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The table is set for "Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Dining Experience," a 3-D virtual reality production at Fairmont Chicago. Photo by Fairmont Chicago.
Taste & Sip

‘Le Petit Chef’ Cooks Up A New Fine-Dining Experience In Chicago

Tabletop animation is a clever twist on dinner-theater at Fairmont Chicago.

(Many thanks to Fairmont Chicago and the invincible Le Petit Chef for hosting my delightful evening at “Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Dining Experience.”)

The doors opened punctually at 6 p.m. to an intimate dining room swathed in amethyst light at the Fairmont Chicago hotel. A dozen or so tables were set with gleaming white charger plates and columns of glass stemware. I was escorted to my seat, and a prompt waitstaffer filled my champagne flute with sparkling brut rosé.

Before the guests arrive at Fairmont Chicago for "Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Dining Experience."
Before the guests arrive at Fairmont Chicago for “Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Dining Experience.”

The room filled with guests, and the tabletop transformed into a video monitor. A wee animated, cartoon-ish character, wearing chef’s whites and a pleated toque, pounced upon each plate. He introduced himself in a high-pitched French-y voice as Le Petit Chef and announced he would be preparing our meal. Then, the tabletop faded into a butcher block pattern arranged with condiments and a pot of boiling potatoes on a gas-fired stovetop.

“Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Dining Experience” is a cutting-edge twist on the dinner-theater concept that proliferated in the 1970s. The key differences are, this is a 3-D virtual reality performance, and your table is the stage.

Le Petit Chef introduces himself.
Le Petit Chef introduces himself.

Throughout the five-course meal, complete with French wine pairings, Le Petit Chef flits about the place settings. His breezy, humorous patter expounds on such topics as culinary history and cooking techniques, often serenaded by dancing vegetables. The menu is curated to complement the script, which waitstaffers deliver in unison, so everyone starts eating at the same time.

Before the first course is served, the tabletop image becomes a tomato-scale.
Before the first course is served, the tabletop image becomes a tomato-scale.

The prelude to our first course was a lesson in tomatoes. If you thought they originated in Italy, you would be wrong, Le Petit challenged us, pointing to a map. Tomatoes are native to Peru. From there, they were imported to Europe. The tabletop scene changed to a bright red tomato-scape, and the first course arrived: An artfully prepared salad of raw, pickled and compressed tomatoes with green tea gel, baby herbs and dollops of whipped feta. The tomato salad was accompanied by a glass of sauvignon blanc from Loire.

Looking down on a tomato salad against a tabletop design of lush foliage.
The tomato course by Le Petit Chef. Photo by Fairmont Chicago.

The remaining courses were equally imaginative, and the portions were substantial. You will not go hungry with this tasting menu.

The second course consisted of salt-roasted carrots in varying hues with quinoa granola, mandarin orange segments, baby greens and carrot-top pesto. The partner wine was a chardonnay from Bourgogne.

A white plate with a brown swirly design, carrot salad with a variety of carrots in different colors
The carrot course by Le Petit Chef.

The third course was a chicken roulade paired with a pinot noir from Loire, and the fourth was a butter-poached beef paired with a grand cru merlot blend from St. Emilion. Both courses were dressed with festive trimmings and sides.

A slice of butter-poached beef with caramelized onion, beets, potatoes au gratin, broccoli florets on a white plate with brown swirls.
The fourth course by Le Petit Chef is butter-poached beef with sides and trimmings.

During the 90-minute event, Le Petit Chef performed myriad shenanigans like tossing ingredients across our plates, flying across the table on the back of a bumblebee, and breaking a plate and sweeping the pieces onto the floor. He compared the art of plating food to the works of Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh and Piet Mondrian. (I noted prints of these artists’ iconic paintings mounted on the walls of the dining room.)

The dessert course involves chocolate and fire, and that’s as much as I will tell you. Just in case, Le Petit Chef arrives plate-side with a firetruck. The wine was a Barsac sauternes.

For the grand finale, Le Petit Chef sang a song to praise his own wonderfulness.

A wine glass filled with chocolate and berries, a wafer placed on top of the glass is set on fire and more chocolate is poured on top.
The desert course by Le Petit Chef involves fire and chocolate. Photo by Fairmont Chicago.

Fairmont Chicago is the only venue in the Midwest to host the diminutive celebrity chef. It’s a lovely evening when you are celebrating a special occasion, gathering for a date night or with friends, or simply looking for something fun, delicious and extraordinary to do.

“Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Dining Experience” was created by Belgium-based Skullmapping artistic storytelling collective, and implemented by California-based TableMation Studios. The production is being hosted at more than 50 fine dining establishments around the world, including certain Celebrity Cruises ships.

Reservations for “Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Experience” at Fairmont Chicago are required. Prices begin at $130 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuities. For more information and reservations, visit Le Petit Chef – Fairmont Chicago.

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