Carnival Valor Chef’s Table, March 30, 2011

Carnival Cruise Line has a Chef’s Table which is available for about 10 guests on select nights.  Cost is $75 per person, plus gratuity.  Includes about 7 courses, with wine.  It books pretty quickly, and I was able to get it scheduled on the day we boarded. 

What’s interesting about the Chef’s Table is that it includes appetizers in the Galley—during the busiest time period.  Having had some galley tours on sea days, I was looking forward to this part of the event the most. 

Everyone was supposed to arrive in the Atrium Lobby by 6:15pm, and we were then escorted into the galley for appetizers by the chef.  Originally the Chef de Cuisine was to do the event, however he was sick, and the Sous Chef, Maxsym from the Ukraine, was in charge (more on this later on.)  We walked by our servers, and into the somewhat long corridor where they had signs posted about food service and plate presentation for the staff.  (Carnival calls them “Two Minute Trainers”). 

We were introduced to some of the chefs and given some facts about dining on this particular cruise.  There are 150 cooks on this cruise located in all of the galleys (includes the Lido Buffet and the Steakhouse), and chefs on Carnival spend two weeks at a cooking school in France prior to signing on to Carnival.  What I found interesting is that everything was incredibly clean—and busy.  There are coolers where the cold food is stored, and the servers get this, but everything which is provided to passengers is done to order—just like a restaurant.  No pre-plated meals on Carnival. 

As we were brought to our prep table for appetizers we were given champagne (and it was “good stuff” and not too dry.)  Our first appetizer was a Tuna Tartare on a Wasabi Crisp—and it was excellent.  This was followed by an Avocado Cheesecake wrapped in phyllo (it was about one inch square.)  Then they brought us a tiny Steak Taco made with beef tenderloin, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses.  Our final item was a Duck Pot Sticker with a ginger, garlic and hoisin sauce.  As we finished our champagne they just poured more.

After appetizers we were brought around past some of the prep areas, and we were able to see the foods plated.  Maxsym then led us to the huge vats where soups are prepared, and finally over to the Pastry area.  We were introduced to the Pastry Chef, Madhu from India, who told us that there are 17 pastry chefs on this particular ship who work mostly nights.  (Pastry and desserts on this ship have been divine.)  Carnival’s signature dessert is the Melting Chocolate Cake, which is sort of like a really awesome brownie with a pudding center—but its incredibly rich.  We were told that he goes through 7500 of these per cruise—and that seemed about right to me.  He also gave us the recipe too:  70 pounds of chocolate (sweet and dark), 70 pounds of butter, and 70 dozen eggs!  Then he started making our dessert, which was scaled down quite a bit.  It was a very simple recipe and do-able at home. 

With the galley tour done, we were brought to our private dining room on the 4th floor.  In the room was a lovely table for the 10 of us (ladies on one side, gentlemen on the other—with place cards), and a food prep area in the back where they would plate our meals and we could watch if we wanted.  Also on the table was an invitation and a menu rolled up and tied with a ribbon. 

Our first course was Norwegian Salmon Tartar served with Avocado Mousse and Salmon Caviar.  Normally I don’t care for salmon but this was yummy.  Our next course was the soup:  Fire Roasted Tomato and Poblano Chili Bisque with grilled corn and cilantro drizzle.  It was presented with a cherry tomato and some grilled corn in a bowl, with the cilantro drizzle around the outside, and the soup was poured into the bowl.  Another excellent course! 

The soup was followed by Rock Shrimps and Apple Beignets with Tapioca Crunch and Garlic Lemon Aioli.  This was somewhat “different” but in a good way.  The beignets had large pieces of shrimp and apple, and they were fried quickly so were light.  I ate half of what I was presented only because we still had more food coming.  I would order this if I saw it on a menu. 

We were then presented with a Chopped Mediterranean Salad with Shaved Pumpkin and Feta Cheese Crumble.  The Shaved Pumpkin was like a pumpkin brittle—and sweet.  Was pretty good.  All of the flavors sort of blended and nothing stood out, especially the Feta cheese.  As far as I’m concerned, “a little dab will do ya” with Feta because its very flavorful in small doses.  The salad “worked” too. 

Then they started with the Entrees.  First we had a Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass—and wow, it was excellent.  It was served with Wine Stewed Shallots and Chives Vinaigrette, Leek Emulsion and Pea Risotto.  The Risotto was just wonderful, as was the fish. 

One thing I have to mention is the wine.  As we dined we had fine (Colonaise Pinot Grigio) and as soon as a glass was emptied, a server was right there to fill it up.  There was one server per couple and they just sort of floated about filling glasses and removing plates and silverware.  It was quite nice. 

As we finished the fish they took orders for the Filet Mignon, which of course was cooked to order.  During the time we were waiting for our steaks to cook they poured the red wine (Black Opal) and we were entertained by the “Table Magician”, Rakesh from India.  He did all sorts of tricks, and when things didn’t go perfect he was able to recover pretty quickly and go into another trick..  He was with us for about 20 minutes until our beef arrived.

The beef was Aged Filet Mignon with Onion Streusel, and Homemade Three Pepper Mustard.  I was sort of wondering about the Pepper Mustard, but the best way to describe it is green, red and yellow pepper sauce, about a tablespoon, on the plate.  I didn’t taste any mustard whatsoever—just the sweet peppers, and this was a really great sauce option.  Our servers also brought us some steamed broccoli spears and mashed potatoes, which seemed to be mostly cream.  They were pretty good, but incredibly rich, so I only asked for a very small amount.   This course was also delicious.

Maxsym explained all of the foods as they were presented, regarding how they were made and what was in it and answered a lot of questions.  We learned that this was his first time hosting this event and he had less than two hours to prepare for our group!  We all could tell that he was nervous, but he was also passionate about his work as a chef, and was proud of what was coming out of the galley.

After dinner, we were presented a beautiful platter of desserts, and our server brought us our Chocolate Melting Cake.  On the dessert plate was a cake with Mascarpone filling (bite sized) , some homemade Raspberry Sorbet (which beat anything I’ve ever eaten anywhere else), and they brought a scoop of vanilla ice cream too. 

So after three hours, and $180 ($150 per couple plus 20% gratuity) we all left the private dining room.  It was well worth the expense as the food, service and attention was first rate.  They also gave us a group photo commemorating the event as well as a Carnival cookbook, with recipes for the home cook.

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