An Animated Chef Leads You Through an Immersive 5-Course Meal at This Chicago Dinner Experience
Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel launched a unique dining experience.
Chicago doesn’t lack dining options. But every now and then one restaurant zigs off into a wild direction while everyone is zagging. Currently, that’s Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel. The animated pop-up dining experience is combining technology, art, history, and food to bring to life a “little chef” who wows diners with a whimsical culinary tale from antiquity to the present—on their dining table.
I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the dinner, but my mom was in town and curious to try something new. I’ve seen tech elements like virtual reality incorporated into the hospitality industry with lackluster results. Expectations are high with the promise of being transported into an experience that reminds us the future is at our fingertips, but low-quality images and clunky first-gen tech often reminds us that we’ve still got a long way to go.
The experience began with instructions to silence your phone and remove any personal effects from the table and a credit to Skullmapping, the company behind the projection mapping tech diners were about to experience. From there (through projected images) the table transformed into a prep station, complete with potatoes boiling on a cooktop, salt and pepper shakers, and tomatoes and carrots on a cutting board, next to a chef's knife. A small stage appeared to introduce us to our guide for the evening: le petit chef.
The five-course meal began with the story of the tomato’s journey, debunking beliefs that it’s an Italian product (due to its close association to Italian cuisine) and highlighting its Latin American roots. The scene was complete with a recreation of Hernán Cortés arriving in Tenochtitlan of the Aztec empire and slaughtering its people (which honestly could have come with a trigger warning). It was an impressive preview of what lay ahead. When the story ended, servers waiting in the wings promptly placed plates of pickled tomato slivers served on a bed of whipped feta, green tea gel, and baby herbs in front of every diner.
For the next course, the chef takes diners through the history of art. Citing the works of Salvador Dali, René Magritte, Andy Warhol, and Marcel Duchamp as his inspiration for the endless pursuit of reinventing his work and keeping up with trends. The chef has an existential crisis when the tiny projection says diners feel his food has become too “artsy fartsy,” and it’s time to go back to the basics. The work of Wassily Kandinsky, one of Russia’s most famous painters, is introduced with soft jazz music as a plate of carrots topped with quinoa granola, mandarins, and pesto sits on a bed of greens. Three more courses are served in a similar style (with the option to pair all five courses with a different French wine).
All told, this was one of the most delightful dining experiences I’ve had in a long time. You should note that if you have a smaller group and the dinner is sold-out you might have to share a table with strangers since the dinner tables are all four-tops or bigger. And orior to the date of my reservation, I received multiple reminders asking me to be prompt and arrive 15 minutes before my scheduled time of 6 pm. No more than 10 minutes after 6 pm, the lights dimmed, a spotlight shined on each plate and a voice filled the room in surround sound.
The pop-up runs through the end of 2023, every Thursday through Saturday with dining options at 6 pm and 8:15 pm. Tickets are $130 per person. More info: https://www.fairmontchicago.com/le-petit-chef/.