Munk, the reigning Alchemist
As global food connoisseurs vie to book tables at the Copenhagen restaurant, chef Rasmus Munk gets ready with more food experiments
Wearing a black Acne Studios T-shirt, chef Rasmus Munk is at ease in one of the many conceptual dining rooms in the three-story space that makes up the Alchemist. The Copenhagen-based restaurant is part dining, part sensory, part social commentary, and wholly unique. As restrictions ease and people make their way back to restaurants, tables here are booked for months ahead (reservations for August to October sold out within 10 minutes). Small wonder, since it’s added another feather to its two-star Michelin status. Alchemist was recently crowned number one on OAD’s (Opinionated About Dining, a relatively new restaurant ranking started in 2017, that uses votes from globe-trotting eaters to rank the best eateries) list of top dining experiences in Europe.
There’s a lot that sets it apart from other fine dining pilgrimages in the city. For one, it’s housed in the former set-building workshop of the Royal Danish Ballet, and boasts fantastical multimedia installations. For another, each meal is made up of 50 impressions (that’s their name for courses). And finally there’s Munk’s propensity to make diners ponder social and political issues of the day, from child labour to global warming, over artfully crafted dishes.
“Especially in the last couple of years, chefs have had a big voice in our society. It’s important to use that voice well, to bring awareness to something that’s important to discuss,” he tells The Hindu Weekend, adding, “I think Alchemist is this trial, where we use food as a communication tool and, in that way, talk about something that is important besides just the ingredients.”
Pushing the comfort factor
This means projecting visuals on a planetarium-like dome of plastic bags floating among jellyfish. And experimenting with produce and methods that have not been used before — one of the innovations had him working with cows’ Achilles tendons and lambs’ lungs, which are usually discarded. There’s a course served inside the skull of a lamb, and one that demands guests to suck on a pair of silicone udders. Munk calls his food “holistic cuisine” — a Nordic manifest like the one popularised by the other Copenhagen legend, chef René Redzepi’s Noma, but “with layers on top of it”. “It takes elements from the science world, from theatre, from all other kinds of cultural institutions to create a multi-sensory dining experience.”
He prides himself in creating “food for thought” and spaces that provide the perfect setting for it. For example, last year he created the Rainbow Room after he read an article poll that said that 80% of LGBTQI+ couples felt uncomfortable holding hands in public because of potential public disapproval. Dancers in LED outfits lead guests into the neon hall, and after the meal, the last impression is a dessert shaped like a seahorse, the gender-swapping marine animal.
The Danish Indophile
Munk, who at 30 is an India neophyte, still speaks of travelling to the country when he “was not that old, not in chef training too long”. While there, he remembers trying a pani puri. He later recreated it on his menu with a porcini mushroom dough that is filled with smoke and topped with oyster, kale and caviar. “When you bite into it, the smoke escapes as an aroma. The smoke is of different spices and thyme, so you have the texture of the pani puri, very crispy and delicate, and you have the aroma and the spices,” he explains.
He was to visit India last summer, but the pandemic delayed his plans. “I’ve been studying a lot in Japan over the last few years. 2020 should have been the year I visited India and discovered it with a chef’s mind and eyes,” he says. It would be interesting to see what four weeks in the country will inspire him to create.
Meanwhile, Munk shares that after not operating for more than a year and a half because of the coronavirus, he is excited for the future. “I think we have only scratched the surface of what holistic cuisine and this restaurant can be,” says the chef, who wants his guests to experience a shift in consciousness after dining at the restaurant. And to do this, he promises to continue to “collaborate with different kinds of people — from theatre, movies, even psychologists and magicians, and those from many other professional fields”.
A meal is ₹29,300 per person (at current exchange rates). Reservations can be made on tock.com