What's so hot about a "chef's table?" you ask. Those of us who have savored them, are always hungry for more. Even newbies will crave a taste, once they hear how much fun they are.
Wikipedia defines a typical chef's table as traditionally "located in the kitchen of a restaurant. Patrons are generally served a themed tasting menu prepared and served by the head chef."
But at the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i at Manele Bay, it's anything but typical. Its new chef's table was launched earlier this season with its own set of bells and whistles, and, of course, we were hungry and eager to experience it.
“Would you like to smell the aromatics of the lemon-infused olive oil?” asks Executive Chef Fabrice Huet. “I use it in the fennel-parmesan bisque, a veloute made with onion, garlic, organic fennel and more.”
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Set up in the private dining room of Manele Bay's Hulopo'e Court restaurant, it was designed for intimate parties from two to 10 people.
"Guests are already booking it for special occasions," says Executive Chef Fabrice Huet, the Parisian-born culinary artiste who prepares the chef's tables meals personally between overseeing both Manele Bay and Lodge at Koele's kitchens.
"We have had newlyweds who just want to be in their own little world, friends just wanting to have a private party, and foodies who put on the aprons right away and ask questions about cooking."
What: The chef's table is available upon request for two to 10 people in Hulopo'e Court private dining room of Manele Bay Hotel. Reservations 48 hours in advance are recommended. It starts at 6 p.m.
How it works: "You book it with the concierge and then I take it from there," says Chef Huet. "I consult with guests and ask what type of cuisine they prefer and if they have any likes or dislikes and food allergies."
How much: While guests may arrange for as many courses as they like, the standard is five courses and nonalcoholic beverages, recipes and apron for $400 per couple. You may add wine pairings for $75 per person. Tax and gratuity are also extra.
For reservations: Call the Four Seasons concierge at (808) 565-2388. For hotel accommodations, call (800) 321-4666.
Since my husband was about to celebrate his birthday, it was a no-brainer for us to splurge and motor our 26-foot Tom Cat boat across the Auau channel to check it out. We marveled as pods of whales appeared port and starboard, frolicking on picture-perfect seas. Just as we thought it couldn't get any better, we arrived at the state-of-the-art Manele Harbor and inched our way into our reserved slip.
But whoa, wait a minute. You may think that transportation to Four Seasons Resorts Lana'i topped by a private chef experience is out of your budget.
Yet many visitors opt for the Expeditions ferry, which motors multiple times daily from Lahaina at a cost of $25 per kamaaina and $30 for visitors. Of course, the whale sightings are complimentary. The hotel will also pick you up for free on its shuttle if you are a guest or are dining there.
As for the chef's table, "The standard choice is five courses of any cuisine of your liking for $400 per couple," says Chef Huet. "But, of course, you may arrange for as many courses as you like for an additional cost."
If you want to "pop the question," or celebrate your anniversary, I say, Lanai's intimate affair rivals some of the best chef's tables I've enjoyed around the world in price point, setting, presentation and taste.
This includes a memorable feast seated next to Michael Mondavi of the legendary wine family in Rockefeller Kitchen at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island. And the unforgettable Bumbu Bali chef's table luncheon in Indonesia, where we created 20 exotic dishes, learned to speak a little Bahasa and made new friends.
But these were just joiner tables. Lanai's is a Four Seasons experience that allows you to choose the theme, the menu, the details, and who's in your party.
While chef's tables have been around for decades, these days they remain a hip and trendy thing to do as "experiential tourism" is all the rage. Sophisticated tourists want to see, hear, smell and taste their vacation and learn about the destination.
Here, the idea is to immerse yourself into an interactive dinner, where Huet or one of his expert staffers prepares a gourmet feast in front of you, while describing the process and detailing the ingredients. Grab your glass of wine and rub elbows with him at the moon-shaped granite counter. I challenge you to try and duplicate some of these dishes at home. NOT!
Huet is a pro who speaks five languages. He's cooked at Ritz Carltons in Shanghai, Osaka, Seoul, Barcelona and San Francisco before running Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island.
We watched him make fennel-parmesan bisque with Kauai shrimp and Osetra caviar as Italian opera-star Andrea Bocceli crooned over the sound system. The lights were down low, it was cool and air-conditioned, unlike some chef's tables that are set up in actual kitchens.
Vaulted ceilings, artworks, cushy chairs and elegant place settings and florals took it over the top. Those in the main dining room could peek in on us, and they were green with envy over our setup.
He also served us a trio of hamachi crudo, ahi poke and foie gras; lobster, Wagyu beef, braised short ribs and Alii mushrooms entree; and his Pastry Chef Rabii Saber took us straight into the heart of five-star Morocco with his raspberry and rose symphony with rose foam and yogurt sorbet.
This chef's table is smokin' hot. I say if you've got a special occasion, go to Lanai and check it out.