Review: A Chef’s Kitchen

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Last weekend, my wife and I went down to Williamsburg, Virginia to see a Michelangelo exhibit at the art museum at William and Mary. Since we were in town overnight, we decided to make a reservation for dinner at a nice restaurant. Courtney searched for restaurants on Tripadvisor, and the top result was a little restaurant called A Chef’s Kitchen. Our experience at this restaurant ended up being the highlight of our trip!

If you’re familiar with the show Emeril Live, then you already have a good idea of what A Chef’s Kitchen is all about. In fact, owner and executive chef John Gonzales’ inspiration came from watching this show. During the course of Emeril Live, Emeril Lagasse teaches the audience how to make a specific meal. A few lucky members of the audience get to sit up close and eat the food once Emeril has finished cooking it. Chef John thought to himself, “That’s not fair! Who are these people that they are able to eat the food while the rest of the audience just gets to sit there with their mouths watering? I wonder if I could do it better…”

I’m here to tell you that Chef John has, in fact, done it better. A Chef’s Kitchen has a single dinner every night from Tuesday to Saturday at 6:30pm, and they have seating for a little more than 25 guests. The cost is $84.50+tax per person, but I can assure you that the cost is well worth it. The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres and champagne, during which time you can watch the chefs finish their preparations for the meal and ask them any questions you might have. Chef John and his sous chef Nick Allen are more than happy to entertain your queries while they finish getting ready for dinner.

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After about half an hour, everyone returns to their assigned seating. The dining room is set up with a full kitchen in the front with three rows of tiered seating facing it. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. We were in the back left corner and were able to see everything that was going on thanks to the intimate setting and a large flat screen television hung from the ceiling which showed up close what was happening on the stove and counter.

Over the next two and a half to three hours, you get to watch Chef John and Chef Nick cook you an absolutely delicious five course dinner, three courses of which are paired with a glass of wine. The menu is fixed and is the same every night for the calendar month, after which they switch to a new menu. They publish each menu a couple of months in advance, so you know what you’ll be eating. I should mention that if you notify them in advance of any dietary restrictions or allergies, they are generally able to accommodate you. With the exception of not being able to prepare orthodox kosher, vegan, or non-dairy alternatives, they are confident they can meet your dietary needs. In addition, if you prefer beer, cider, or soda to the wine, they will make the switch for you as well.

They advertise their dinners as “classes,” which I thought strange before attending but which I now find completely accurate. I learned a lot over the course of this dinner. Chef John has the science knowledge of an Alton Brown combined with the showmanship of an Emeril Lagasse, and Sous Chef Nick has complementary knowledge to back up the boss. (They are both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America.) Not only will they tell you why they made some of the choices they did while cooking the meal, they will also bring up common errors that you should avoid when making the meals yourself. And make the meals you can; they provide you with complete recipes for every single item on the menu!

This is by far one of the best meals I have ever had. We began with a vidalia, roasted garlic, and morel mushroom soup, which actually used potatoes as the base and so was much healthier than a cream based soup. Following that, we had a wonderfully fresh avocado and strawberry salad with toasted pecans and a white balsamic dressing. I’m not really a fan of avocados, but the way this salad came together was superb. Next was a scallion and shrimp cake with grilled pineapple and seared peppers. The main protein dish was a wonderful rack of lamb with pomegranate-date chutney accompanied by a sweet potato mash and shallot braised Swiss chard. To finish off the meal, they whipped up a traditional Linzer torte with an orange custard sauce. Each dish was absolutely delicious, and the items that were paired with wines complimented the vintages perfectly.

Speaking of wine, if you find that you particularly enjoyed one of the three served with the meal, you can buy a bottle (or two or three…) for only $10 each! In fact, every wine that they sell in the shop is only $10. Prior to the dinner when I was perusing the bottles in the store, I remarked to Courtney that none of them had price tags. She remarked to me, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” but it turns out the case is the exact opposite! These aren’t any run-of-the-mill cheap wines, either. They have some fairly high standards for the wines they sell in their store: each wine must have 1) won at least one award and/or 2) have received a score of 85 or higher from a reputable publication that utilizes the 100 point grading system.

We bought four.

Nestled on Prince George Street right outside the main Williamsburg historic attraction, the restaurant is within walking distance from several hotels and inns. Surrounded by dozens of quaint little shops, it would be quite easy to miss this little jewel, and that would be an unfortunate mistake. Don’t think you can just walk in one night for a meal, though. A Chef’s Kitchen can be booked solid several weeks in advance. We were fortunate enough that someone else canceled their reservation while we were on the waiting list. If not for that happy occurrence, I would barely know about this absolutely wonderful restaurant. If you know you will be in Williamsburg in the future and want to treat yourself to a fine dining and educational experience, I cannot recommend A Chef’s Kitchen enough.

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