Beyond the experience of creating new dishes, the kitchen table provides another value to the
staff. “The younger cooks have confidence issues,” Trace says. “I push them to explain a course or
two. It gets them speaking to guests. It’s a learning experience.”
If he were starting all over again with a chef’s table, Trace says he would have multiple chef’s
tables, and perhaps one raised higher on a platform so guests could see down into the kitchen for a
Time and experience leads chefs to differentiate the chef’s table. Brennan’s recently created a
Southern-style vegetarian menu called Digging Texas Creole for its chef’s table. Trace has watched
the consumer trend toward more healthful eating. “A lot are steering away from proteins,” he says.
“You have to understand how Texas is. People eat beef, and big cuts of it. But some are eating
lighter and want more vegetables incorporated. It opens a whole new avenue for us to get creative.”
As chef/owner, Matt McCallister opened FT33 in Dallas in October 2012 mindful of the chef’s
table. In fact, FT33 stands for “fire table 33,” which is the chef’s table. It seats four guests and is
located about five feet from the plating counter, which is where McCallister positions himself and
readily explains the food to the lucky four seated in the high-intensity zone.
“We don’t do a special menu, and it doesn’t cost more,” he says. He keeps it casual, and though
the table is often reserved, he doesn’t push it as something that needs to be reserved. However, he
would like to evolve the table. “We want to get to where we treat that table with special details.
We’ll probably do a course of two or three canapés to start the meal and finish with something a
little special to take home,” he says.
PHOTO CREDIT Photo by Noah Fecks/Courtesy of Oceana; opposite, Courtesy of Brennan’s of Houston
For McCallister, devising a separate super-intricate menu for the chef’s table would not
be feasible, as the food he and five cooks prepare for the 74 tables is already highly stated.
“To execute separate food for the chef’s table could jeopardize everyone,” he says. “How far can I
push it before the kitchen completely crumbles and we can’t get the food out?”
At Oceana, the chef’s table seats four to six guests inside a glass enclosure in the kitchen next
to the pass where food is transferred to the dining room. The glass helps block some of the noise
and provides the ultimate in privacy, says Pollinger.
The menu is completely customizable, and guests often look online ahead of time to determine
what they would like included in their meal. To sit there, the table must meet a $250 minimum
expenditure for lunch and $500 for dinner.
Pollinger finds that the table is often used by executives who either aim to impress their guests
or discuss sensitive business issues in complete privacy. He often sees marriage proposals in the
room, with guys down on one knee and girls crying.
When chef/owner Kevin Sbraga opened his namesake Sbraga restaurant in Philadelphia within
the past two years, he made sure to follow his dream of offering a chef’s table experience, called
the chef’s counter. “It’s a way for me to directly work with and communicate with the guest, and it
creates something exclusive. Other guests wonder what’s going on,” he says.
The chef’s counter seats six and offers a six-course $75 tasting menu (not counting drinks) that
changes monthly. “It’s almost like sitting at a bar with a marble countertop, and the chefs are right
there,” Sbraga says. It’s available by reservation and held with a credit card. “We release the menu
a week or 10 days before the month starts. People call in right away.”
Guests freely ask what the chef is doing and chefs regularly watch how the customers are re-
sponding to the food. “We could notice she’s not eating this, and we might send something else out
to her. It’s an opportunity for us to be off the cuff and do what we want,” he says.
GIVE IT AWAY
Some restaurants use the chef’s
table as a way to elevate their
establishment in the community
by donating the experience.
Participating in local fundraising
events is important to Ben Pollinger,
executive chef at Oceana, New
York, and donating a chef’s table
experience makes a great auction
prize, he says. “It allows new
guests to experience our cuisine.”
It’s a win for all involved, “especially
as those running charity auctions
increasingly ask for experiential
type donations that you can’t
assess monetary value to, so
they get a better price for it at
the auction,” Pollinger says.
JOD Y SHEE, AN OLATHE, KAN.-BASED FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR, PREVIOUSLY WAS EDITOR OF A FOODSERVICE MAGAZINE. SHE HAS MORE THAN
20 YEARS OF FOOD- WRITING EXPERIENCE AND WRITES THE BLOG W W W. SHEEFOOD.COM.