a table of food and wine with a green animated nature projection
Defying expectations of traditional upscale dining, the 90-minute gastronomical theater blends together "dinner and a show" with its jaw-dropping animated performance. Credit: Le Petit Chef

There’s big talk about a little chef in Chicago. Unlike at other fine-dining restaurants, this chef reveals his culinary secrets at the dinner table. He visits guests before every course and teaches them about their meal’s ingredients by demonstrating how the food is prepared. But here’s the twist: the chef is two-and-a-half inches tall . . . and he’s virtual. 

If you’re looking for an unconventional and mouthwatering dining experience, the tiny chef, or Le Petit Chef, is hosting guests in the Cuvée Room at Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park until the end of the year. 

The Fairmont partnered with animators TableMation Studio to present this immersive dining experience, which uses 3D projection mapping to cast a video onto the table from above. It follows Le Petit Chef, a miniature French chef created by the Belgian artist collective Skullmapping. The animated chef narrates a dynamic five-course tasting menu that’s choreographed with precision thanks to the Fairmont dining staff. Defying expectations of traditional upscale dining, the 90-minute gastronomical theater blends together “dinner and a show” with its jaw-dropping animated performance. 

“You’re immersed into the tiny chef host’s world from the moment it begins,” says William Schultz, Fairmont Chicago’s director of food and beverage. 

More than anything, Le Petit Chef gives guests an opportunity to observe the culinary arts up close. Chefs often remain behind closed doors while diners enjoy their food without fully appreciating the effort behind every meal. This interactive dinner invites people to join their tiny host on an edible adventure that explores a chef’s mind. As he moves from plate to plate, the chef teaches diners about the history, ingredients, and techniques behind their food. 

“The interactive element of Le Petit Chef brings an overall educational component to the dinner, offering the diner a different perspective and background into everyday ingredients,” says Elton Ambrose, executive chef at Fairmont Chicago. “It allows the diner greater insight into the mind of a chef as they create a meal. It is the hope that the diner leaves with a greater awareness of the complexity of the everyday ingredients used in the dishes that we present. But most of all, [the goal is] to have fun by enjoying delectable food, French wines, and a truly unique experience.”

Fairmont’s dining staff play an integral role in the immersive experience. To execute a seamless dining experience that’s choreographed with a preset animation, the Fairmont kitchen and waiting staff must plan their serving times with precision, all the way from the appetizers to dessert. That way, when Le Petit Chef finishes cooking the dish, it materializes on the table. 

“The kitchen team needs to work in complete harmony with the serving and front of house teams to deliver each dish perfectly timed to the virtual theater cues,” says Ambrose. “Working as one and depending on each other is critical to ensure perfect execution and an exceptional guest experience.”

The tablecloth is Le Petit Chef’s canvas. Every course is accompanied by a storyline, exploring the ingredients necessary to prepare Fairmont’s tasting menu. While the tiny chef plays the leading role, the settings and side characters elevate the animated production. Guests journey from course to course, accompanying the chef through settings including Parisian gardens or Venetian canals, traversing the production’s homages to artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Vincent van Gogh. Or dinner is interrupted by a crowd of dancing carrots, avocados, and champagne bottles, resulting in an eye-popping blend of Beauty and the Beast and Ratatouille

Le Petit Chef launched in several other cities before arriving in Chicago. The tiny host has served dinners in restaurants located in Warsaw, Taipei, New York City, Los Angeles, and Dubai, but his stay at the Fairmont is the tiny chef’s debut in the midwest. 

“We are thrilled to bring this unique dining experience to our guests, the city of Chicago, and the larger midwest region,” notes general manager Clay Spencer. “The Fairmont Chicago culinary team has been working diligently to prepare for the unveiling. We’re delighted for diners to experience this culinary adventure through animation. It is a dinner like no other.”

Le Petit Chef
Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus
Thurs-Sat 6 and 8:15 PM, reservations required, $155+ per person

And let’s not forget dinner. Fairmont and Le Petit Chef prepare a delectable five-course tasting menu that kicks off with its dynamic Tomato Three Ways, accompanied with visuals illustrating the history of the tomato. Next, Le Petit Chef whips up The Art of Carrots, serving salt-roasted carrots with quinoa granola, baby greens, mandarin oranges, and carrot-top pesto; and the chicken roulade, a bacon-wrapped chicken dish served with haricot verts, potato, wild cranberry, and pickled mushrooms. 

For the main course, Le Petit Chef plates up poached beef with spinach, mustard seeds, caramelized onion, beets, and bittersweet chocolate. And finally, the dinner concludes with a hazelnut and sea salt mille-feuille with chocolate crémeux, burnt orange caramel, and Nutella for dessert. 

The immersive dining experience starts at $155 per person. Guests can add the French wine pairing for $42 per head. Le Petit Chef hosts two seatings at 6 PM and 8:15 PM every Thursday through Saturday. The luxury hotel will host Le Petit Chef for the remainder of 2023, giving Chicagoans a chance to experience the groundbreaking blend of technology and gastronomy. 

“Dining is not just about food anymore; it’s about the overall experience and how that enhances your senses,” Schultz says. “One of the first senses we experience when dining is visual, and if we can stimulate that sense through Le Petit Chef’s visual imagery, guests interactively get excited about what will come next in each course.”