"" Writer's Wanderings: Crown Princess -- Chef's Table

Monday, April 13, 2009

Crown Princess -- Chef's Table

The highlight of our cruise on the Crown Princess was probably the Chef's Table experience. We had heard about this offering through the Cruise Critic message boards. It is an evening where your party is treated to a tour of the galley during dinner time (other galley tours do not take place while servers are busy) and then you are led to a special seating where the Executive Chef treats you to some special dishes not offered in any other dining room. It is strictly labeled VIP treatment. There is a limited amount of space available. For our cruise, the Chef's Table was offered three nights and each night there were only ten spaces. We made our reservations as soon as we could connect with the dinner reservation staff by phone on board ship. Cost for the VIP treatment? $75/person.

During the first sea day, we were asked to meet with a staff member who went over the rules for attending the special dinner. We were asked to wear freshly laundered clothes, closed toed shoes, no shorts, and observe some other common sense rules while in the galley. The most important request was that should we feel ill during the cruise, we needed to cancel our participation (with full refund).

Our special evening was on Friday of the cruise. We tried not to eat too much during the day knowing it would probably be a big meal. We had no idea how big.

We arrived at the International Cafe in the Grande Piazza at the appointed time of 7 p.m. and were greeted by the Maitre d', Francesco Ciorfito, who led us down to the Michaelangelo dining room where we were asked to don lab coats for our galley tour. Heads turned as we marched single file through the dining room and back into the galley. I can only imagine what people were wondering about us.

Just inside the galley we were asked to wash our hands thoroughly even though we were not to touch anything during the tour. As you may already know, the galley is all shiny stainless steel and immaculate. It's very impressive even with the hustle and bustle of preparation for meals. We were at the end of the early dining hour so most of the main meals had already been served.

Executive Chef Giuseppe Pollara led us through the galley pointing out several things of interest and answering any questions we had. He was quite entertaining and a wonderful host. One of our more interesting stops was a wall full of pictures of what each item on the menu for that night should look like before it goes out the door to the table. "It must be 95% correct!" said Chef Pollara.

He told us we were in one of nine kitchens on board the ship. With over 3200 passengers to feed and 1100 crew, the dining staff works almost continually. Each night after dinner is finished, the kitchens are disinfected and preparation for breakfast begins. We were impressed with how jovial the staff seemed to be as we wandered through. Even the dish washers were a happy lot.

At one end of the galley, we stopped and were served appetizers and champagne (soft drinks were available for those who wanted them). Several other officers joined us for a short time among them the Food and Beverage Manager, Francesco Grasso, who Chef Pollara teased about paying for all the groceries. Our appetizers included a scrumptious seafood salad with crab and shrimp, followed by a cheese quiche, escargot on little biscuits, and a wonderful caviar with sour cream served on a little crust of bread. Each tray was decorated with freshly carved arrangements from vegetables and ginger root.

We left our lab coats with a staff member and were led to our table in the Michaelangelo. The table was decorated with fresh flowers and candles accented with cleverly arranged breadsticks in glasses. The dinnerware was different than the usual fare in the dining room.

As our wait staff began to pour water, one leaned over to me and winked. "My friend is your waiter in the Botticelli," he said. "He ask me to take good care of you." And he did. The service was exceptional.

Next: The main meal.

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