Tiny chef, new tricks

WHEN we went to Le Petit Chef two years ago and saw a tiny hologram fix our dinner (that’s our story and we’re sticking to it), we thought we had seen it all.

Then last year, Le Petit Chef at the Grand Hyatt Manila had a new schtick — recreating Marco Polo’s travels for the diner. The concept has changed once again, and the Grand Hyatt guided us through the experience through a tasting on May 14. Le Petit Chef is a project by Belgian-based company Skullmapping in 2015, and the idea has been brought to several cities around the world.

During the meal, a projection of the chef (the size of a finger) and his world is shown on immaculate white tables, positioned with precision to create the illusion. While his first outing saw him in his native France, for this edition, Le Petit Chef has a different experience in store, with the goal being to teach diners how to be the world’s greatest chef.

The first course took us to South America, to the civilizations that first cultivated the tomato. While the chef discusses the history of the tomato and how it arrived in Europe (we learned that day that the pewter plates used by European nobles reacted with the tomatoes, and led to poisoning; which earned the tomato a negative reception for a while). A marinated cherry tomato was served to us with burrata, Parmesan crumble, basil oil, and tomato sorbet (in the shape of a potato, another South American contribution).

The next course was a course in art: here, the chef talked to the diners about his reverence for Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, and how several art styles influenced his plating. The table settings were changed to have placemats in the shape of artists’ palettes, printed with several famous paintings. A pan-seared salmon was served with buttered asparagus, and purees of beetroot, basil, and lemon and pepper emulsions, splashed on the plate in the style of Kandinsky. The salmon was of exquisite quality and even with the “paint,” had a very mild flavor.

The chef then took us on a more personal trip: back to his memories of an idyllic forest, camping with his grandmother. We watched them cook and in turns, beat and befriend various forest critters. The pair’s finished dish was a French Corn-fed Chicken Roulade with porcini mushrooms, truffle mushroom puree, and roasted chicken jus. It was wrapped in leaves and wonderfully earthy.

The chef bursts into song (about cooking, in the style of Beauty and the Beast’s “Be Our Guest”) to present the last savory course, a Surf and Turf platter with Australian grass-fed beef tenderloin with a black peppercorn brandy sauce; coupled with grilled king prawn in garlic butter, fondant potato, glazed carrot, and French beans.

The dessert was a bit of a mystery: dressed up as we all were, we were handed blowtorches and syringes before the course was served. It turned out that we were to use these to brown Italian meringues and to pump cream onto our fly agaric “mushrooms” (the real mushroom has hallucinogenic properties, and the task given to us was certainly a trip). The mushroom, rouged with a red fruit glaze, was actually a white chocolate case holding white chocolate mousse and ganache inside, with different fruit jams at the mushroom’s stalk and cap.

The program itself wasn’t the only change this year. The dinner’s venue moved from the Grand Hyatt’s upstairs bar The Peak, to the larger Gallery downstairs. According to the hotel’s Executive Chef Mark Hagan, it’s because they’re reopening The Peak once again as a nightclub, in response to the post-pandemic party boom.

Another contribution of the party boom to the move downstairs is more seating: the former location could only accommodate 16 seats, but the new location in the Gallery allows for 28 seats. “We’re always getting a lot of requests,” he said. “We were nearly working on a 95% occupancy rate.”

We must say that the new Le Petit Chef experience is a lot more sophisticated than what came before, but the new location must work on its acoustics (the miniature chef’s voice echoes around the room; and so did our dinner companions’, so we had a hard time hearing both).

As exclusive holders of the Le Petit Chef contract in Manila, we asked Mr. Hagan why the chef was such a nice fit for the hotel. “We want to give people a dining experience which they can remember… a link to the hotel,” he said. “We’re here to bring families and people together and have memories.”

Guests can choose the Le Grand Suite Stay and Dine Experience, priced at P32,888 net for two, which includes an overnight stay in a Grand Suite and daily breakfast at The Grand Kitchen, a Le Grand Chef Menu for two, access to the Grand Club Lounge, and a special welcome amenity upon arrival. Those who wish to only dine can opt for the Le Grand Chef Menu, priced at P7,500 net per person and a Le Petit Chef Kids Menu priced at P4,000 net per person.

For inquiries, call 8838-1234 or e-mail lepetitchefmanila@hyatt.com. — Joseph L. Garcia