Cruise lines put art and whimsy on the menu

Cruise travelers might be accustomed to seeing desserts such as cherries jubilee and bananas Foster being theatrically prepared tableside, but the latest thing in cruise ship cuisine is culinary performances staged on the table itself.

New offerings from Carnival Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises illustrate the trend, the latest to take food to the next level of Instagramability.

Carnival has Art at Your Table, a dessert that is served in the specialty Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse.

It starts with the appearance of one or more white rectangles that look like slightly larger versions of a polyethylene cutting board common in household kitchens. A chef arrives with a platter neatly stacked with bowls of sweet ingredients, condiment squeeze bottles and stand-alone dessert items like cookies and chocolates.

The Art at Your Table group dessert served in Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 steakhouses.
The Art at Your Table group dessert served in Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 steakhouses.

The chef explains that he plans a "small presentation of desserts" created for the group at the table. He begins with smears and slashes of raspberry puree, creating arcs and fans with the sauce on various parts of the slab. A squeeze bottle yields a white chocolate sauce infused with jasmine tea. A passion fruit jam is used to offset some of the sweet with a little sour. Next, what look like cannoli made of various sweets are dealt like cards at a poker table.

Pomegranate gummy bears, a lemon gel, caramel truffles, meringue dollops, Turkish delights and chocolate cookies are some of the other ingredients. All the while, the chef is adding dots of liquid sweets from the squeeze bottles.
The whole platter begins to resemble a whimsical canvas by Spanish painter Joan Miro.

As the art comes together, so does the temptation of the textures, scents, colors and imagined flavors of the treats being assembled. The chef works with grace and flair, but not over-the-top showmanship. 

Art at Your Table is a basic version of a dessert devised for a 20-course dinner at Alinea, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago.

For the finale, a white chocolate sphere is placed on a bed of almond crumble and cracked open like an eggs, revealing cake with passion fruit and chocolate mocha ice cream inside. Art at Your Table is included in the $38 charge at Fahrenheit 555.

Celebrity Cruises debuted Le Petit Chef in the Qsine specialty restaurant last March, but I saw it in demonstration mode in the Grand Bistro on the Celebrity Edge in December. The tiny chef can be seen in action in numerous YouTube videos.

The magic plays out on the table but is generated in the ceiling, where 3D projectors create an animated French chef tugging, pushing and arranging the food from a gourmet menu; the actual serving of the food is integrated into the show.

I was surprised at how brilliantly illuminated and sharply defined the images were and how theatrical the table appears in a darkened restaurant.

Celebrity calls the $55 dinner a "fusion of entertainment and cuisine," which is certainly apt. Another name would be "just plain fun."

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