Food & Drink
Meet molecular chef Rasmus Munk
Munk was born in 1991 in the little town of Randers on Jutland – predestined, he says, to become either a “mechanic or join a biker gang”. But thanks to his best friend, who persuaded Munk to go to join him a catering college, his destiny took a different path.
His career really took off when he was 22 and had just returned from spending several years working in the kitchens of top restaurants in London. He appointed head chef at Munkebjerg hotell in Vejle where, with a glint in his eye and millimeter precision in flavors, he started serving yoghurt ice cream with Russian caviar, fried chicken feet, and realistic looking jelly earthworms with coffee.
However, no sooner was the restaurant was attracting foodies from all round Denmark while winning glowing reviews, Munk shocked the entire industry by resigning and opening a restaurant based on ideas and techniques that had last seen the light of day in the early 2000s at molecular gastronomy temples such as el Bulli and The Fat Duck. What’s more, the very month he opened this new venture Noma announced that its doors would be closing in its current form.
While Munk is a forward-thinking chef who is always pushing the boundaries, he is also interested in historic food.
“I didn’t have any real relationship with traditional Scandinavian food before I started training to become a chef,” he says. “My mum could barely boil an egg. When I was a trainee at a lunch restaurant run by a skilled chef, I suddenly understood what traditional Danish food was all about. I think it’s great that open sandwiches are back in fashion and they are being developed and made with really good raw materials,” he says.
Open sandwiches might be back in vogue but a meal at Alchemist leans more towards avant-garde. ‘Ashtray’ is filled with what looks like old cigarette ends and ash, but actually consists of creamed leek, freeze dried potato, and leek ash. Another dish features a natural-looking egg that, when cracked, contains frozen white chocolate and banana puree that has been ‘salted’ with powdered yoghurt and ‘peppered’ with powdered liquorice.
“For me taste always comes before presentation – but a genuine wow factor is also important. When you are paying 2,500-3,000 Danish kroner for dinner, you should get an amazing experience – something you will remember for a long time to come. In no way do I wish to compare myself with Noma, but I do think I’m lifting Nordic cuisine to the next level,” Munk says.
Munk may be a technology nerd, but thoughts of sustainability and local produce are always in the back of his mind. Munk is just as enchanted with the thought of finding some new experimental raw material as mastering some new technique – and the incredibly intricate dishes at Alchemist are probably the most Instagrammed in the city.
“Two things I am currently experimenting with are cow udders and woodlice. An udder is 22 kilos of pure meat that is otherwise simply thrown away. I had some grilled udder on a trip to Thailand and I am experimenting with application areas – right now I am drying udders and grating them over one of the dishes on the menu.”
He roots out a jar and grates a small pile to taste – the wafer thin flakes melt on the tongue and leave tones of Parmesan, Parma ham, and a pleasant livery taste. It is pure umami, dialed up to the max.
Woodlice taste fantastic when they are roasted,” he explains, b no great shakes raw. Jellyfish is a third obsession at the moment and Munk is working with a chemist to determine how you can best influence their consistency – marinating them in alcohol appears to be one way forward.
At other restaurants, the personnel normally polish wine glasses and cutlery before service. At Alchemist, they instead polish large goldfish bowls before the evening’s seating. One of the most famous and most photographed dishes, dishes he cannot remove from the otherwise constantly changing menu, caraway coated skewered fish in a cream of dried and smoked fish wrapped in gold leaf and served over a bowl of live goldfish swimming round. It’s an homage to the name of the restaurant – and to the ultimate goal of alchemists was learning how to produce gold, the ultimate metal. As an aside, one of the waitresses says that all the goldfish have survived their ten months of daily theater in the dining room – even if they have grown much fatter since the opening day.
Text: Lena Ilkjaer
Published: August 30, 2016