By Forbes Travel Guide Correspondent Mai Pham

Le Mistral
Photo Courtesy of Le Mistral

In the culinary world, chefs are rock stars, and getting to experience their cuisine up close and personal is the ultimate backstage pass. Want to meet, greet and have a chef cook a customized dinner just for you? Here’s the inside scoop on five chef’s tables in Houston, where you can go behind the scenes, interact with chefs and the kitchen staff and, most importantly, enjoy the privilege of having a culinary star prepare and serve your meal directly to you.

Quattro at Four Seasons Hotel Houston
Aptly named “La Cucina” (Italian for “the kitchen”), the chef’s table at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Quattro is helmed by Italian-born toque Maurizio Ferrarese. For groups of up to 16, there’s a kitchen-adjacent private dining room with a large window overlooking all the cooking action.

For parties of two, you can get even closer: It’ll set up a small table right in the kitchen. Menu planning is completely customized. Work with the chef himself or the restaurant team to plan the menu, make special requests for specific dishes or ingredients, and specify the number of courses you prefer (five is standard). Leave the rest up to chef Ferrarese, who will wow you with extravagant ingredients and seasonally prepared dishes like hickory-smoked prime beef tartare and summer black truffles; saffron and zucchini risotto with lobster tail; and tiramisu served tableside.

5 Can’t-Miss Chef’s Tables In Houston - Forbes Travel Guide

Ara’s Table One, Photo Courtesy of Royal Sonesta

A 48-hour advance booking is required, and don’t forget to ask the chef about his housemade limoncello.

Ara at Royal Sonesta
By day, chef Peter Laufer is responsible for the entire food and beverage operation for Royal Sonesta, but when you book an evening at Table One, the chef’s table located inside the hotel’s Ara Restaurant, Laufer arranges everything so that he’s your own personal chef for the evening.

“You tell me how many courses and give me any dietary restrictions, and I decide what I want to make,” says Laufer, who, like a sushi chef, will choose the best ingredients to prepare a one-of-a-kind set of courses tailored specifically to your party’s preferences.

The great thing about Table One is that there is no window or barrier separating the chef’s table from the kitchen, allowing for a more immersive and interactive behind-the-scenes engagement.

“Some people get up and take pictures of me cooking or plating,” he says. “Others just want to sit at the table and let me serve them.”

Expect creative plates like the jumbo lump crab cake with lobster sauce, the roasted quail with corn velouté and bibb lettuce, or the butcher’s block of 44 Farms beef prepared five ways.

Reservations must be booked at least 72 hours in advance, and can be made for four, five, seven or eight courses, with or without wine, for a minimum of six and a maximum of 10 people.

For the ultimate splurge, go all out and get “The World,” a 10-course tasting with wine pairings that includes an overnight stay in a concierge-level suite.

Le Mistral
One of Houston’s finest French restaurants since 2001, Le Mistral takes you inside its picture-perfect commercial kitchen at its chef’s table for superlative Gallic cuisine prepared by executive chef and owner David Denis. Seating two to eight, the table is set up in an intimate, elegantly decorated room accessible only by the kitchen.

Your evening begins with a visit from Denis, who will sit down with your party to discuss your likes before planning a menu on the fly. “Do you like foie gras? Veal? Lamb? Sea bass?” he’ll ask. What ensues is a feast for the eyes and the senses: veal rossini served on a wooden block; sea bass bathed in lobster sauce; and porcini risotto finished with freshly shaved truffles are just some of the delights that will regale your table.

In lieu of the room, parties of two may also request a seat directly in the kitchen. And, as a parting treat, everyone goes home with goody bags full of artisanal French bread from the onsite bakery, Foody’s Gourmet.

State of Grace
State of Grace, Ford Fry’s hot new Houston restaurant, has a hotter little secret: the chef’s table or, if you’re going to get really technical, the chef’s six-seat bar located right in front of the grill. Available for booking daily for parties of two to six, it’s the best way to gain an audience with top chef Bobby Matos, who will craft an over-the-top tasting of the day’s best bites.

5 Can’t-Miss Chef’s Tables In Houston - Forbes Travel Guide

State of Grace, Photo Courtesy of Mai Pham

The seven-course extravaganza progresses from light appetizers like the daily crudo to heartier appetizers such as seared foie gras served with fresh biscuits and peach jam. The freshest of fish will be grilled or roasted. Proteins like duck, lamb and beef are all potentially part of the mix as well. Matos has been known to grill and carve up a dry-aged tomahawk rib-eye for patrons to share.

The bar setup lends a party-like, less-formal atmosphere to the evening. On top of that, Matos is so approachable that you’ll be fast friends by the night’s end. In all the conversing, though, just remember to pace yourself so that you can sample pastry chef Sharon Gofreed’s delectable desserts.

Brennan’s of Houston
The kitchen at Brennan’s is like Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry — it attracts ambitious, up-and-coming chefs looking to gather skills and experience before striking out on their own. Upstart toques who have come from Brennan’s kitchen include James Beard Award winners Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, Daniela Sotto-Innes of Cosme in New York City and Mark Holley of Holley’s in Houston.

So, when you book the Kitchen Table — a private table semi-walled off from the kitchen by glass — chances are that a rising chef you’ve never heard of is cooking in the midst. If that’s not thrilling enough, then chef Danny Trace’s degustation menu — five to seven courses, his choice — is.

Blending Southern Creole inspirations with French techniques, Trace creates off-menu seasonal dishes that seduce the palate. Recent creations include sea drift blue crab soufflé; rabbit and chanterelle mushroom en gelée; and Hawaiian pineapple and churro waffle.

Open for lunch and dinner, the Kitchen Table accommodates a minimum of four and a maximum of 12 guests. As you might expect, the experience is extremely popular, requiring an advance reservation of up to two months for weekends.