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The Best Chef’s Tasting Menu Just Might Be on the High Seas

Scenic Eclipse II reveals the wizardry of Executive Chef Viktor Malek.

When I first became a travel and cuisine writer (I know, nice work if you can get it), I was introduced to the chef’s tasting menu—a prix fixe on steroids, and way more thoughtful (or pretentious, depending on your point of view). In the beginning, I was both charmed and overwhelmed. I remember vividly a nearly four-hour chef’s table tasting dinner with my ex at the old Alain Ducasse at the Essex House hotel in New York (ADNY for short). 

The ADNY experience was so over-the-top that it was alternately celebrated and ridiculed in the snarky Manhattan food press, but I was wowed by the quality, presentation, service—and what would have been the $1,000 check (including tip) had we not been comped. I recall a more down-to-earth chef’s table dinner with my brother Merick—that was literally in the working kitchen of the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans, a feast conjured by the esteemed chef Matt Murphy. 

But a few years later, when I shared an endless tasting menu with my friend David at Bouley in Tribeca, which was then one of the hottest gastronomic tickets in town, I was over the elongated tasting menu. Each of the 12 courses was a single bite, so David and I sustained ourselves with far too much wine and bread (which was delicious, it must be said), and after four hours, rolled out of there in a bloat of carbs. The experience was somehow opulent and meager at the same time, and that experience taught me that—for a tasting menu—timing and portion size are as important as quality and presentation. You are there to eat, after all. 

All this background is to say that I’m not an easy sell—I’m even a little jaded when it comes to the tasting menu. But I should have known better. On a recent Bermuda-to-Miami cruise on Scenic Eclipse II, the cuisine on the previous nights had been top-notch: both the tangy toothsomeness of Koko’s Asian Fusion (I loved the Lebanese meze) and the French refinement of Lumière (for the set degustation menu, you can choose which main meal you would prefer—my filet of sole was delectable). The level of the cuisine matched the quality of the lavish suites (the bed was sumptuous) and the Armani-style aesthetic of the ship’s interior design. 

I had also been tipped off: Ken Muskat, the managing director of Scenic Group USA, had raved about Executive Chef Viktor Malek’s wizardry—from the flavors to the interactivity. He told me that we would be prompted to use the little instruments housed inside a literal toolbox, and I was intrigued.  

Ken was right about everything. Once again, I am a believer in the tasting menu. Chef Malek’s concept and execution were not only flawless and fanciful, but deeply satisfying, with curated doses of molecular gastronomy—the most obvious examples of which are when a familiar ingredient or type of food is, through physical and chemical processes, prepared in such a way as to look like something completely different. 

But flavor and texture were never compromised for the sake of concept; quite the opposite. The foie gras, which appeared as a mini-candy apple, was set in a nest of cotton candy that dissolved with a savory squirt from an atomizer from the toolbox. The uncommon, whipped creaminess of the foie gras proved even more memorable than the squirt. For successive courses, the toolbox provided a sauce brush, a kitchen timer, and a mortar and pestle. (I won’t ruin all the surprises.) 

As the meal progressed, things heated up. One showstopping course involved the appearance of a smoker box, which was appropriate since the ingredients emerged in the form of a cigar. “The smoke machine doesn’t just offer a great smoke,” Chef Malek said. “It also delivers a lot of flavor, and it’s a magical touch, a great show. People love it.” Another theatrical course required the blue flame of a smoking gun. 

Not to be outdone, the pastry chef, Jed Brian, gave a bravura performance that started out curiously, with abstract, Jackson Pollack-like dribbles of sweet and citrusy sauce arrayed across glass panes. The dessert ended in sublime sweetness. “We call this ‘the Cleanup,’” Brian explained. “It melts in your mouth.” To understand why, you’ll have to book passage on Scenic Eclipse II. Cake-lovers, I can reveal, will be over the moon.  

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.