Copenhagen’s chef provocateur Rasmus Munk is back with a reimagining of his famed Alchemist restaurant.
Closing his original 15-seater two years ago, in order to scale up, the cost of the refurb came in at $15 million, ten times the original estimate. That’s not surprising as Munk is not one to do things by halves.
It seems like the Molecular genius has been allowed to let his imagination run riot, to realise his creativity unrestrained and what you will find at the new Alchemist is quite unlike anything else you will find in the culinary world or even this dimension.
Munk refers to his cooking as ‘Holistic Cuisine’, a gastronomic experience that stimulates the five senses by making use of elements from theatre, art, science, and technology. The aim is to stimulate the mind through innovation with every plate imbued with a higher meaning intended to initiate debate around important cultural and societal issues such as gavage, food waste and plastic pollution as well as delivering humoristic nods to both Andy Warhol and Casper the friendly ghost.
“The fundamental formula of the restaurant meal has changed very little in the last 100 years – it basically works according to the same script everywhere,” says Munk. “When I started to investigate how theatre can enrich gastronomy together with our Dramaturge Louise Rahr Knudsen it dawned on me how similar the dramaturgy of a restaurant meal is to that of theatre. It made so many things in my identity as a chef make sense.” - Rasmus Munk
Alchemist is located in the former dockyard area of Refshaleøen and once stored the sets for the Danish Royal Theatre. What they have created is in part theatre as Alchemist’s interior transports guests into another realm. Actors will perform (although guests won’t be asked to participate) and a 57-foot diameter dome sits at the heart of the restaurant.
Like a carnival for the mind, guests are stimulated, probed and questioned at every turn. There’s a new experience around every corner. From the winding bar, surrounded by stunning views, like an indoor simulation of the aurora borealis, to an installation by NYC-graffiti artist Lady AIKO which captures the ambiance and multicultural vibe of New York. A light and sound installation takes diners through a maze of multi-coloured lights, which conveys the struggles of the LGBTQ-community.
Food is served in 50 courses or “impressions”, and a will set diners back DKk4, 000 ($600) for food and wine pairing, which considering the hundreds of hours of research and dedication by the three kitchens preparing the food actually represents pretty good value. The menu alone will cost DKr 2,500, with wine served by the glass and non-alcoholic beverages available, so those on a smaller budget need not feel its out of reach. Eating at the new Alchemist will be beyond any gastronomic experience you have ever had or will have.
What drives you to express yourself through this type of cuisine?
“I want to create something bigger than ourselves, to set things in motion so to speak. I wholeheartedly support local sourcing, biodynamics and organics – but I think there are a lot more issues that chefs and restaurants could address and take part in a discussion about than ingredients. For example, the fact that animal welfare is discussed a lot more than the treatment of kitchen staff. I want to broaden the scope, which includes talking about the boundaries between craftsmanship and art. Can food be art? I don’t know – but I would like to find out.”
What kind of experience can diners expect at Alchemist?
“Apart from the dishes themselves being thought provoking they are presented in a context that is rarely seen at a restaurant. I wanted to create a more layered experience where the gastronomy interacts with both drama, art and visual technique – and it was an epiphany for me as a chef to discover how much in common a dining experience has with the drama in for example a classical play. The new Alchemist will above all be a multisensory experience.”
What’s different about Alchemist 2.0?
“The foundations for my culinary philosophy are still the same, but I have had time to ponder and define what it is we are actually doing – and in the end finding the definition Holistic Cuisine which reaches over so much more than the food on the plate. And since the new space is 20 times bigger than the old restaurant, now we will have the possibility to unfold so many more aspects of dining.”
Why was it necessary to refurbish and grow?
“Actually the timing wasn’t the best! The old restaurant had only been open for a couple of years and was doing really well. But when I was offered the chance to create a complete universe together with a partner like Lars Seier it was a once in a lifetime thing – a unique possibility I simply couldn’t turn down. It turned out to be the best way to look back at and rethink what we had been doing at the old Alchemist.”
Food for thought: A tribute to foie gras producer Eduardo Sousa that figured out a way to produce natural foie gras from wild geese that land to Spain once a year to feast on acorns and olives before migrating further south.
Details:Sautéed foie gras in a Madeira casing topped with aerated foie gras.
Scoby bloom: This beautiful flower is actually made from thin, dried sheets of “scoby”, the yeast organism that is used to ferment kombucha. The red colour comes from dried hibiscus flowers that have infused in the tea used to brew the kombucha.
Details:The kombucha itself is served in the non-alcoholic beverage menu.
Plastic fantastic:A comment on the fact that up to one third of all cod caught in Northern Europe contain plastic. Even in the Mariana Trench at 11 kms depth there has been found microplastics in 100% of the tiny shellfish who live there.
Details:Grilled cod jaw brushed with bone marrow and grilled. The “fantastic plastic” which tops the dish is made of dried cod skin bouillon.
Think outside the box:This dish combines lamb’s brain with cherries and comments on food waste. Brain is not normally eaten in Denmark and it was quite challenging to work out the logistics of serving it since it is normally discarded straight away after the slaughter. The lamb’s brain is coated in a cherry sauce. It is presented floating in walnut oil in a transparent box and is lifted up and sliced table side.
Details:The brain is salted and steamed for 7 minutes at 52 degrees to preserve the texture of the brain.
Raw Scallop:A trompe l’oeil dish in that it looks exactly like a raw scallop with it’s roe sack straight from the shell.
Details:The scallop is actually gently sautéed on one side and placed upside down in the shell. The roe sack is created from a membrane encasing two sauces with different viscosity, one is flavoured with yuzu and elderflower and the other is a mussel bouillon.
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