Little Chef, Big Chops

I’m used to meeting the chef when I dine out — in the best places, the chef often comes to the table to chat with guests or even arrives to deliver the plates and describe the provenance of local ingredients.

But I’m not used to having the chef at the table, or literally on the table, for the entire meal.

That’s what you get with the new Le Petit Chef experiences at Victoria’s Marriott Inner Harbour, with the diminutive cartoon cook cavorting around the place settings as he “prepares” each course before your eyes in an engaging 3D illusion.

Of course, it’s all a technological sleight-of-hand trick, with special projectors beaming the little chef videos from on high. The primarily silent animated tabletop performance has him dealing with the fun challenges of doing dinner when you’re just six centimetres tall (think broccoli florets as big as small trees, battling giant octopus, and flipping a mattress-sized steak).


The brainchild of an animation and art collective in Belgium known as Skullmapping, Le Petit Chef is just one of the products developed by these tech-savvy artists (who also do animated gallery installations and music videos) but one that’s gained an international life of his own. Victoria is one of only four places in Canada, and 35 in the world, where you can enjoy the Le Petit Chef dining experience. It’s also a popular diversion on some cruise lines and is seen in pop-up virtual dining experiences and international Anima festivals.

Here, at the newly renovated Marriott Fire + Water restaurant, the Le Petit Chef show goes on in a cozy private dining space that seats 16. The four-course menu is classic fare — including a Caprese Salad starter with creamy fresh burrata, a bouillabaisse course featuring Salt Spring mussels and clams, the beef striploin main with a rosemary potato galette and red wine jus, and a golden crème brûlée finale. Vegetarians can choose a menu featuring parmesan-sauced gnocchi with wild mushrooms, and there are dishes designed especially for kids.


With every table a-glow as the tiny chef gets each dish underway, dining in the darkened room is lots of fun. In an animated trompe l’oeil, the scene changes course by course, starting with the chef cultivating vegetables in a verdant garden
plot for the salad and moving into an aqua sea for ingredients for the seafood soup. A steak is seared over a flaming animated grill — the little chef has a thing about explosions — and he theatrically blows fire over his creamy pudding before the real item arrives with a perfectly crunchy brûléed topping.

The two-hour meal moves along swiftly with staff dressed in chef’s jackets, delivering the food and describing each course (Travis is our brilliant host).

The Marriott space is small — just four tables of four — so couples share the magical experience. It’s a chance to make new friends over a meal.

The price is $158 pp (plus an additional fee for excellent wine pairings from top Okanagan vineyards), so it’s not an inexpensive evening but a unique experience. There are plans to offer shorter luncheon menus for group dining in the future.

From his opening “Bienvenu” to the final “Bon Appetit!” this little chef — and his Marriott supporting staff — takes dinner-and-a-show into delicious and amusing new territory.

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