Alchemist: Is this the world’s most creative restaurant?

Alchemist: Is this the world’s most creative restaurant?

(Image credit: Clays Beach Polson)

The Alchemist's Wall of Flavor

In a former theater set building workshop, chef Rasmus Mink and his team create Michelin-starred meals from food waste, drinks from rabbit ears and a new way of looking at food.

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From the moment the heavy bronze doors open, inviting you from a rough, post-industrial street into a dark space full of wonders, entering Copenhagen’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant Alchemist is like falling down a rabbit hole. Is.

In the luxurious lounge where guests are served their first few courses, a kitchen laboratory window illuminates the dishes of ingredients on the back wall. Then you’re led into a domed area where plastic bags dance above you like jellyfish in the “sea”, and another 40 or so heads turn to mouths of strange food.

A buttery lobster claw that lingers on the palate. The herbs are arranged in the profile of Hans Christian Andersen, author of the Danish fairy tale, which dissolve when soup is poured over them. A wonderfully round snowball that tastes like a ripe tomato when you bite into it. A silicone spoon in the shape of a tongue that you have to lick to discover its gooseberry and pumpkin seed flavors. A raw Faroese sea urchin mixed with foie gras creates a silky texture.

As a drink containing bioluminescence extracted from jellyfish is served, the lights dim, causing it to glow.

Besides creating a genuine experience for the privileged few who can dine here – the menu is priced at 4600 DKK (£538) per head, excluding drinks and tickets, issued three months in advance, sell out in seconds. Done – Head Chef Rasmus Munk has bigger fish to fry. It is not enough for him to create a double Michelin-starred restaurant on the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world. He wants to change how we think about food.

The Alchemist is located in the former set building workshop of the Royal Danish Theater (Credit: Søren Gammelmark)

The Alchemist is located in the former set building workshop of the Royal Danish Theater (Credit: Søren Gammelmark)

“It’s about changing the world through food and using food as a platform,” he said. “We want people to be more inspired by the work that we do, and we’re really into storytelling and presentation to do that.”

Dishes include the “appetizer,” where silver-thin ribs are wrapped in sustainable rabbit meat, making his well-heeled diners sit in their seats and think about hunger. A blood drop-shaped ice cream is presented with a QR code linked to an organ donation scheme, and a chicken foot is presented in a cage that resembles a factory-made chicken cage. has the right proportions, while the domed ceiling is filled with video of metal cages. bumping into each other.

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Other dishes touch on sustainability and biodiversity: the turquoise sea urchin is an invasive species that depletes underwater plants, making eating them an act of environmental conservation. A butterfly dish was developed after the research team realized the potential of cultivating protein-rich insects. It’s more than theater: Since 2020, nearly 13,000 guests have used the organ donation QR code (without access to the latter’s websites, the restaurant can’t estimate how many have actually signed up).

"hunger"Thin silver ribs are wrapped around sustainable rabbit meat

“Hungry”, thin silver ribs wrapped in tender rabbit meat

The idea of ​​a fine dining restaurant that goes far beyond the classic constellation of white tablecloths, waiters, diners and chefs originated when Rasmus was a chef in Jutland. Her culinary career led her down a more traditional path until a volunteer project gave her an epiphany.

“I got a call to make Christmas dinner for a group of underprivileged one-year-olds,” she said. “It got me thinking: There’s more to food than just food that tastes great.”

He opened his first Alchemist restaurant in a different location in Copenhagen in 2015, quickly establishing himself as a chef who thinks outside the box by offering dishes including an edible ashtray dish inspired by lung cancer. . While other regional chefs at this level were following established neo-Nordic patterns, they sought to incorporate art, science, and society in what they called a “holistic cousin,” encompassing everything that From how you treat your staff and suppliers to how you design the restaurant. .

Chef Rasmussen wants to change the way we think about eating mink

Chef Rasmussen wants to change the way we think about eating mink

That means his staff works 48-hour weeks, unheard of in the fine dining business, with weekends off and a four-day work week. They also get a pension plan and health care. Along with chefs on the payroll, the restaurant has a composer, performance artist and 3D animator. Completing the overall look, diners are greeted by actors and dancers and whisked off through the ball pit.

Rasmus’ creative thinking caught the attention of billionaire financier Lars Sier Christensen, who allowed him to open his current restaurant in 2019 in the former set building workshop of the Royal Danish Theatre. It was awarded two Michelin stars seven months later. When renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià visited, he described it as one of the most memorable meals of the past 10 years.

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Right focus combined with an open mind reinforces this thinking. Beyond the main kitchen, where 24 chefs scrape chicken feet, prepare plump mini bao buns and prepare the restaurant for evening service, a research team led by Diego Prado develops futuristic new ingredients and experimental dishes. Is.

"Burnout Chicken"a chicken foot presented in a cage (Credit: Søren Gammelmark)

“Burnout Chicken”, featuring a chicken foot in a cage (Credit: Soren Gammelmark)

“We build test kitchens with the building blocks to create interesting and new dishes,” said Diego. “And that means finding new ingredients, new techniques and making it all possible for the test kitchen.”

More recently this has meant cleaning silkworm silk to make a protein that can be spun into light meringue, allowing silkworm farmers to collect silkworm fronds to drink into tea. , agreeing to make yogurt with ants, and run tests on butterflies to understand how the weather changes. Affects their taste.

Along with Diego, PhD researcher Nabila Rodríguez Valleran is working on a project to remove the bitterness of vegetables, inspired by the Japanese sense of taste. Kokomi.

Kombucha flowers on the Alchemist's Flavor Wall (Credit: Soren Gammelmark)

Kombucha flowers on the Alchemist’s Flavor Wall (Credit: Soren Gammelmark)

“It’s very interesting to develop such different products and foods,” she said. “I think it’s a good way to drive a healthy diet, especially for kids, as a way to get vegetables into their diet. Because nobody really likes steamed broccoli, do they?” They?”

Other collaborations with researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) focus on developing sustainable food from seaweed and fungi, breaking down different types of materials to create something new.

“We’re pushing the limits of what people can eat too much of. These things can end up in one dish, but that’s not the goal,” Diego said. “And right now, we’re also working more and more with projects that aren’t really restaurant-related.”

One of those projects is a collaboration with a researcher at MIT’s Media Lab on space food, where teams are experimenting with lunar soil, and a possible process to help feed future space dwellers. are sending copper into space to test fermentation.

Alchemist's research team develops new ingredients and experimental foods of the future (Credit: Claes Bech Poulsen)

Alchemist’s research team develops new ingredients and experimental foods of the future (Credit: Claes Bech Poulsen)

Diego also talks to suppliers and farmers about the parts of their produce that they don’t use or sell, to make food that would otherwise go to waste. This approach has resulted in many dishes to this day, and a cocktail called the “Fur Martini” that includes rabbit ears.

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Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the kitchen is not on the plate, but using your knowledge and holistic approach to food to help society. During the pandemic, Rasmus used the alchemist’s kitchen to feed Copenhagen’s homeless through his junk food nonprofit. Alchemist has also collaborated with the children’s ward of the local Rigshospitalet hospital, helping children in the cancer ward.

Restaurants have created an app to help them make meal choices, introduced new food technology to hospital kitchens, and created protein-rich ice cream for children recovering from cancer, when they want to eat. He is currently contributing as an expert advisor to Mary Elizabeth’s Hospital Future Experience where, subject to funding, a pilot project will work to create world-class hospital food.

In the Alchemist's main kitchen, chefs prepare dishes for the evening service (Credit: Søren Gammelmark)

In the Alchemist’s main kitchen, chefs prepare dishes for the evening service (Credit: Søren Gammelmark)

As Emily Wagner, anthropologist and project manager on Mary Elizabeth’s user experience team, explains, Rasmus’ unique holistic approach to food is what makes it work.

“That’s why we wanted to work with him: it’s not just about the taste and the food, but also about the environment. We have children here who are not hungry, so they are encouraged to eat. It’s important to be motivated. His holistic approach understands that.”

“We believe this will change everything: there are many knock-on effects,” Rasmus said. “Less medicine, less time in the ward, and more happiness, of course, and then after five years, we can go out with the results and hopefully spread it to more hospitals in Denmark and maybe the world.

“It’s about making an impact off the plate. For me, I’m thinking: What’s the next step for us to really make an impact? That’s what we’re going to do next.”

of BBC.com World table “Breaks the kitchen ceiling” by changing the way the world thinks about food through the past, present and future.

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