Thursday, May 3, 2012

Carnival Triumph Chef's Table

This event was so special it deserves its own post. Kevin and I are pretty budget minded cruisers.  We don't gamble or run up bar tabs, we are frugal with our excursion choices.  But for once, we decided to splurge.  I've always resisted the temptation of the Carnival Steakhouse (the main dining room has good food- why pay $30 more?) but there was finally an offering that I thought was worth the upcharge: The Chef's Table.   Kevin is a bit of a foodie, and I thought this was an experience he would really enjoy.  But I was worried about me: I'm pretty darn picky.  Thanks to cruise critic I saw the menu ahead of time and learned that they will make accomodations, so I decided to try it.  The cost of the evening is $75 per person, which includes wine.  I don't drink wine.  Yet another trepidation: would it be worth it?  And would our night be ruined by people trying to "drink their money's worth?"  I'm happy to report the answers were: Yes.  and No.  We actually ended up tipping an extra $20, and although everyone "enjoyed themselves", no one was sloppy drunk. Everyone was clearly there for the food.

We reserved the Chef's Table by emailing the Maitre'D before the cruise.  It took him a very long time (3 weeks?) to respond, most people online reported responses within 2 days...

The very first thing that shows there is great attention to detail is the night before the Chef's Table.  While eating in the main dining room --anytime dining- so they must have had us flagged on the computer. Not sure what they do if you go to the Lido that night- maybe a phone call? Or maybe you are SOL :) -- a representative of the Chef came and asked us if we had any allergies or food preferences.  Kevin said no and I said I do not drink wine.  I told them my preference was Diet Coke to drink.  It helped I had seen the menu ahead of time.  I knew there was no maple (Kevin's most hated food product) and the onions were limited (Kevin isn't a huge fan.)  I also knew there was no pork or baby animals (lamb/veal)- as those are the things I do not eat.  I also knew there was a lot of seafood, but was determined to be adventurous and try it.  We were told to meet up for the Chef's Table the next night at 6:15, that men could not wear T-shirts (they didn't say ladies, maybe they just assume ladies tend to dress up?) and asked that I wear close toed shoes (didn't say men... another assumption...) and no heels.

Which brings us to the day of the Chef's Table.  We skipped sushi (so sad!) because we didn't want to eat anything ahead of time.  At 6:00 we headed down to the lobby to meet up at 6:15.  I have to say- this was kind of stressful.  We were not told who we were meeting, no exact spot, and the lobby was crowded.  Finally I saw an officer in whites and went over to her and she did have the list for the Chef's table.  She checked our name off, and told us the Chef would be out shortly.   Well that part was easy, he was wearing a big Chef's hat! The Chef shook Kevin's hand and introduced himself and said "Your name?" to which Kevin did not respond!! I was shocked, so he shook my hand, I introduced myself as Jessica, and he did the same to everyone else.  No one else seemed to introduce themselves.  I can only assume his thick accent and the loud lobby made it so that no one else heard him ask for their names?

After the introductions the Chef said "Jessica. That I will remember, you will be the Chef of the night!"  Since no one else had introduced themselves, I felt kind of embarassed and thought he was picking on me. Especially since he kept refering to me as we walked through to the galley!  (In good fun, but I was embarassed to have done something different from everyone else.)

We went into galley during the dinner service and got a tour.  The very first thing we learned is that a lot of waiters will try to go 'out' the 'in' door, and the Chef does NOT like this.  He scolded a few, and then you could see them warning other waiters to not go that way.  The Chef tells us they do this to serve tables faster, but it causes accidents and dropped trays.  We got to see all the food stations set up, and it was very orderly, and very busy.

We stopped at a large table set up for us.  There was champagne flutes, and a Diet Coke, and a Ginger Ale.  Turns out the other non-drinker was the Chef :)  Everyone got champagne, I got my Diet Coke, and then another woman asked for one.  She said it hadn't occured to her to tell them she doesn't drink alcohol, and thought she would have water...  We all toasted to the evening, and out came the appetizers.  (I may have the order wrong...)

-Oh, no photos were allowed in the galley, so I don't have those here...-  The Chef described each course, but the noise in the galley made it a little difficult to hear. 
Up first was an Ahi Tuna Tartar on a cracker.  I think the cracker had wasabi backed into it.  The size was HUGE.  My first thought was there was no way I could eat that much Ahi Tuna, but it was SO good I dug into it.  Wow!

Next was a mini-beef taco, with a sour cream drizzle and sweet avacado.  I've never had sweet avacado (it wasn't really guacamole) but it was amazing. Just thinking about it I want a bowl full. This had too much beef in it for me, so I handed it over to Kevin to finish after an initial bite.  The man next to me (from San Antonio) pronounced it the best taco he'd ever had.  I think at this point all the champagne glasses (and my coke) were refilled!

Then we had a duck potsticker with a barbeque sauce. This was really good, but the sauce made it difficult to eat.  It was really something you wanted to pick up to eat, but the sauce made it messy (unlike the taco which you could pick up). It couldn't really be split with a fork.  I finally just picked it up, and wiped off my fingers, but many tried to use the fork.

Last, we had Avocado Cheesecake, wrapped in phillo dough.  It was designed to look like a present.  This was a perfect little bite.  The Ahi Tuna was my favorite though...  Everyone finished up their second glass of champagne and we moved on. 

We walked through more of the galley and saw gigantic vats they use to cook the sauces! Wow. Then we moved by cooling racks FILLED with Warm Chocolate Melting Cake.  They said about half the desserts served each night are WMC.

And it turns out I wasn't being teased when I was made Chef of the night.  At this point I got a hat (that I got to keep) and an apron and got to make the WMC we would eat that night!  The Chef gave Kevin permission to take a picture, so here I am serving up the WMC I stirred (well, I had the Chef stir the flour in- it was really hard!)  They say never trust a skinny Chef, but later he told us a Chef never needs to eat.  It is important to taste things all day long, so you never have to have a meal.  Interesting!

 After making the dessert, we were off to the library where a table for 12 was made up.  Along the side of the room were lots of plates with various things on them, getting ready to be plated.  Food was brought up from the kitchen all night, but all the plating took place to the side of us.  (We didn't really watch it though- just glanced as other things were going on.)  There is a lot of attention to detail.  In addition to the Chef, there were 3 sous Chefs, and a bar waitress.  One server for every two people.   We were seated across the table from our dining companion (everyone happened to be in pairs, though there were a few pairs who were not couples).  I was originally worried about this- not being able to easily talk to Kevin, but it was no problem, and we really enjoyed talking with our tablemates too.

We took a picture, which we were told was available for $10.99 in the gallery (what? Everyone on cruise critic says it is included. Well later, he says because we were such a great group, he'd throw it in for us!) and then sat down to eat.  The bar waitress offered a red and white wine, and everyone took both (seperate glasses were already set out) and the non-drinkers got our cokes.  A full selection of cokes was set up to the side table, so anything could be requested by anyone, not just by those who had said they wouldn't have wine.  I did have to ask once for my Diet Coke to be refilled, but most of the night it just happened.  I don't think a wine glass ever got to be more than 1/3 full.  The bar waitress said something to the Chef about levels being fine when he said to pour for someone- so she clearly had a point she was watching for.  I think Kevin estimated he drank a bottle of wine (!!)...but it would be impossible to know, because the glass never got to be empty.  He is a bit of a wine snob and said the wines were very nice for house wines, but they weren't wine pairings or anything.  Carnival did not go bottem of the barrel though. What they were was mentioned, but I don't remember the details.

We started with assorted breads- I remember there was a foccacia and a multi-grain, as well as something like a stick?  Different than the MDR.  We all tried a blended butter and were asked to guess the ingredient.  No one got it right (without a lot of prompting) and I won't tell you here, because you should try it.

Then of first course came out.
This is Beef Carpaccio.  I can't remember what is on top of each one, but everything tasted amazing.  They were hard to get off the plate, because they are sliced so thin.  Kevin knew raw meet was a stretch for me (I rarely eat meat) so he said he looked over to see if I was trying it, and my plate was already clear!
 Next out was a plate with a charred Lemon and Lime, some aoili and tamarind slices.
 The sous Chef's came around and gave everyone a generous serving of Fried Calamari.  There was one woman at the table who did not eat seafood and she got cheese balls.  (Oh, for the Ahi Tuna, she got Chicken Salad on a cracker.)  This was fantastic.  I've never had Calamari without marinara, and I've been missing out.  Both the lemon and lime added great flavor (no favorite here) and the aoli was amazing.  I liked the tamarind too.
 Next, Grilled corn and a cilantro drizzle on tomato.  At this point, everything has been so good, I think a few people picked up forks and were ready to eat.  Not quite!
 A Poblano Chili Bisque was poured into the bowl.  OMG. This was to die for.  I could eat a gallon.  I wish I could describe the taste.  It wasn't hot or spicy, just perfect.  There were anchovies in it, and I think I could taste them, but not like Carnival's Caesar salads that are fishy. They just added a bite.
 Next up was the Chopped Medeterranean Salad.  This is the only thing I didn't care for.  It tasted too much like black olives (yuck).  I don't know if there were any in there (couldn't find any, but there were small black chops of something). I forgot to tell them I don't eat olives...  I will next time!  Just in case.  I didn't finish mine.  The cracker on the top was pumpkin, and SO good.
 Then out came a plate with a Chilean Sea Bass fillet.  It had a lobster foam, and a wine sauce.  With amazing attention to detail, mine was done with a vinegarette instead of wine.  I never expected telling them I don't drink alcohol would mean they wouldn't cook with it.  Incredible attention to detail.  (The non-seafood eater got a piece of chicken. I think it had the bone in, I'm not really sure...) 
 But that wasn't all.  The sous chef's came by and added a pea rissoto to the plate.  The risotto was delicious and the sea bass was melt in your mouth.  Wow.  I want to say it was buttery?  I don't like fish, and while this wasn't fishy, it still had a fish texture.  That said, I think I had 4 bites.  The Chef gently teased me about not finishing (he had told us we had to eat everything or not get a special treat at the end, although he didn't say anything to the other lady who didn't eat quite a bit of the food, likely due to a smaller appetite, at least just as likely as not enjoying.  Maybe it was because I was "Chef of the Night", so we were pals by now...) Kevin laughed at him and said "that's the most fish she has ever eaten!"  And he is probably right.  Honestly, if I hadn't know what was coming next I may have eaten the whole thing!
 This was where we had a bit of a wait.  Before the sea bass we were asked how we would like our steak cooked.  (I chose medium.  I tend to go medium well, but I know that is a travesty to the cow, or something like that, and since this was fine dining I went with a little less cooked.  One man at the table was happy to find out that they would cook it rare.)  During the fish course I excused myself to go the restroom (I was the only one who ever did- how did people manage? I felt like I was going to burst having had so much to eat and drink.) I had started feeling a bit sick feeling so stuffed up (or really full of liquids) and would not have enjoyed the final courses at all if I had not left.  Unfortunately there is no restroom very near the library.  The best plan I could come with was to go down one floor and all the way to the front of the boat.   I guess I was the only one who did, but it seems like odd placement of a meal.

Anyhow, while we were waiting a magician came to entertain us.  I believe this is the same waiter who sang "That's Amore" in the dining room, in which case he is very talented indeed!  His tricks were very good, and I think everyone at the table enjoyed them.  Some online have said that a magician is out of place in a fine dining experience like this, but I thought it was perfect.

So then, out comes our final course.  A Filet Mignon topped with leaks and a pepper stoplight.   This was the best steak I have ever had in my life.  I've eaten a lot of Filet Mignon and Tenderloin (it's really the only steak I eat...) and this hands down is the winner.  Wow.  If this is what Filet Mignon tastes like on Carnival, our next cruise I am paying the steakhouse upcharge!
 Side dishes of brocolli and baked potato were served.  I turned down the brocolli (this is Kevin's plate) being pretty stuffed, but had the potatoes. They were buttery and yummy.
 For dessert we were presented a dish that was not named, but called "Chef in a Candy Store" on cruise critic.  I really loved this.  Each of the crackers was made with a weird ingredient- like black olive (surprinsgly I liked it...) or carrot. But they were all sweet and delicious.  All the dots were different flavors, some just sweet bases, others more like fruity jellies.  So good!  We were also offered coffee, espresso drinks, or hot chocolate.
 And then, out came our mini-warm chocolate melting cakes and a scoop of ice cream.  So good!  As "Chef of the Night" I was asked to pass out a recipe card to everyone for WMC (I wore the hat...) and the Chef handed us all a photo of the evening.  Our "special surprise" for eating everything (I got to have it anyway) was a menu from the evening.
The event was VERY long.  Multiple times we saw our friends walk by and they waved, or pointed at their watches.  I think they were surprised it was still going on.  That said, it never dragged, and we had such good company at the table (including Todd the guy who rang my buzzer in game show mania! Small ship...) that we had an amazing evening.

I left feeling very full, but not uncomfortable.

We did get out in time to go to the talent show, but just barely.  The guests in the show were good.  We had a few singers (one wrote their song, the other did "I Will Always Love You"), a beat boxer (he was great- too young to get a bottle of champagne so the CD said he'd give him something even more expensive: a bottle of water), a drum soloist who was excellent, and maybe something I'm forgetting.  The CD also did a magic trick before the show started, he gave a kid a magic coin which, if she put under her pillow at night would turn into a ten dollar bill!  As she left the stage wide eyed, he said "Mom and Dad, you know how the magic works right?"  Kevin said he also said "If it doesn't work, Mom and Dad don't love you." But I didn't hear it.  (He gave the girl a build a bear box "just in case it doesn't work.")  Tex is a pretty funny cruise director.

And then, time to go to bed! Cozumel is up next!


Linda said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience! I will put it on my wish list.

Cate said...

I'm never going to do this but I want to know what was in the butter!

Jessim said...

Cate- you are a no reply blogger so I can't email, but it was Pumpkin.

Anonymous said...

At 53 years of age, I just booked our first Carnival cruise on the Triumph. We're going from Galveston to Cozumel and I have been glued to your posts from Cruise Critic.

Thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I just booked our first ever cruise at 53 years of age. We're leaving from Galveston and going to Cozumel so I've been scouring the internet. I was so pleased to find your posts on Cruise Critic with a link to this blog post.

Thanks so much for sharing!

This Cookn' Mom said...

Enjoyed this post. How do I email the maitre?

deanna@delirious-rhapsody said...

my husband and i are taking our fifth cruise next month. we are budget minded as well, but we are FINALLY going to try the chef's table. i am extremely excited. and even more so after googling more info and stumbling upon your post. :)

GopherLass said...


My poor DH is always so embarrassed when we go to a posh restaurant...and I order a Diet Coke. I like the taste of wine - and I don't have a moral objection to booze...but I'd rather save my calories for dessert - or cheese...mmm...

This is the ONE and ONLY good thing about my new and exciting neurological disorder...I can now legitimately say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I can't have alcohol." (Please bring more cheese)

Thanks for this incredibly detailed description of the CT. Looks like it was definitely worth the money.

Oh - and did you have to wear close-toed shoes because you were in the kitchen? So for hygiene?

Jessim said...

I assumed it was a combination of hygiene being in the kitchen and safety because you're on a ship and dropping knives or whatever. All the prep Cooks were wearing chainmail gloves if they were using knives