New spin on dining

Hosting a chef's table can wow guests

For most guests, invitations to luncheons and dinners conjure up visions of bland meals and long programs. And even though most hosts insist that their gatherings will be different, the majority of these events share one thing in common: they’re boring. At least that’s how Aaron Philips saw it. In response, the vice president of the Bank of New York hosts a chef’s table, transforming the typical dining episode into an enlightening yet fun experience.

“I invite 30 guests and serve a five- to eight-course meal in the kitchen of a fine restaurant or catering facility,” he explains. Philips uses the Hyatt hotel to host these events. The guests watch the head chef prepare various dishes as he or she describes the process and details the ingredients. Although guests don’t participate in the cooking themselves, they come away with enough information to duplicate the chef’s efforts in their own kitchens. “The events also feature wine tasting and are sometimes centered around a particular theme,” adds Philips.

For example, his last chef’s table had a Saudi Arabian flavor. The waiters and waitresses were dressed in Middle Eastern costumes. The food was drawn from that cuisine. “All of the guests got the feeling they were in the desert,” he says. The centerpieces were Aladdin’s lamps topped with pastries. To make the event even more special, each person was given an inscribed apron and an international cookbook.

Depending on the number of guests, Philips has used the kitchen at a restaurant or transformed the entire facility. Because a chef’s table demands the use of the facility’s kitchen, the event can only be held occasionally during off-peak time. Nevertheless, Philips has used the concept to dazzle business clients and prospects, friends as well as family members. He also plans to use these events as a learning tool for inner-city youths. “I want to give young people the experience of attending these types of affairs,” he says. Regardless of the audience, Philips’ goal is to offer “a dining experience that isn’t run of the mill.”

Host your own chef’s table

  • Use your leverage. “Hotels porimarily host chef’s tables for their top clients or to market the hotel’s chef,” advises Jim Dale, director of catering at the Hyatt in New York City. A true chef’s table requires the use of a kitchen and a themed menu, so it’s not feasible for a facility to host these events often. But, if you do a lot of business with the hotel, don’t be apprehensive about asking them to consider your request.
  • Be flexible. If a restaurant or hotel won’t allow you to hold a true chef’s table, ask if they will host a similar event in the hotel’s main dining area.
  • Contact cooking schools in your area. Refer to your local Yellow Pages for listings. Cooking schools may connect you with an accommodating hotel or restaurant, or they may invite you and your guests to have your event in their kitchen. The Culinary Institute of America (212- 421-0249) hosts chef’s tables at two restaurants
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