On a regular day, patrons relax in restaurants, enjoying the fuss, the food, and the ambience without singling out a thought for what goes on behind the scenes. This scene is evident on cruise ships where dozens of restaurants operate simultaneously offering the semblance of fun and ease, while the kitchens harbour a polar opposite world. Few guests are curious about this and for them, there’s the chef’s table.
The emergence of the chef’s table has no fancy origin story. Chefs are always busy during meals so their family and friends would hang out with them at a small table until they finished. Sometimes they would just sit at the pass as chefs plated food and chat while they worked. Over time, restaurant owners allowed regular patrons access to the kitchen with a meal thrown in. Today, dinner at the chef’s table is no longer invite-only. It’s a unique experience open to all patrons.
Chef’s tables are popular on cruise ships, particularly at high-quality, renowned restaurants. No matter how formal the restaurant, a true chef’s table experience will always be vibrant, often loud, and quite immersive.
Cruise ship chefs can often take more liberties with the menus here, tailoring it to guest preferences. Most often, the food is cooked by the head chefs themselves. Chef’s tables offer guests an intimate dining experience with the person responsible for the food served at the restaurant. Rather than have the head chef chat for two minutes at each table in the restaurant, a chef’s table allows them to spend more quality time with guests.
The interactions between guest and chef are more meaningful and the food is certainly more exclusive. In some restaurants, the chef’s table is inside the kitchen and guests can get the true experience of life behind the stove. In others, it is a slightly more refined experience, away from the heat, noise, and possibly contrasting aromas. Here, guests observe the proceedings through glass windows and the chef presents dishes, discusses beverage pairings, and chats with the guests between each course.
In 2019, Celebrity Cruises launched a Chef’s Table by Daniel Boulud, prolific restaurateur and Michelin-starred chef which includes a five-course meal and a cookbook by the man himself. Princess Cruises also launched a similar experience by celebrity chef Curtis Stone in 2016. On other cruises, it is usually the chef de cuisine or executive chef who hosts the chef’s table.
The experience for cruise ship chefs is as incredible as it is for diners. Being part of the chef’s table is to work closely with an experienced and lauded professional and the knowledge you can gain from it is immense.
Staff can go through a physical check before service to ensure they are properly groomed, and there is little to no room for error. While it is similar to an open kitchen restaurant, there is a lot more riding on performance and service at a chef’s table. Guests are usually keenly interested in food and beverage and are often watching you closely.
As cruise ship chef jobs go, working at the chef’s table is a unique, coveted, and excellent learning experience.