Chicago

An Animated Chef Leads You Through An Immersive Five-Course Meal at This Chicago Dinner Experience

Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel launched a unique dining experience.

Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel
Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel
Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel

Chicago doesn’t lack dining options. But every now and then one restaurant zigs off into a wild direction while everyone is zagging. Currently, that’s Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel. The animated pop-up dining experience is combining technology, art, history, and food to bring to life a “little chef” who wows diners with a whimsical culinary tale from antiquity to the present-on their dining table.

Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel
Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel
Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel

I didn’t know what to expect when I attended the dinner, but my mom was in town and curious to try something new. I’ve seen tech elements like virtual reality incorporated into the hospitality industry with lackluster results. Expectations are high with the promise of being transported into an experience that reminds us the future is at our fingertips, but low-quality images and clunky first-gen tech often reminds us that we’ve still got a long way to go.

The experience began with instructions to silence your phone and remove any personal effects from the table and a credit to Skullmapping, the company behind the projection mapping tech diners were about to experience. From there (through projected images) the table transformed into a prep station, complete with potatoes boiling on a cooktop, salt and pepper shakers, and tomatoes and carrots on a cutting board, next to a chef’s knife. A small stage appeared to introduce us to our guide for the evening: le petit chef.

The five-course meal began with the story of the tomato’s journey, debunking beliefs that it’s an Italian product (due to its close association to Italian cuisine) and highlighting its Latin American roots. The scene was complete with a recreation of Hern√°n Cort√©s arriving in Tenochtitlan of the Aztec empire and slaughtering its people (which honestly could have come with a trigger warning). It was an impressive preview of what lay ahead. When the story ended, servers waiting in the wings promptly placed plates of pickled tomato slivers served on a bed of whipped feta, green tea gel, and baby herbs in front of every diner.

Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel
Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel
Courtesy of Le Petit Chef at the Fairmont Hotel

For the next course, the chef takes diners through the history of art. Citing the works of Salvador Dali, Ren√© Magritte, Andy Warhol, and Marcel Duchamp as his inspiration for the endless pursuit of reinventing his work and keeping up with trends. The chef has an existential crisis when the tiny projection says diners feel his food has become too “artsy fartsy,” and it’s time to go back to the basics. The work of Wassily Kandinsky, one of Russia’s most famous painters, is introduced with soft jazz music as a plate of carrots topped with quinoa granola, mandarins, and pesto sits on a bed of greens. Three more courses are served in a similar style (with the option to pair all five courses with a different French wine).

All told, this was one of the most delightful dining experiences I’ve had in a long time. You should note that if you have a smaller group and the dinner is sold-out you might have to share a table with strangers since the dinner tables are all four-tops or bigger. And orior to the date of my reservation, I received multiple reminders asking me to be prompt and arrive 15 minutes before my scheduled time of 6 pm. No more than 10 minutes after 6 pm, the lights dimmed, a spotlight shined on each plate and a voice filled the room in surround sound.

The pop-up runs through the end of 2023, every Thursday through Saturday with dining options at 6 pm and 8:15 pm. Tickets are $130 per person. More info: https://www.fairmontchicago.com/le-petit-chef/.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu is a Thrillist contributor. 

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

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