It was just a few minutes before 8.15 pm on a cold night on the first of November. Taxi brought us to the address that should have been Alchemist‘s. We stepped out into the unknown. It seemed (at least in the dark of the night that didn’t allow us to see much) like if we ended in a rough area of warehouses. There was no light except in the windows of some houses very far away and the one single light which was lightening a massive heavy door that looked like of a church. It was a dark and quiet night in an isolated place, there were only this door and a portentous sound. I started laughing – I heard lots about Alchemist, but didn’t imagine it to be in the middle of nowhere, drown in the dark. Where did we arrive? It was a crazy feeling! I took my phone, I really had to film this:
This door in the dark of the night, this sound and scenic light do prepare you for what follows. You know what is expecting you and yet, you are in the dark, you are surprised because what awaits you is much bigger, much stronger, much more magical than all those words and photos that you have read and seen.
Some people say that Alchemist is all about molecular cuisine. I disagree: it is about surprise, about blowing your mind. It is about giving you something you would never expect after what you had just a minute before that. It is molecular in the sense that anyway everything that surrounds us is made of atoms and molecules and that cooking is a chemical process. It is true, some dishes remind of the type of molecular cuisine created by El Bulli and others, but it’s just a part of the repertoire which in Rasmus Munk’s case is very wide and deep. And this wide, wild and deep repertoire is the one that just blows your mind. Yes, there are special effects that create a magical atmosphere. Finally, I saw so much desired northern lights (even if only projected), I saw all the stars above me while enjoying the best omelette ever created (yes, I do dare to say this!) and I went to New York and had Andy Warhol’s banana. There is a lot of this and that. Like social awareness that reminds you quite often during the dinner of what Rasmus really cares about (and I just love that part of him! Thanks Rasmus), but when you leave Alchemist, you still think of the food you had. Food that goes from molecular (yes, it has that too) to the typical comfort food and all the spectrum in-between. It is beautifully looking, socially engaging, but most of all it’s super delicious. And what surprised me most was the balance. Even if I love umami, I can’t have 50 courses of it, I need to have my palate tickled with different flavours, I need it having cleaned… Then I can continue and eat for hours. And Rasmus is a master of that. You eat and drink (btw go for the wine pairing! Mugaritz and Alchemist are my favourites in this!) and you don’t get tired (you know you can get tired even after 7 courses in some places…) – you want more because your palate is always stimulated, your mind engaged and your emotions run wild! You don’t want to leave the Alchemist!
Do you know what I like best about Alchemist? That whoever ate there, even if there’s lots of theatre, doesn’t talk about theatre but about food, even if theatre could distract you. The food is for Rasmus so important and he is so good at making it, that it can compete with any special effects you can imagine. It is technically perfect and super delicious! I can boldly and honestly say that it was between 3 best meals of my life! (and yes, talking just about food)
All this was created by a chef who is today only 28 years old, incredibly humble, considerate and honest.
What were his dreams when he was a child?
“I wanted to be either a police officer, a lawyer or a mechanic! My grades weren’t good enough for law school, so I was probably headed towards a career as a mechanic when my best friend talked me into applying for culinary school instead. Since the day I started I was hooked, and it has been all about food since then.”
When did you understand what kind of cuisine you want to create and what provoked it?
“When I had my first Head Chef job at Tree Top in Vejle I was frustrated by the fact that we were just echoing other chefs. When I started the first Alchemist I knew I wanted to do something different, and when our lamb’s heart dish that was served with an organ donor card made international headlines I realized that if I could get 1500 people to sign up as organ donors in a tiny restaurant in Copenhagen – food has the power to make a change. That was what I wanted to pursue as a chef. But the final rendition and definition of holistic dining first came when I had closed my first restaurant and had time to reflect on what I wanted to do in the future.”
When you got offered a chance to build Alchemist 2.0, what was most challenging and what was your fear?
“The most challenging part has probably been going from just 6 employees to a team of 55. It has been more of a challenge than I expected. Also – when you get this kind of opportunity with the funding and resources to fulfil your dream – there are no excuses if you fail! Of course that adds to the pressure.”
How did it come to your political/human activism?
“Helping and standing up for others and a pathos for justice has run through both my family and in my private life. Back in 2012 when I started “Ønskejul” (a charity Christmas event) I realized that cooking for these families excited me more than cooking at Tree Top. I started to reflect on how I could bring these two worlds together in my professional life.”
What are the causes you care most about?
“Climate change, marine pollution and children’s rights.”
The Alchemist is not only about food, so changing menu will be, I suppose, quite complex – How often will you change the menu and will you change also ambient etc?
“We aim to change 3-5 dishes per month from January and onwards. The two art installation rooms will change once a year and the music and filmic elements in the dome will be under constant change.”
What is your dream now when you, so young, made such a big dream possible? What is the next step, your new dream?
“Right now we have so many projects going on here in the house, as this restaurant is so easy to change and adapt to new themes and formats – as well as collaborating with experts in different fields to push the gastronomical borders. So my dream is still very much this restaurant – and developing it into the best version of itself and to bring our ideas into the world.”
If you still think Alchemist is not worth your time or money, think again. For me, it is the most magical and inspirational experience money can buy. And please, don’t listen to the stories that relate Alchemist simply to molecular cooking. Molecular is one of the many elements of a much bigger picture. It is all about balance, equilibrium, pleasure, excitement, magic, love for life and inspiring people to do good things. I am in love with Rasmus and with what he is doing. And for a good reason. I am inviting you to join me on this journey after experiencing it.
Some more dishes and scenes: