Like any great artist, the mind of a Chef is something foodies and aspiring chefs want to get into and poke around in. How do they make the brisket so tender? The salmon so buttery? The flavours pop with such vigour with so few ingredients?
The best place to get the inside scoop? Well, that would be from the mouth of the dragon themselves. Hard to pin down unless you’re working directly with them, often the best place to pick through the mind of a chef is by taking a seat at the coveted chef’s table.
The Traditional Chef’s Table
A nose hair away from the action, traditionally the chef’s table is right in the thick of it. Close enough to be within arm’s reach to the chef, guests at the chef’s table either look onto the kitchen or are literally in the kitchen. This is to give guests a fishbowl view of how meals are created and the chef’s creative process for conceiving them. In a way, it’s almost like job shadowing or “take your guests to work day.”
The guests at the chef’s table are waited on hand and foot. In addition to a special menu created especially for them, which usually highlights signature dishes, with each course served, the chef gives the guests the rundown on each meal. Why were these ingredients chosen? How do the flavours work together? What are the strategic workings of each plate? The head sommelier might visit to assist with pairings, giving insight into which wine is best suited to the flavors in the meal the chef has prepared. The whole experience is very intimate, and that’s the point: the chef’s table is hospitality at it’s finest.
Like most fine experiences, creating a chef’s table experience is not without its challenges. The chef must transition from their usual role in the kitchen – preparing food, managing orders, managing staff, inspecting dishes before they go out, and sometimes even putting out fires – to a personable, guest facing, stress-free entertainer. For this to happen, the kitchen must run like a well-oiled machine, able to function at its usual high standard while the watchful eye of the head chef is otherwise occupied. In fact, since the chef’s table is so close to the kitchen, all staff must maintain this aura of control, ease, and of course, cleanliness. Guests are watching.
But the traditional in-kitchen experience isn’t the only way to run a chef’s table. For kitchens that don’t necessarily have the means, facility or resources to accommodate the original chef’s table, here are a few alternatives:
Supper Club Chef’s Table
The social supper club emerged in the 1930s and 40s as a way of avoiding business costs and pairing food with jazz. The supper club is a pop-up – sometimes in an apartment, other times in a restaurant’s back room – where diners gather to partake in a small, sometimes secret, meal. Modern day supper clubs have the same temporal feel as clubs in the early days; some are still exclusive, invite-only evenings, maintaining that upper echelon feel.
Diverging from its high culture roots, other more casual clubs have emerged which have banished the sense of exclusivity traditionally associated with the chef’s table and supper clubs. Instead, these clubs opt to have a communal, lighter feel, where strangers meet and bond over dishes around a single table and chefs of any level of notoriety can take part.
Start your own “secret” supper club using traditional secret supper club marketing methods: the grape vine. Or of course, social media.
A Restaurant as a Giant Chef’s Table
Another new style of chef’s table runs under the ethos that the entire restaurant is based on the chef’s table experience. It’s the core concept of the dining experience, such that every table gets intimate attention, the menu is catered to the freshest ingredients, and the head chef has the patience of a saint. Of course, this is a ground-up operation, meaning that to run a restaurant in this particular way, intimacy needs to be developed from the restaurant’s inception. To build this concept, the restaurant can’t be too big and owners should be mindful that too many guests could run a chef into the ground. This would be an intimate evening without time limits, devoted to the taste of food and the experience of fine dining.
Sending the Chef to the Guests’ Home
Outsourcing your head chef is a great way to create a chef’s table experience in a guest’s home – and also make a guaranteed repeat customer. Essentially, this is a private, onsite dinner party where the chef arrives at the guests home with all the ingredients necessary to create a restaurant dinner experience in the guest’s kitchen. As the chef cooks, he or she also acts as a teacher, tutoring the guests and answering any questions they might have along the way. Often even having the guest get involved in the preparation. This interactive approach leaves guests enthralled with the talents of a head chef, satiated with delicious food, and confidence to attempt to create the dishes on their own.
A chef’s table switches the dynamic of guest of honor. Your head chef is admired and held in awe when guests have selective access. By curating a meal for your guests where they get to rub shoulders with the genius cooking delicious food you create a bond and a special memory that can make for a long customer relationship. However you choose to present it, be sure to make your version of a chef’s table exclusive and profitable.
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