Millionaires fly to Thailand for R180 000 dinner

It was an evening of utter decadence — a 10-course gourmet dinner concocted by world-renowned chefs at $25 000 (about R180 000) a head.

Many of those who attended Saturday night’s culinary extravaganza in Bangkok hailed it as the meal of a lifetime. But it’s no easy task to eat plate after plate of Beluga caviar, Perigord truffles, Kobe beef and Brittany lobster — each paired with a rare and robust vintage wine.

”It’s really amazing,” said one diner, Sophiane Foster, a wealthy Cambodian who lives in Malaysia, as she eyed the dinner’s eighth course — a ”pigeon en croute with cepes mushrooms”. ”But I can’t finish it. Your senses can only appreciate so much.”

High-rolling food lovers flew in from the United States, Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia for the 40-seat dinner organised by the Lebua luxury hotel in Bangkok, grandly titled ”Epicurean Masters of the World”.

Cooked by six three-star Michelin chefs — four from France and one each from Germany and Italy — the menu featured complicated creations such as ”tartar of Kobe beef with Imperial Beluga caviar and Belon oysters” and ”mousseline of ‘pattes rouges’ crayfish with morel mushroom infusion”.

Among the talented chefs, some said they found it challenging to give diners their money’s worth.

Antoine Westermann of Le Buerhiesel, a top-class restaurant in Strasbourg, France, said he shaved 3,5 ounces of Perigord truffles — worth about $350 (about R2 500) — on to each plate of his ”coquille Saint-Jacques and truffles”.

”For $25 000, what do you expect?” he said.


As guests entered the dinner, held at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant on the 65th floor overlooking Bangkok, attendants bowed and scattered rose petals at their feet. Men wore tuxedos and women were dripping in diamonds. The guests included Fortune 500 executives, a casino owner from Macau and a Taiwanese hotel owner, said Deepak Ohri, Lebua’s MD. He declined to reveal their identities.

”It’s surreal. The whole thing is surreal,” said Alain Soliveres, the celebrated chef of the Taillevent restaurant in Paris.

Soliveres prepared two of his signature dishes, including the first course: a ”créme brûlée of foie gras” that was washed down with a 1990 Cristal champagne — a bubbly that sells for more than $500 (about R3 580) a bottle, but still stood out as one of the cheapest wines on the menu.

”To have brought together all of these three-star Michelin chefs, and to serve these wines for so many people, is just an incredible feat,” Soliveres said.

Chefs submitted their grocery lists to organisers beforehand and the ingredients were flown in fresh: black truffles, foie gras, oysters and live Brittany lobsters from France; caviar from Switzerland; white truffles from Italy.

Diners also sipped their way through legendary vintage wines, such as a 1985 Romanee Conti, a 1959 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a 1967 Chateau d’Yquem and a 1961 Chateau Palmer. The latter is considered ”one of the greatest single wines of the 20th century”, said Alun Griffiths, of Berry Bros and Rudd, the British wine merchants that procured and shipped about six bottles of each wine for the dinner.

The wine alone cost more than $200 000 (R1,43-million), Griffiths said. ”Just to have one of these would be a great treat. To have 10 of them in one evening is the sort of thing that people would kill for.”

Wine lovers regularly organise exorbitantly expensive tastings in New York, London and Tokyo, but such events are not as common in Thailand, where it would take the average schoolteacher five years to earn $25 000.

‘Waste of money’

On the street, where much of Bangkok’s best food is served, the dinner generated talk of over-the-top excess.

”That is a waste of money,” said Rungrat Ketpinyo (44), who sells Phad Thai noodles for 25 baht (about R5,30) a plate from a street cart outside the hotel. ”I don’t care how luxurious this meal is. It’s ridiculous.”

Organisers say the event was designed to promote Thai tourism and that most of the profits will go to two charities — Médecins sans Frontières and the Chaipattana Foundation, a rural development programme set up by the king of Thailand.

The guest list included 15 paying customers and 25 invited guests. Organisers scrambled to fill the seats at the last minute after 10 Japanese invitees cancelled their reservation, citing safety concerns after the New Year’s Eve bombings in Bangkok that killed three people.

Some chefs confessed they were astonished by the $25 000 price tag. ”It’s crazy,” Westermann said. ”After this, nothing can shock me.”

But Marc Meneau, the chef of L’Esperance restaurant in Vezelay, France, called it a ”culinary work of art”.

”It’s no more shocking than buying a painting that costs $2-million,” he said. — Sapa-AP

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Jocelyn Gecker
Jocelyn Gecker works from San Francisco. Associated Press Jocelyn Gecker has over 400 followers on Twitter.

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