28 March 2017
The most hyped chef in Copenhagen right now is not Noma’s René Redzepi, for a change. Restaurant critics are geeking out in a big way for the tattoed 20-something’s offbeat, slightly macabre culinary creations. TASTE chatted to the wunderkind who’s the headline chef of 2017’s LittleGig Festival*
Interview: Annette Klinger
I actually became a chef by mistake. I became interested in food when my best friend was going to culinary school. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I signed up. After the the first day, I knew that this was what I wanted to do! Something just sparked a fire in me, like I’d never felt before.
My mom is a bad cook. I would love to say that she was a great chef and a big inspiration but the truth is she doesn’t cook very well and doesn’t have an interest in food, so our family meals weren’t great at all. I do remember when we visited my grandmother for Christmas once a year, she’d make this beautiful duck, with crispy skin and some Candice potatoes. That’s my best memory…
I really don’t have a favourite ingredient. But the first ingredient that inspired me was an egg. All those possibilities in one ingredient, all those kitchen skills that could be used preparing it. It was fascinating, and that ingredient told me that to be a chef wasn’t a calculation that everybody could solve.
“For me, food is a language, a way for me to speak, a way to show my art to the world”
“The dish Rotten Lamb Brain was to show that brains can be delicious, but also that you need to face the animal you eat”
Before Noma, Danish gastronomy was very influenced by French cuisine. It was unthinkable that we, 15 years later, would have our own pantry. Noma has influenced our food culture so much and pushed the benchmark of restaurants in Denmark higher and higher. For the last 10 years the Nordic kitchen inspired so many chefs, so it has become really ‘’Nordic” to dine in Copenhagen. It seems now that chefs are going in different directions, but still paying tribute to the the Nordic kitchen.
At my first job as a head chef it took me two years to find my own style. It’s very easy to do a good job as a chef if you just follow the others; if you do what people expect you to do. It’s another story if you want to find yourself and your own style. And the hardest thing is to trust that what you do is good enough and have the guns to really do it. So now I focus on doing my own thing, tell my stories share my ideas, and don’t let others’ opinions influence my judgement.
I decided to go it alone and open my restaurant, Alchemist, because I was at a crossroads in my life. I could keep going as a successful head chef of different restaurants and get a lot of top reviews and follow the norms, or I could follow my heart and open a restaurant where I could do whatever I wanted and tell my history. I followed my heart and opened Alchemist with a lot of concerns, but so far it’s been worth it.
For me, molecular gastronomy is just a part of every day, and always has been. The molecular kitchen appeals to me because I want to take diners on an experience that’s far away from an ordinary meal, through storytelling, textures, temperatures. A meal that will be provocative to your senses. For me, it’s important when you pay a lot of money for a meal to go home with something more than just ‘’a great meal”. Of course, you also need to have respect for the environment, the ingredients and the taste, not just good ideas or a show. I don’t want to limit myself. For me, food is a language, a way for me to speak, a way to show my art to the world.
A lot of things have happened in molecular gastronomy, so to say there haven’t been any developments since El Bulli closed down is stupid. At the moment, I’m excited about new types of fermentation and infusing equipment. And equipment for lights and sound is really interesting to look into. And there’s a new protein that’s been derived from jellyfish that has the same properties as egg whites…
At Alchemist, we really try to push the limit of what a meal can be. Right now, we’re working on a new dish with butterflies from a region in the north of Denmark. They have a honey-like sweetness, so we’re trying a new dessert with them.
For me, it’s very important to push the boundaries, but everything needs to have a purpose. It’s not just for shock value. My dish The Ashtray was inspired by my grandmother’s lung cancer. I wanted to show people what was coming into your lungs when you smoked. And the Rotten Lamb Brain was to show that lamb brains can be as delicious as tenderloin, but also that you need to face the animal you eat.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the LittleGig Festival, but I promise it’s gonna be an experience! And that people need to expect the unexpected…
After a great service, I love eating a piece of toast with some good ham from Joselito in Spain and some Comte cheese.