The Virtual Chef Bringing Restaurant Food to Life

Restaurant Tech Live blog post 1

In 2015, Antoon Beeck and Filip Sterckx - two Belgian artists working under the name Skullmapping - challenged themselves to find a way to have their building-scale projections seen on the dinner table. And so, a bite-sized chef was born, and this little chef can cook the perfect virtual steak right in front of your very eyes!

“It looks 3D due to the way it’s rendered from our specialised 3D software,” said Sterckx. His creation is now aptly referred to as Le Petit Chef. “We have created a fun-sized optical illusion, similar to the ones that you see painted on the street, where if you catch it at the right angle, looks like there is a massive hole in the ground.”  

The artists uploaded their video of the chef onto YouTube, and the animation became an overnight internet sensation, which has now been watched more than six million times. The animation caught the attention of Nadine Beshir. With her background in the restaurant sector, she saw the potential this video had. By combining food, technology and storytelling, Beshir could create the ultimate, multi-sensory dining experience.

And from this ideation the Dinner Time Story - a pop-up restaurant - was launched in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and now this establishment is opening for business in London. Le Petit Chef – In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, is a 90 minute show which guides diners through a Silk Road-inspired culinary tour with the tabletop chef playing the part of their delightful tour guide. 

The show is beamed onto the table through hidden high-definition projectors in the restaurant’s lampshades. Once guests are seated, a book and their crockery is placed in front of them - these items act as the stage on which the animation can come to life. As the animation begins, the waiters have to carefully place dishes and table decorations in front of the diners at specific moments to ensure it doesn’t ruin the animated production. 

“The challenge is the service, because it’s like a dance,” said Beshir. “The pace of the story has to match the pace of the diner.”

The food served mirrors Le Petit Chef’s virtual creations, which include dishes he creates from new ingredients he discovers during his travels. An amuse-bouche in France is followed by traditional Arabian culinary delights with edible sand, finished with a lamb dish on Mount Everest accompanied by dry ice. 

Projectors and other multisensory tricks are becoming increasingly popular in the restaurant industry, however to make a dining experience feel truly immersive, Beshir believes establishments need to use the technology as a storytelling tool. “It’s like a play but within a different medium – and the food is part of the artistic expression.” 

Le Petit Chef is open on Wednesdays and Fridays at TT Liquor, 17B Kingsland Road, London E2 8AA.