DOWNTOWN — A Downtown restaurant has a tiny chef who has become known for flinging doughnuts at customers’ faces.
It’s not a real chef — or even a real doughnut — but instead a projection that plays during a new dinner experience, dubbed Le Petit Chef. The plus: You do get a very real meal.
The experience opened Jan. 19 at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, 200 N. Columbus Drive.
The experience is focused on projections that come down from the ceiling and onto customers’ tables. The hotel partnered with TableMation Studios, a company that turns blank tables into immersive 3D gastronomic adventures, to create the meal.
The projections at the Fairmont feature a chef that is 2.5 inches tall, and he directs diners through five courses. With each course, Le Petit Chef narrates and walks across and around the plate and the accompanying landscape — which changes as people eat, sometimes looking like the swirling strokes of Van Gogh’s Starry Night to accompany salt-roasted carrots with quinoa granola before transforming into the down-home yard of the chef’s imaginary grandmother for bacon-wrapped chicken with pickled shimeji mushrooms.
The chef shares the story of each dish and how it was created, and he cooks through some of the food that is served.
The tablescape design was created for TableMation by Belgian animation studio Skullmapping.
Each course is different. Some come with a song and dance — there are “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired dancing vegetables and champagne bottles.
Others have a history lesson where diners may or may not be virtually poisoned by tomatoes in the 1700s or a deep-dive into an ingredient used on the plate, like the use of fresh mozzarella on pizza Margherita.
All of the visuals are perfectly timed with the wait staff: Once the teensy chef says to bring out the meal, the food quickly arrives.
Each dish is as immersive as the one before it, with a full story for each. The menu includes dishes like tomatoes three ways and butter-poached beef paired with wine like Gran Moraine Brut Rosé and Chateau Lassegue Saint-Emilion Red Blend.
The meal culminates in a Ferrero-Rocher-inspired dessert that’s lit on fire tableside — for real this time, not virtually.
Vegetarians have options, too. The table’s animations will still focus on the carnivore dishes, but veggie-only diners can expect things like chickpea roulade and roasted sweet potato or squash. Fish options are available, as well.
The projections are the heart and soul of the experience. Customers don’t need special glasses, and no technology will encroach on their space — all they have to do is sit and watch the table until it’s time to eat.
They just need to be sure not to move anything when they sit down — all plates, silverware and drinking glasses are placed in the precisely correct spot to make the animation look its best.
Reservations for Le Petit Chef start at $155 per person, and customers can add a French wine pairing package for another $42. Reservations can be made online. Seatings are every 6 and 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday until the end of 2023.
The experience lasts for 90 minutes and is held in the Cuvée Room just off the Fairmont’s lobby.
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