- They are normally located in, or within view of, the kitchen (thus, the name. . .)
- Menus are generally at the discretion of the Chef. (No surprise, there, right?)
Speaking of soup, my inquisitive mind started kicking in so I did further research and actually traced bits and pieces of this Chef’s Table phenomenon back to both Paris and soup in the 18th Century. Oui! As with most curving culinary roads, eventually the path will lead to France. And, in this case, it includes linking back to the origins of restaurants. In short, early versions were called taverns, known only for serving alcohol. Eventually (and trust me, I’m skipping a whole lot of history to give you the abbreviated version here - you’re welcome), a Frenchman named Boulanger, added soups which were called – are you ready for this? – bouillons to their ‘liquid’ menus. These soups were said to be restoratives for patrons who drank excessively, and in French this word is restaurer, which we all know in English as restaurant, et voilà! In those early French taverns, the soups were only offered from the kitchen, aka La Table du Chef. Whew! It was a circuitous route, but we finally made it back to The Chef’s Table.
And that long journey we took to find a true definition might also explain why there are still so many versions of the Chef’s Table around. I also talked to numerous industry professionals to see what their take was, and one explanation really stuck with me. It came from Megan Licata, Marketing Manager with Hyatt Regency Orlando. Here’s what she said: “To me, a Chef’s Table experience is an event where the chef creates a menu to share with an exclusive group of guests. I think the experience can be intimate for two or entertain more than 50. What makes it special is a level of interaction with the chef, where he or she introduces dishes, shares stories, and wine, cocktail, or beer pairings.” She went on to explain that at her hotel they don’t offer a consistent Chef’s Table in their mainstream restaurants but instead host seasonal events that are different each time, allowing for the chef to be creative, inventive, and engaging with guests.
So what’s the takeaway for planners on this? One option is to consider coming up with a customized Chef’s Table experience for your next group of VIPs whether it be at a regular restaurant or inside the hotel where your meeting guests are already staying. Some hotel restaurants, such as the Loews Chicago O’Hare, are already providing this experience. According to Director of PR, Stephanie Chaney Casanova, at this property, Executive Chef Robert Oberschneider will work with both in-house groups and outside diners to create a one-of-a-kind Chef’s Table tasting at The Ashburn, their new restaurant concept. “After guests pass through the newly renovated lobby and head straight back to The Ashburn, private dining groups are then guided up a few steps to the elevated Chef’s Table experience which peers over both the kitchen and the main dining room. That’s where Chef will work with groups to create a one-of-a-kind Chef’s Table tasting that hits all the highlights of the newly developed gastro-pub menu, including beer, wine, or both to provide a perfect pairing with the gastronomy.”
Aside from hotels, many mainstream restaurants already offer this option at a specially placed table, usually with a set number of seats that, due to popularity, need to be reserved ahead of time. One such opportunity can be found nationwide in almost all Buca di Beppo restaurants. I spoke with Kerry Montgomery, Director of Sales & Marketing for Buca’s parent company Earl Enterprises, and she said this about their Chef’s Tables: “Dining at Buca di Beppo is all about the eclectic experience. We have a Chef’s Table actually situated inside the kitchen providing a fun, in-your-face kind of opportunity as guests can watch not only their own meals being prepared but also everything that happens in the kitchen, including feeling the heat when things get fired up! Plus you have the constant parade of wait staff going by as they perform their service magic all night long. As a guest, you’re in the center of the action, starring in the show.”
No matter what venue you hold Chef’s Table at, one thing to remember is to keep the group rather intimate in order to make ita special event. Another tip for planners is to make sure to meet in person with the Chef, and come prepared not only with your per person budget but also bring along a list of questions such as the following:
Can we keep all menu items including beer/wine pairings locally sourced?
Will Chef/designate be on hand to explain each course and answer questions?
Do you have any house/seasonal specialties we can incorporate into our menu?
What’s the maximum number of comfortable guests we can serve this way?
Exactly where will this take place, and how much time from start to finish?
Terry Matthews-Lombardo, CMP, better known as TML, travels, plans meetings, and then writes about all those experiences from the viewpoint of being on the road and in the center of the action. It’s usually a good combination, or at least worth an interesting read. Having worked on both sides of the industry, she writes from the viewpoint of a veteran planner as well as a travel-savvy road warrior. If you want to read more from TML you can follow her at www.MidwestMeetings.com and at www.tmlwrites.com where you’ll find stories covering both destinations and detours. Visit her blog at www.hypeorlando.com/hospitality-hive/.