Carnival cooks up shareable experiences

An amuse bouche rests on a magnetically levitating pillow at the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise. (TW photo by Rebecca Tobin)

An amuse bouche rests on a magnetically levitating pillow at the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise. (TW photo by Rebecca Tobin)

Focus on Culinary Travel

Carnival cooks up shareable experiences

By Rebecca Tobin

An amuse bouche rests on a magnetically levitating pillow at the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise. (TW photo by Rebecca Tobin)

An amuse bouche rests on a magnetically levitating pillow at the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise. (TW photo by Rebecca Tobin)

The most difficult aspect of the amuse-bouche course presented during the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise had nothing to do with food per se.

Nor was it me trying, and mostly failing, to float a tiny satin pillow over a small, black box. No, it was trying to avoid taking a video of the contraption once the pillow was revolving in midair, an inch above the box, then immediately sharing it to my Instagram Stories.

The pillow, which was floating and rotating due to reverse magnets in the box and within the pillow, served three general purposes. One, it was an icebreaker activity as all the guests around the table laughingly tried to get it to work. Two, the pillow became the platter for a tiny plate of mushroom-based delicacies. And three, it created a social-sharable moment.

Sanjay Dhall, the director of culinary and food operations for Carnival Cruise Line, recalled in an interview the next day the origins of the Chef’s Table for the line, which began as a gathering of guests for a meal inside a galley of the Carnival Dream.

As the concept took off, new ships were built with a Chef’s Table room, and some older vessels were fitted with a dedicated space for the dinners. The Carnival Sunrise, which originally was a Destiny-class ship, got its own Chef’s Table room during its top-to-bottom refurb this year.

Our group, a small collection of journalists and food writers, entered the room with smartphones held high. 

The entryway frames the long table for 16 (photographed). A chandelier is made of inverted stemware (photographed). 

There was the food itself. A smoked lamb, finished in a bell jar tableside (videoed). A dry-aged duck, served with a plum that had been disassembled into little tiny cones to resemble coral (videoed and photographed).

With a social WiFi plan on a Carnival ship starting at $6.80 per day, posting about an exclusive cruise experience has never been easier. Dhall said social media plays a “very big role” in the creation of dishes, atmosphere and experience. The pillow trick, and another revolving plate display, were examples. 

An amuse bouche rests on a magnetically levitating pillow at the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise. (TW video by Rebecca Tobin)

An amuse bouche rests on a magnetically levitating pillow at the Chef’s Table tasting on the Carnival Sunrise. (TW video by Rebecca Tobin)

“When we came up with that, people would not believe it,” Dhall said. “They would take the picture and just put it out all over. So just because of that alone, so many people approached us, said, ‘We want to see that. We want to be there. We want to be a part of it.’”

Social sharing isn’t the only way the Chef’s Table has evolved over the years. The food itself served as a reminder that guests are invested in meals and want to be surprised and delighted by texture, unusual combinations and creative presentations. The menus change about once a year, with a combination of new ideas and old favorites. 

Provisioning issues notwithstanding, Carnival is also looking at incorporating local elements into the Chef’s Table menus on certain itineraries.

“With the invention of the Food Network, it’s changed the way people approach food,” Dhall said. “The moment they see something exceptionally good and exclusive, they want to be a part of it. People know more about food than they ever did. And they’re a lot more interested, too.”

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