Aureole
Chef Chris Engel
Preshift Workshop at Aureole

Most restaurants open their dining rooms to diners in the early evening after many hours of prep work in the kitchen. What you see is a well-oiled machine that integrates food and graceful service at a pleasant place. But do you ever wonder what it’s like behind the scenes? Is it a kitchen nightmare, a scene straight out of a reality TV show, or smooth sailing? At Aureole, Executive Chef Chris Engel pulls back the curtain, beckoning you to take a peek and a seat at the prep table in his kitchen. And it won’t cost you a penny.

Preshift Workshop at Aureole

Most restaurants open their dining rooms to diners in the early evening after many hours of prep work in the kitchen. What you see is a well-oiled machine that integrates food and graceful service at a pleasant place. But do you ever wonder what it’s like behind the scenes? Is it a kitchen nightmare, a scene straight out of a reality TV show, or smooth sailing? At Aureole, Executive Chef Chris Engel pulls back the curtain, beckoning you to take a peek and a seat at the prep table in his kitchen. And it won’t cost you a penny.

Chef Chris Engel
t’s 5 p.m. on a Friday night, which is the witching hour for a restaurant about to go into full service swing for the dinner crowd. And yet, for the next hour or so, Chef Engel will dedicate his time to four random guests who scored a gratis spot simply by being the first to respond to a weekly email blast from the restaurant.

Watching him work, you might take his quiet confidence and focused gaze the wrong way. Perhaps he’s not that easy to talk to, or the conversation too technical? But even with four sets of eyes trained on his every move, his demeanor is inviting. He will talk to you, cook for you, pour you a glass of wine, laugh with you, and listen. In fact, for that next hour, you might think of Chef Engel as your new best friend who just happens to be an extraordinary cook.

Growing up in Germany, Engel worked in some of the best restaurants around Europe before heading to New York. While his passion lies squarely in the kitchen, there is no mistaking that he loves being with guests as well. “I always say I am much better in the kitchen, because it is my comfort zone, but I love to interact with people. This experience is an amazing opportunity for me to learn from my guests, as well as their chance to see the effort that’s needed to bring their food to their table.”

Guests are brought over to a prep table in the kitchen that offers a total overview of the hot and cold line, as well as the pass. There, Engel chats about the dishes he creates, and he and his guests taste some of them together. These dishes are either on the menu or about to be placed on it. There is absolute transparency. A little wine helps the party get comfortable with one another and settle into pleasant discourse. “By the end of the second course, they are chatty,” says Engel, with a laugh. “After dessert, they are completely in the kitchen.”

The type of guest who participates runs the gamut: “The young and the more mature, a lot of foodies, regular guests that have been dining with us for 30 years, and those who are coming into their own careers and have the potential to become regular diners.” But all are bound by a common thread: an interest in the culinary arts. “People have a lot more food knowledge than they did 10 years ago. They take the time to educate themselves. In terms of wine even, they are so informed. They ask smart questions, and they are not afraid to challenge Tyler, our sommelier, and me.”

But Engel asks questions in return. His goal is to best understand what his diners want from that experience when they go out: why they go out, what they like and why they like it, and what they expect in terms of service. “It helps us better anticipate their needs,” he explains.

Every week, the restaurant emails an offer for four seats for the following Friday. It’s an intimate experience and uniquely determined by the guests who attend. “We want everyone to have an amazing time and go home and tell their friends,” says Engel. No doubt, that is exactly what happens.

For a chance to experience a Preshift Workshop at Aureole, sign up for Aureole’s mailing list at charliepalmer.com/sign-up.

We asked a couple of recent attendees about their Preshift Workshop experience. Don and Nancy Dibert and Rebekah Gerard were happy to share their thoughts.

Why did you want from this experience?
Rebekah Gerard: To be honest, I originally thought this might be a gimmick! I had tried a few times to get tickets unsuccessfully, but after a more focused attempt, I was able to secure a spot. I was thrilled but really not sure what to expect. I love fine dining, and Aureole is one of the best, so I was most excited about having the opportunity to see the inner workings firsthand.

The Diberts: Out of the 30,000-plus restaurants in New York City, we love to dine at Aureole on a regular basis. We have had the pleasure of a “chef’s table” experience at a few establishments, but never here. When we received the email, we knew it was something we had to do.

What surprised you about the kitchen environment?
RG: Chef Engel mentioned that Aureole had one of the largest restaurant kitchens in the city, so size was a surprise! Also how calm everyone was. I expected more chaos—pots clanging and people shouting—but instead, everyone was focused and calm and knew exactly what to do. I also liked that everyone had a spoon in their pocket! Plus, Chef Engel was so relaxed. We started a little late, around 5:15 p.m., but he wasn’t bothered by that. Considering it was a Friday night, and busy, we were not rushed at all.

The Diberts: We were amazed at the “operating room” cleanliness in the kitchen. Each plate was meticulously constructed for optimum presentation, and there was nothing on it that did not have a purpose. The whole team knew their role.

How did the experience pull you in?
RG: After I left, I felt like I had won the lottery. It was better than I could have imagined. The generosity of Chef Engel and the sommelier was so unexpected. They took the time and the interest to answer all our questions. I gained insight on how menu choices are made and how technique and experience factor into the final dish. In particular, Chef Engel’s anecdote on his lobster bisque was very interesting and enlightening. I also couldn’t believe how much time it took to make the jasmine rice crisp that topped the foie gras.

The Diberts: While we were already fans, it was beyond incredible to see behind the curtain and watch the wizardry at work. We now understand the motivation and thought process that goes into each final dish the staff serves.

What most resonated with you?
RG: The care and attention given to the food and also those who are enjoying it. Now when we dine at Aureole, we are aware of the thought and effort that goes into each dish and won’t take for granted the work involved. We are still telling all of our friends and family about our experience. And even now, over two weeks later, I still feel like I won the lottery!

The Diberts: The genuine warmth and welcome we received was second to none. Chef Palmer, Chef Engel, Chef Katie, Chef Dan, Sommelier Tyler, social media guru Hannah, and Maître d’ Valerio went out of their way to make this an experience we will not soon forget. We have already raved about this experience to all our friends and hope they have the opportunity to do the same.

Workshop Guest
We asked a couple of recent attendees about their Preshift Workshop experience. Don and Nancy Dibert and Rebekah Gerard were happy to share their thoughts.

Why did you want from this experience?
Rebekah Gerard: To be honest, I originally thought this might be a gimmick! I had tried a few times to get tickets unsuccessfully, but after a more focused attempt, I was able to secure a spot. I was thrilled but really not sure what to expect. I love fine dining, and Aureole is one of the best, so I was most excited about having the opportunity to see the inner workings firsthand.

The Diberts: Out of the 30,000-plus restaurants in New York City, we love to dine at Aureole on a regular basis. We have had the pleasure of a “chef’s table” experience at a few establishments, but never here. When we received the email, we knew it was something we had to do.

What surprised you about the kitchen environment?
RG: Chef Engel mentioned that Aureole had one of the largest restaurant kitchens in the city, so size was a surprise! Also how calm everyone was. I expected more chaos—pots clanging and people shouting—but instead, everyone was focused and calm and knew exactly what to do. I also liked that everyone had a spoon in their pocket! Plus, Chef Engel was so relaxed. We started a little late, around 5:15 p.m., but he wasn’t bothered by that. Considering it was a Friday night, and busy, we were not rushed at all.

The Diberts: We were amazed at the “operating room” cleanliness in the kitchen. Each plate was meticulously constructed for optimum presentation, and there was nothing on it that did not have a purpose. The whole team knew their role.

How did the experience pull you in?
RG: After I left, I felt like I had won the lottery. It was better than I could have imagined. The generosity of Chef Engel and the sommelier was so unexpected. They took the time and the interest to answer all our questions. I gained insight on how menu choices are made and how technique and experience factor into the final dish. In particular, Chef Engel’s anecdote on his lobster bisque was very interesting and enlightening. I also couldn’t believe how much time it took to make the jasmine rice crisp that topped the foie gras.

The Diberts: While we were already fans, it was beyond incredible to see behind the curtain and watch the wizardry at work. We now understand the motivation and thought process that goes into each final dish the staff serves.

What most resonated with you?
RG: The care and attention given to the food and also those who are enjoying it. Now when we dine at Aureole, we are aware of the thought and effort that goes into each dish and won’t take for granted the work involved. We are still telling all of our friends and family about our experience. And even now, over two weeks later, I still feel like I won the lottery!

The Diberts: The genuine warmth and welcome we received was second to none. Chef Palmer, Chef Engel, Chef Katie, Chef Dan, Sommelier Tyler, social media guru Hannah, and Maître d’ Valerio went out of their way to make this an experience we will not soon forget. We have already raved about this experience to all our friends and hope they have the opportunity to do the same.