World's Wealthy Meet for $25,000 a Head Dinner in Thailand

Beluga caviar, truffles and Dom Perignon sorbet were on the menu Saturday for a night of gourmet dining in Bangkok that chefs, wine experts and organizers dubbed the meal of a lifetime.

High-rolling food lovers flew in from Europe, the United States and around Asia for the dinner, which carried a price tag of $25,000 a head, excluding tax and gratuities.

Six three-star Michelin chefs from France, Italy and Germany prepared the meal's 10 courses, each paired with a rare fine wine.

"It's surreal! The whole thing is surreal," said Alain Soliveres, the celebrated chef of Paris's Taillevent restaurant. He was commissioned to prepare two of his signature dishes including the opening course: a creme brulee of foie gras to be washed down with a 1990 Cristal champagne — a bubbly that sells for more than $500 a bottle, but still stands 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 ahead of the dinner. "C'est fabuleux!"

Whether this is the world's most expensive dinner is difficult to determine. Wine lovers regularly organize exorbitantly expensive tastings with fine food in New York, London and Japan. Hedonistic hedge-fund managers are known for dropping outrageous sums for a single night of partying after bonuses are handed out.

One difference here is the location, some critics say. In Thailand, the average schoolteacher would need to work five years to make $25,000. And for many, it would take longer than that.

Out on the street, where much of Bangkok's best food is served, the dinner generated talk of over-the-top excess and unfathomable indulgence.

"That is a waste of money," said Rungrat Ketpinyo, a 44-year-old food vendor who makes Phad Thai noodles at a street cart near the Lebua hotel, the luxury venue that organized the dinner.

Her food sells for $.75 a plate. "I don't care how luxurious this meal is. It's ridiculous."

Organizers respond to such criticism by saying that "most" of the profits will go to two charities — Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Chaipattana Foundation — a rural development charity set up by the king of Thailand.

Deepak Ohri, the hotel's managing director, said the meal was designed to promote tourism to Thailand. He encouraged critics to see the event as a culinary coup for the country.

"Expensive is very relative. Some of the world's best chefs will be cooking their best dishes with the finest vintage wines," he said. "It is an experience of a lifetime."

Few expenses have been spared in putting together the event, titled "Epicurean Masters of the World."

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

Diners were sipping their way through legendary vintages, like a 1985 Romanee Conti, a 1959 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a 1967 Chateau d'Yquem and a 1961 Chateau Palmer, considered "one of the greatest single wines of the 20th century," said Alun Griffiths of Berry Bros. & 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, Griffiths said.

"Just to have one of these would be a great treat," he said. "To have 10 of them in one evening is the sort of thing that people would kill for."

Forty people were expected at the dinner — 15 paying customers and 25 invited guests.

Organizers scrambled to fill seats at the last minute after 10 Japanese people canceled their reservation, citing safety concerns after the New Year's Eve bombings in Bangkok that killed three people, said Ohri.

Diners included executives of Fortune 500 companies, a casino owner from Macau, a Taiwanese hotel owner and people who have jetted in from Europe, the United States, the Middle East and across Asia, Ohri said, declining to reveal their identities.

To ensure discretion, diners were escorted to a restaurant on the hotel's 65th floor in a private elevator, and all staff holding mobile phones with cameras had to check the devices at the door.

In Thailand, the event has been billed as the One Million Baht Dinner, which converts to about $29,000 with the increasingly weak U.S. dollar. But all reservations were booked at $25,000, when the dollar was stronger, Ohri said before the dinner.

Some of the chefs cooking the meal admitted they were stunned by the price.

"It's crazy," said Antoine Westermann of Le Buerhiesel in Strasbourg, France, where diners pay about $260 for dinner. "The fact that one meal could be this expensive," he shrugged. "After this, nothing can shock me."

In a bid to give diners their money's worth, Westermann said he planned to shave 3 1/2 ounces of Perigord truffles — worth about $350 — onto each plate. "For $25,000," he said, "what do you expect?"