Le Petit Chef Dining Experience

Le Petit Chef: An Immersive Culinary Journey

Ever been in a restaurant and wondered about the journey your painstakingly prepared food has taken before it landed on the plate in front of you? Ever been told of such a journey only to be disappointed by the prosaic backstory of your meal’s constituent parts? If so, Le Petit Chef at Hilton Brighton Metropole could be for you. For this immersive theatre and dining experience you are invited to suspend your disbelief and throw yourself into the idea that your meal is being prepared by the smallest chef in the world in front of your very eyes. 

Using 3D mapping technology, the story of how this clumsy little Frenchman manages to cook delicious normal-sized meals despite being the size of a borrower is projected onto the table before each course. Le Petit Chef, designed by Belgium-based artistic collective Skullmapping has appeared in restaurants all over the world and Brighton is the first place in the UK to sample his cuisine.

As the meal begins, the table lights up with colour and becomes one big Provençal allotment plot for the setting of the first course’s backstory. There follows the construction of a burrata dish with its radishes and beetroots being yanked out of the ground for garnishes. The drama steps up when a pesky mole gets involved, popping up on either side of the plate to try and wrestle the vegetables away from le chef, whose antics become increasingly slapstick – at one point standing on a rake that flips up to hit him in the face. There’s a light Pixar-like humour to the animation and plenty of small details to notice.

A joyful way to enjoy Crème Brûlée

After the animation ends, the projected garden remains in place, acting as a tablecloth, with the long grass waving in the wind. With all the theatrical build-up, the question becomes: will the food actually be any good? And the answer for the first course of burrata with rocket, pickled baby beets, radish and balsamic glaze is a contented yes. The ball of burrata is creamy and oozy, with the other constituents lending sweetness, acidity and crunch. 

For the second course, the tablecloth turns to the blue of the sea and le chef whizzes around the plate on a speedboat collecting seafood for his bouillabaisse. Things get dicey when a giant octopus emerges from the depths and tries to swipe him into the water. Luckily for us he manages to chop a couple of the tentacles off and they end up, still squirming, in the finished soup, which turns out to be deliciously rich and full of other fruits of the sea: seabass, mussels, tiger prawn, clams, all served with grilled ciabatta and a garlicky rouille. It has great depth of flavour and is almost sauce-like it’s so thick and flavoursome. The narrative element is particularly resonant for this course with the seafood in the soup looking like it hasn’t long been out of the sea.

We’re taken into the French countryside for the third course of chicken and wild mushroom terrine. Le petit chef is doing some foraging, whilst roasting a chicken on a spit. With a particularly resourceful spark of ingenuity, he chops down a tree with his giant Swiss army knife, uses it to dam the woodland stream that’s winding its way across the table, and harnesses the heat of the sun with a massive magnifying glass to boil the water for his potatoes. This plan works perfectly well, but as he’s gathering the other ingredients, the magnifying glass he has carelessly left in the vicinity of some flammable leaves sparks a fire that soon engulfs his camp. Only breaking his makeshift dam can quench the flames. The terrine that results from his life-threatening exploits is luxurious and topped with tiny mushrooms that moments before had towered over le determined chef. 

Le Petit Chef combines theatre, food and technology

For the final two courses, le petit chef is back in his natural element – the kitchen.  The main course of slow braised beef cheek with potato dauphinoise, roasted tender stem broccoli, herbed chantenay carrot, caramelised shallot and red wine jus, is grilled in front of us. All is going well until a bee turns up… We’re left feeling the meal has been ruined by the ensuing disaster but when it turns up irl it’s perfectly serviceable, if a little underwhelming flavour-wise. 

As the dessert, a mandarin crème brûlée, is being cooked, the tablecloth morphs with patterns and colours as le chef adds spices and ingredients to the dish. It’s one of the most arresting and psychedelic parts of the meal, and – with a dragon that appears out a swirling cloud of steam – the most 3D. The crème brûlée itself is delicious – crispy on top, creamy and very citrussy.

For such a new concept, Le Petit Chef is ambitious in its attempt to bring together theatre and food, using cutting edge technology to entertaining effect. It’s perhaps a little difficult to pinpoint the market for this experience however. Kids would love the idea of seeing characters running across the table, but wouldn’t be so interested in the food; whereas the less frivolous amongst us adults might be unwilling to indulge the slapstick animation that breaks up the evening, when there are restaurants with more to offer menu-wise. Bringing theatrical elements into a dining experience can be tricky to balance, as the quality of the actual food can be left by the wayside after so much build-up. The cooking tonight was good but at £99pp for an adult and £49pp for children, it wouldn’t quite warrant the price tag alone. As a whole though, Le Petit Chef is a joyful, imaginative, novel way to experience food.

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