Out of respect for the chef I will not name the restaurant in this review:

Imagine planning and coordinating an event at a chef’s table at a restaurant. Bringing a few guests to enjoy the experience and get a bird’s eye view of the food as it is being made along with discussion of that with the staff. This was the package we bought from a local restaurant. The restaurant is well known for its chef, who has competed in Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef – we have eaten there a dozen times over the years and always enjoyed both the food as well as an affable relationship with the Executive Chef (EC). He always stops out when we are there, chats with us and occasionally gives some tricks of the trade. This is no way a reflection of him, the management of staff is not his responsibility. And the food was fabulous as always.

The party was to be at the chef’s table, which I didn’t know existed until recently. The last time we were at the restaurant the staff said that the EC was entertaining a group at the chef’s table and would be with us shortly. Learning about this table placed in our mind to take some of our guests to this table for such an experience. The EC has a great sense of humor, explains food well, and a reason to enjoy an experience.

I’ve been to a number of chef’s tables – I fondly remember Charlie Trotter’s table – where you felt like you were in the way but everyone in the kitchen went out of their way to greet you, give you a taste of some sauce, or a dish- and Charlie was there, always smiling, wanting to talk philosophy more than food, while opening another bottle of wine “Oh, we don’t have this wine on the list so lets make some room on our shelf.” Then Alain Ducasse in New York- an amazing meal, with great interaction with the executive chef. Or Table 1 at Peter Canlis restaurant in Seattle – it was a big deal to have the telephone at the table, although today in the modern cell phone era it is not, but the food and the view – amazing. Table 1 at Tarbell’s in Phoenix, where you are in the restaurant but separate, and taken care of so well by Mark Tarbell and his staff that it is our favorite local place in Phoenix. And restaurants now a lovely memory like Chez Paul and Le Francis in Chicago – where the chef’s table was a hidden gem.

Here is the disappointing summary:

We purchased the package offered for the Chef’s table. Indeed as we were checked in the hostess said, “Oh, the chef’s table, you will have an amazing time.” We looked forward to seeing the kitchen in action at this great restaurant.

This chef’s table sits at the end of the kitchen with a sliding glass door so you can close it to have conversation while watching the kitchen, or open it to be a part of the kitchen. It is not within the kitchen proper. The room was lovely – and we could see the staff making meals for the customers. What never happened was interaction with any of the kitchen. In fact:

No one from the kitchen staff came out to ask about our meal.

No one from the kitchen staff came out to bring us into the kitchen – which we could see from an open window (hardly a chef’s table in the kitchen).

As I was looking over the wine list I saw the sommilier come in, and normally I ask to talk to them, but typically expect that if I spend enough time looking at a wine list they magically appear.

No one from management came in to ask about our meal.

So we had a table, isolated from the rest of the tables, were charged a premium for an experience that didn’t exist. Yes, we will contact management and discuss these details with them but here is a little bit of etiquette for those individuals who have such business:

(a) When you have a chef’s table, and we hear that the EC is in the building, one should expect them to stop by and at least say hi. One would think that people who are paying for a premium, and it is booked well in advance- that a simple “hello” and five minutes would be an easy amount of time spent with customers.

(b) When the EC is not available, the kitchen staff should still make an effort to fill the contract of providing an experience of more than just the menu- but the magic of the kitchen.

(c) When we tell the restaurant it is a table for 12 and you set it for 8 that simply shows us you not only didn’t pay attention, but you don’t care.

(d) When you say you prepare a special menu for us, but the menu is simply the restaurant menu without pricing it is nothing special.

So if you call it a Chef’s table and it really isn’t in the kitchen, but a glass wall separating them so it is an open kitchen – you can go to many chain restaurants and see people prepare food- it isn’t a chef’s table. A chef’s table is where you interact with the chef – respectfully of course.

Final note: while I will not mention the name of the restaurant – I will mention it was NOT Tarbell’s. Mark Tarbell is an extraordinary chef, who tends well to his customers. Trust me, next year with our party we will be going to Tarbell’s for the experience.