It’s Monday morning and I am sitting in the dining room. The kitchen builders are supposed to arrive to install a few access panels for the exhaust system so we can get inside to clean the actual vents of fat and debris from cooking. Even though the restaurant is closed Monday, I go into the restaurant to do all the things that don’t pertain to cooking. I would much rather work an extra day and be able to spend all my time in the kitchen during the week, than to try to split my time between the kitchen and the office. The recipe for Monday? Coffee, computer, Eek-A-Mouse playing in the bar (a.k.a. my Monday office), and a occasional walk through the garden. Much better than sitting in an office.
Mondays are also the time when I can think about the menu. I can finally go through all the ideas and notes that I have jotted down during the week and reflect on the conversations I have had with the cooks about their ideas. Now is an especially interesting time of year simply due to the fact that the products that you have available to you are a tenth of what you had a month ago – and that tenth only gets smaller as the winter moves in. Currently, the way we’ve been approaching menu changes is pretty aggressive simply due to the limited supply of products we receive for a certain dish. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and we have to change no matter what. We may get a tip from the fish purveyor that mackerel is done next Tuesday and that tip comes on Thursday. This is all right before the busy weekend and you think “OH SHIT!!!!!” But we take this as an opportunity to start talking in the kitchen about all of our ideas, and it’s through these discussions, we can then focus on the strongest suggestions and start to try the different flavor profiles between the lunch and dinner services on Friday and Saturday. When we finally decide on a new dish, it might be two or three days before the dish has evolved into something that we are 120% happy with. The best part about this process is to see how the dish evolves through constant suggestions from the guys in the kitchen (and a girl, sorry Jacquie) and to see how everyone bounces ideas back and forth. Thus, if you eat in the same week, there is a chance that you might have the same dish, but done in two completely different ways.
The idea behind the kitchen at Amass is to be constantly changing and looking for new ingredients. You always know in the back of your mind that winter is coming and this process will only become more difficult the colder it gets. Maybe I was in denial and just wanted to live for the moment and not think about the winter and what that means in terms of menu changes and the lack of products. Or maybe I wanted to be inspired by the winter and that means not trying to plan so far ahead that you are committed to certain products. I honestly couldn’t tell you. The only conclusion I can make so far is that it is a bit more difficult to change as much as you would like to during this time of year. That doesn’t mean we are not going to keep evolving and changing during the winter months. It just means that by the end of the winter I will have a few more grey hairs than I did before winter started.
When I first started at Noma in 2005, Rene said something to me that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “Instead of being intimidated by the lack of products available, use this opportunity to be more creative and to be inspired by the winter instead of being angry at it.” I would say that I definitely approach every winter like this, but when spring comes I am definitely not sad about its arrival.
Next Sunday a few of us will take a trip out to see Søren Wiuff. For me, a big part of using winter as inspiration is by looking to our farmers to see how they motivate themselves during these dark, cold months. After all, if they can’t be inspired, then how are we going to be inspired? Believe it or not, there are certain plants that grow under the snow and flourish in this environment. And luckily for us, Søren is also going to stop by to teach us a bit about producing vegetables from our garden during the winter.
As much as I love the spring, summer and fall out here in Refshaleoen, I am really excited about what our first winter is going to be like. I can only imagine what this vast open field that we look onto everyday will be like when it is covered in snow. We’ll have the fires burning and the blankets ready for the guest who ventures into the cold to experience the Scandinavian winter that will be the inspiration for what’s on their plate.