I agree with your research. You will have to paint the entire surface, a light tan color will work well. And then apply the gel stain with a graining tool. There are several kinds of tools that could be used; special graining combs, brushes for softening, rollers for different effects and gaining rockers.
I would start with a graining rocker. This is a soft rubber pad with a graining pattern. It is the easiest to use but somewhat limited on the effect.
This isn't the easiest thing to do. You should practice first. Use a piece of wood or plywood to practice on. When you are satisfied with the look go ahead and transfer it to the table.
Your choice of gel stain can make or break this project. The best, in my opinion, is Old Master Gel Stain. Once the stain is dry (24 hours) you can protect it two or more coats of any clear coat. Polyurethane is a good choice.