops; olive snow, spiced tea, fruit caviar, lobster foam, bone marrow soufflé, and vanilla gel? Yep, they had all that stuff.  Now some of these components were a bit much for me, even as someone who knows how to make those things and the amount of work it takes, but it was fun to see it, especially on a cruise ship. 

The other big thing for me, and usually is when I go out to eat with Drea is how well restaurants and chefs cater to vegans and any other special diets.  Well they catered hard, very hard.  Drea had an entirely vegan and gluten- free menu, that was actually delicious.  So some of Drea’s courses were different from what I and the rest of the table had but I tried everything and I was impressed.  Not one course was she offered the ol’ stack of marinated grilled vegetables with some grain pilaf or whatever uncreative restaurants put under that crap.  No, she had seven very tasty composed dishes of some stuff she actually never had.  I really liked that these guys took time to make something special for her, not just complain that her diet is a restriction like so many cooks do.  So all in all, it was a pretty cool experience to be catered to like that.  It doesn’t happen a lot or even at all, so I was really happy that we were able to share the experience together.  

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.