How This Magical Floating Chef’s Table Operates on a Daily Basis
“The galley crew must operate like a ballet, fully choreographed to provide meals to nearly 155 people at a time, without anything getting cold and meeting the desires of even the most demanding customer.”
People rarely rave about memorable meals on cruise ships—specifically, on large cruise ships with several thousand people who are drunk and hungry and just require a buffet. Enter Scenic Diamond’s Bordeaux river cruise, though calling it a "cruise ship" seems unfair, so we’ll deem it an elegant, 443-foot-long vessel that sets sail around Bordeaux. Relatively small compared to giant ocean ships, the boat has 167 passengers, which still requires a lot of food to crank out, let alone thoughtfully execute.
Crystal Dining is the nightly rendezvous spot for dinner, where four-course meals are served alongside regional wines handpicked by a sommelier. If your room should fall on the top Diamond Deck (ahem, cute butler service included), you'll get a coveted spot at Table La Rive, an upscale 10-seat, six-course chef's table, offering regional gastronomic delicacies and thought wine pairings that rival any non-floating restaurant. Think French specialties like foie gras with chef’s special blend of local salts, cheeses and desserts, not to mention the magical experience of watching the sun illuminate the Garonne River.
“The galley crew must operate like a ballet, fully choreographed to provide meals to nearly 155 people at a time, without anything getting cold and meeting the desires of even the most demanding customer,” says Claudio Sousa, Scenic’s chef. Space is a huge factor, too. The galley (kitchen) is compact, with no centimeter to spare, so everything must be fully thought-out by the chef and staff—unlike a larger land restaurant with ample storage space. “Professional equipment is chosen for its ability to handle many tasks—from ovens to boilers and steamers,” she says. “We have an extremely professional team onboard, and chefs need to work together with the restaurant manager and butlers to assure timing is accurate."
Because of limited space, chefs are tasked with thinking a bit more creatively. With no delivery trucks in small port towns of call like Saint-Émilion, Cadillac and even Bordeaux proper, chefs rely heavily on what’s seasonally available at local markets. “We are very close to small local suppliers along the river, and also we go to local food markets for shopping,” Sousa says. “We change our menus according the products that we find.” Despite moving constantly, the chef's table evokes a strong sense of place.
A new fleet of e-bikes have been a fun way for chefs aboard the Scenic Diamond to ride around the region in search of local markets and purveyors. “The shopping is done in the morning and we implement the product on our dinner menu on same day," says Sousa. The chef's favorite fish and seafood marmite is definitely one dish born from the selections at the food market—made with fresh fish and seafood of the day, served with lobster chowder and freshly made baguette. Chefs also have the freedom to switch things up if they’re unable to find a certain ingredient—and a rewarding surprise to guests when trying something local and unique.
Shop with a Chef, part of the brand’s new Scenic Culinaire program, offers a morning of perusing a local market with a chef, followed by a cooking class.