Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Life-Changing Trip

First Impression

First impression from the edge of the earth
(Photo Credit: Amass)

As everyone in the restaurant industry knows getting away from work is very difficult, if not impossible, and when you do have time most of us opt to spend it with our families. Of course we all want to take these trips to see our farmers and fisherman. Butchers and foragers. We always make the excuse that there just isn’t time. Last week I, Lars, Rosi and Mark Emil were fortunate enough to be able to make the time to go and visit Roderick Sloan up above the Arctic Circle — or on the “other side of the wall” as the locals say.

Looks can be deceiving...winter storm warning. (Photo Credit: Amass)

Looks can be deceiving…winter storm warning.
(Photo Credit: Amass)

I arrived one day earlier than the others and after numerous delays at different airports and a four-hour drive North to Nordskot, we found ourselves looking into an abyss of darkness with a little light coming from a house on an Island about 1 km away. Roderick, a man with usually not a serious bone in his body, turned very serious and instructed me to put on a survival suit because we were going to take a little metal boat to the island. I don’t think I fully grasped what was going on and the potential consequences that were at hand – a winter storm was churning in the waters. Christian was kind enough to offer his house to us for the weekend and joined us on the trip. We made it to the island and he asked me if I was scared at any point on our crazy boat ride over to the island. I casually said not really. He said that he was pretty scared and that he had never had to cross in that kind of weather before. The longer you are in Nordskot the more you realize that you can JUST DIE in that environment and if I knew then what I know now I would have been scared shitless.

We woke up to a landscape that was something out of a National Geographic pictorial.

Is it National Geographic...or just Roddie Sloan's? (Photo Credit: Amass)

Is it National Geographic…or just Roderick Sloan’s village?
(Photo Credit: Amass)

It was actually amazing to arrive at night in those conditions, because you cannot see the surroundings. When you wake up to sunny skies after being exposed to extreme weather and darkness the landscape is overwhelming to the point that it takes a few minutes to comprehend what you are looking at.

Fishing dock at Roderick's village (Photo Credit: Amass)

Fishing dock at Roderick’s village
(Photo Credit: Amass)

I could easily go on and on about all the little details of the landscape but I will try and summarize the rest of the trip. The rest of the crew arrived the next day to mostly sunny skies and settled in. Roderick and I did some mise en place after a little road trip earlier in the day. Did I forget to mention that we were doing a dinner for 25 people on Saturday? It is so inspiring to be in a region like this so we really based our dinner on the products that Nordskot had to offer. It was quite surreal cooking in this little building in a kitchen with no modern equipment It was quite surreal cooking in this little building in a kitchen with no circulator, vacuum machine, Pacojet, or combi oven, etc.I think it would have felt a bit strange to have all this modern equipment in a place that was so raw. The pass was draped with a plastic table cloth that had bunches of strawberries on it and the grill was the size of a toilet seat. If Lars, Rosi and myself couldn’t make it happen then we should start to consider a career change. Adapting to your environment and the situation in which you are in is one of the great parts of this job. Nothing should be set in stone!!!!!!

Our incredibly modern kitchen in Nordskot. (Photo Credit: Amass)

Our incredibly modern kitchen in Nordskot.
(Photo Credit: Amass)

The dinner was great. We met lots of really cool people and drank lots of boxed wine after service (we saved all the good stuff for the guests). Sunday was the big day. Roderick was going to take us diving. For me personally this is one of those opportunities that do not present themselves often and when they do, you do not hesitate to take advantage of it.

Dinner! Softshell clams. (Photo Credit: Amass)

Dinner! Softshell clams.
(Photo Credit: Amass)

Diving above the Arctic Circle in water that is -1 degree Celsius. The only reason it does not freeze is because there is too much movement in the actual water, i.e. currents, tides, etc. Lars went first and I can honestly say that standing outside in my dry suit was far colder than being in the water. Lars was definitely the more experienced diver out of the group with twenty plus dives under his belt. Myself being from San Diego had a few diving along the shallow reefs for lobsters and urchins.

Under the sea...urchins! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Under the sea…urchins!
(Photo Credit: Amass)

Diving in a dry suit changes all the rules and you feel like a beginner at first. The buoyancy and equilibrium are so different. Once you figure that out, it’s fine (thank you Pawel for being my training wheels the first part of the dive). Next was Rosi. Being from Chicago she had zero dive experience but did not hesitate to put on a dry suit and snorkel around. We finished the dive and headed inside and proceeded to drink another box of wine to celebrate. That night we cooked an amazing dinner on the island and witnessed one of the most intense displays of the Northern lights that the locals had witnessed this year. A fitting end to a life-changing trip.

Thank you Roderick, Pawel, and Christian for making it all possible.

It started off with one of the most amazing services I have ever expedited.

Noma! June 29th, 2012. I won’t say who was in the dining room, but at one point Massimo and Ferran were standing in the kitchen together. The energy in the kitchen was exploding. Everyone was buzzing, especially because we knew that in 16 hours, we were going to be in a field, drinking beers and grilling with these guys.

The last three years have been crazy in the most positive way, but just within the last year, it has been not only an amazing time for my career, but also for my life. It wasn’t just the most epic dinner service of my life, but also everything that came after it. Earlier in the year, Rene Redzepi, Peter Kreiner and I made the decision to do a 10-day Noma pop-up at Claridges Hotel during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Five months of preparation went into making the pop-up a reality. Everything from sourcing products (where do you find 30 kilos of sheep sorrel?!), re-organizing an existing kitchen to our specifications, and cooking for fives times the amount of guests than we were used to, took everything that I had as a leader and as a chef.

The Claridges event was a big step forward for me. It was really a stepping-stone to prepare for what was to become the biggest challenge of my career: Opening my own restaurant.

I had always said that I was going to take a year to plan my own restaurant. But things never turn out the way that you planned. While I had spoken to Rene in January of 2012 about leaving at the end of the year, but by October, the opportunity to open my own place presented itself and a year was compressed into 7 months.

But was I comfortable about opening my own place? I think that you really need to feel it when you make the decision to do your own thing. When I worked for Francis Perrot at Fairbanks Ranch in San Diego, we would often talk about his past and where his career had taken him. He gave me a piece of advice that still rings in my ears and was the reason I waited until now to pursue my own thing: Wait until you have a strong foundation before you take a head chef position-it’s worth the wait.

I have been involved with numerous restaurant openings over the years. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and what to look out for. I can tell you right now that no matter how many restaurants you open up for other people, as soon as it’s your own, it’s different on every level. For example, talks started in October with the landlords of our space in Refshaleøen. All parties agreed that it should take about one-and-a-half months to settle the lease. It took five months. Our kitchen budget. We thought it would have adequate ventilation and a working grease trap. Wrong. Out went 500,000 Danish Kroner. Time to rework the budget.

The light at the end of the tunnel is quite dim.