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The Medieval Tower of Meat

(Princess Cruises)
While I'm on the subject of chefs (see the previous blog about Portland, Oregon's Adam Berger), I must point out that at sea these days, there are chefs and then there is the Commendatore, which is the rather wonderful title of Alfredo Marzi, an elegant man who oversees all of the culinary operations of Princess Cruise Lines. I recently spent four days eating ungodly quantities of exceptional food with Alfredo on a Caribbean Princess cruise from Florida to Grand Turk and back. All I can say is thank God it wasn't a week, or I would have gained a hundred pounds and become addicted to multi-course dinners paired with good wines.

Alfredo was born in Italy and grew up in Paris, and received his first culinary training at a restaurant his grandparents owned off the Champs Elysees. Cruise ships these days are looking for all kinds of new ways to offer premium dining experiences to guests – for which they levy a small surcharge – and Alfredo has risen to the challenge. On my Princess ship, you could order a champagne balcony breakfast or a lobster dinner for two in your stateroom for a small fee. For a $15 surcharge you could eat good filet mignon steaks at the Sterling Steakhouse, and $20 bought a multi-course Italian dinner at Sabatini's.

It was with the Chef's Table experience that Alfredo really went over the top. A private dinner for ten guests, with a $75 surcharge each, starts inside the kitchen to witness the bustle and clamor of a cruise ship dinner service while you sip champagne and eat from trays of hors d'oeuvres. Seated back in the dining room at a table decorated with flowers and breadsticks, Alfredo personally oversaw the serving of great pots full of creamy seafood risotto, followed by "Bloody Mary sorbet" in martini glasses to which he added a shot of vodka. And then he brought out the single craziest thing I've ever seen on a cruise ship: A hanging rack of spiked iron on which were impaled chunks of perfectly cooked beef, veal and pork which he personally basted in flaming brandy. The rack held pots of sauces, including a rich Bearnaise and a pesto, and diners grabbed the meat from the rack with tongs and spooned on the sauce. Wine was poured in great quantities.

He called it a medieval flambé. I call it genius. For the rest of the cruise, people asked us about our special dinner. And honestly, what can you answer when someone asks how you enjoyed your flaming, hanging meat? Commendatore, we commend you. Now I've gotta get me one of those meat racks for a little home cooking that will dazzle the neighbors.