Before Dinner Comes Work: Chef's Table At Terra, Santa Fe

I've eaten at chef's tables before, dining on elaborate meals served at beautifully appointed tables, sometimes in a viewing area in the kitchen of said restaurant and other times in a secluded corner. 

But it was not until I dined at the chef's table at Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado that I sat smack dab in the middle of a bustling kitchen and did almost as much working as I did eating and had one of the most fulfilling, exciting, and delicious dining experiences of my life.

The table was set with a gorgeous array of produce fresh from the farmers' market trailing down the center of the long table. At the end stood chef Andrew Cooper, who had crafted the display himself, alongside the tiny little printer that poured out the restaurant orders on bits of paper as they rolled in.

Things started off with a bang as chef asked me first to call out an incoming order. "Louder!" he chided, despite the fact that I was using what I would have considered far too loud a voice for polite company even in a busy kitchen. I laughed and filled my diaphragm with air before yelling, "Order in!" and detailing the dish to be prepared.

"OK. Let's go," chef then said to me, pointing to the stove and holding out an apron to me. I saw no options other than to tie on that apron and follow him to the awaiting burners. There I plated our first course, parsnip and apple soup with homemade apple butter. Under his tutelage, I was able to make it look table-worthy and it tasted even better than it looked — warm and rich and delicately balanced.

And so went the evening, with each of us being called on deck to prepare a course and then sitting back down to enjoy the fruits of our labor with our group. Wines were paired as well and my taste buds were exclaiming and celebrating all evening.

Course two was a Santa Fe Farmers' Market salad with fried Old Windmill Dairy goat cheese croutons and pepitas served with a warm citrus vinaigrette. It was a bright, tasty mix of flavors and textures.

Next up was the Kyzer Farm pork belly with parsnip purée, apple butter, and wilted Khalsa green house chard. I love pork belly and I really loved this pork belly. Pan-seared scallops with Romero's celery root purée, poached pear, and salsa verde was the next dish to grace our table. And even though scallops are not generally my cup of tea, I could not stop nibbling the gracefully cooked sea fare.

Before I knew it, I was called up to the plate again. It was time for the seared tuna with cauliflower purée, black bean Southwest orzo, and red chile caribe sauce to be prepared. I've never cooked tuna before. So I was thrilled to be in such good hands showing me the way. Chef Ruben was an impeccable, hilarious, and charming teacher.

So good in fact, that chef Andrew deemed the dish worthy of serving in the dining room to the hotel's general manager, Cindy Racco, and her colleague and guest. I was terrified as I saw it leave the kitchen and thrilled to hear back that she had loved it. Kudos to chef Ruben for teaching a girl like me to make a dish like that, which I thought was pretty darn delicious if I do say so myself.

Bison chuck with rutabaga, onion, and chorizo hash, beet greens, and guajillo chile demi glaze was to be the final course. We all cried mercy before it arrived except for one particularly overzealous guest who partook despite it all. Her report? Worth the overindulgence for sure.

Way too full for the bison, I somehow managed to devour dessert with abandon regardless. How could I not when being served an Oreo churro sundae and cinnamon roll bread pudding with coquito ice cream, poached pear, sweet chile sauce, and a mixed fruit cluster.

My job is to describe things with words. But when it comes to this dessert, I am at a total loss. The bread pudding was made from the hotel's own homemade cinnamon rolls and was decadence defined.

The Oreo churro sundae, well, let me be honest here, it basically brought tears to my eyes. Warm with a crisp outside and soft inside, topped with ice cream and a sauce that tasted exactly like the cream inside an Oreo cookie. I have only two words: Yes, please.

There are chef's tables and then there are chef's tables. Terra's is the latter, the chef's table experience not to be missed. The food, the frivolity, the fervor, the feast. All of it made for the kind of dining experience that makes you wish that the night would never end and that your stomach would let you eat into forever.

Note: Terra offers a variety of culinary adventures, along with the Chef's Table, including the Chef's Garden Table, where harvesting is on the agenda, and the Adventure Cooking Class, where the farmers' market is on the itinerary.