with chefs like David Chang and Markus Glocker inviting you to their tables, eating dinner with gastronomic royalty has never been this easy
"It was heaven on earth.”
That phrase is perhaps the only way to capture the rapturous experience of the chef’s table. After a twenty-five course, four-hour dinner for twelve, complete with wine, beer and sake pairings, it’s nearly impossible to re-enter the casual dining world.
By the end of the 1990s, the chef’s table had evolved from a family experience to an intimate, invitation-only event...
What began as a family tradition nearly a hundred years ago in France has now become the ultimate activity on every food lover’s bucket list. Though no one knows the exact origins of the chef’s table, culinary historians assume it began as a way for chefs to feed their friends and family without having to leave the kitchen. By the end of the 1990s, the chef’s table had evolved from a family experience to an intimate, invitation-only event that chefs would extend to their most cherished customers. Now, anyone can have the experience of the chef’s table if you’ve got the funds and you can get a reservation.
Blanca, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, grew out of Chef Carlo Mirarchi’s ambition to create an intimate dining experience and a place where he could experiment with new cuisine. Chef Mirarchi is the co-owner of Roberta’s, widely considered one of the best restaurants in New York. Past an outdoor area behind Roberta’s main dining room, you’ll find a door marked ‘No Access.’ Enter across a patio where chefs and employees take their breaks, and you’ll find Blanca, a standalone state-of-the-art kitchen flanked by a wraparound counter with comfortable seats for 12. Continuing the tradition of the closeness of family, Blanca is named for Chef Mirarchi’s mother.
During a recent dinner at Blanca, one diner explained his preference for the chef’s table over an equally luxurious dinner in the dining room of any of Manhattan’s premiere restaurants. “For me, it’s all about the personal experience and the interaction with the chef. The last time I was here, I asked for a copy of the menu and the chef gave me his handwritten notes, which was really special.” The same diner—a fan of Brooklyn Fare and its Chef’s Table in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn—remarked, “I call the chef by his first name, César. After dining there, I really did feel as if I was on a first name basis with him.”
Similarly, Momofuku Ko, in Manhattan’s East Village, grew out of an expanding Momofuku empire by Chef David Chang who, at that time, had already opened restaurants Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam. With two Michelin stars, it’s notoriously difficult to secure a reservation at Momofuku Ko. Ten course dinners and sixteen course lunches are served in the space, which seats 12 guests. It speaks to the popularity of the chef’s table that even with an ever-expanding empire, David Chang knew there was an audience for the intimate experience of the chef’s table.
The upscale hotel The London, located just below Central Park, boasts a chef’s table in addition to its luxurious Gordon Ramsay restaurant and the more casual Maze restaurant. The Gordon Ramsay is Michelin-starred with a prix fixe “Prestige” menu that is sure to impress. So why chose the chef’s table over the Gordon Ramsay? The London’s Chef de Cuisine Markus Glocker gives us the chef’s perspective: “Our chef's table experience is not just about food; it's about the interaction between the guests and the staff in a very personal setting. Guests should be able to ask questions and have a peek into how we are preparing their food.”The table itself is located inside the gigantic industrial kitchen, nestled in a corner. You’ll find a leather booth that seats eight with a prime view of the entire cooking line.
As the dining experience becomes more of a social commodity, it’s obvious that the chef’s table can provide diners with a luxurious meal and an educational experience. “For each course, a different chef is going up to the chef's table to explain the techniques, flavor and inspiration behind each dish,” explains Chef Glocker. “We do not want to hide anything from our guests at the chef’s table – we want them to be in the kitchen along the side of a chef to plate a dish or bake a soufflé while enjoying a glass of wine.” In addition to the social aspect, the menus at chef’s tables are also environmentally friendly and healthy. The ingredients are seasonal, sustainable and often come from local farms with wine and beer pairings from around the globe.
It’s clear that despite the plethora of fine dining options in New York, diners still crave a more intimate experience. You can expect to see more chef’s tables from other high-end restaurants, and with casual eateries quickly following suit, the door behind Roberta’s won’t be marked “no access” for very long.