I think August was the last time you guys have heard from me. It’s not because I don’t like writing the blog. I actually really look forward to it because it really makes you evaluate what is going on around you. You get so caught up in the daily grind that you forget to take a step back. So this post is going to be one of the longer ones. I am going to touch on MAD, my incredible trip to Lummi Island to cook with Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn and a bunch of other heads, and the restaurant, of course. So here it goes!
One of our chefs and a member of the MAD Team. (Photo Credit: Amass Restaurant)
As MAD approached this year I couldn’t help but think back to MAD 2013 and where we were with the restaurant as the culinary world was about to descend upon Copenhagen. We were infants at Amass and had no idea what we were doing. Maybe it was not the best decision to open three weeks before the symposium, but looking back upon it, I don’t regret the decision at all. As I wrote last year, MAD week forces you to push, evaluate and re-evaluate what you do as the week encroaches. It’s not as if we don’t do this on a regular basis, it’s just that we dig a little deeper for that week. If any restaurant in Copenhagen tells you that they don’t change what they do leading up to the MAD Symposium, they are lying to you. I don’t think this is wrong as long as you set the new standard as the norm. This is how restaurants progresses and grows. This year was crazy for us. As you all know, MAD is literally in our backyard, so we have so many people just popping by to say hi. Friday and Saturday night before the symposium are the crazy days. Friday is generally the day when all the chefs and friends dine at the restaurant, and because everyone knows each other, it usually turns into a big party. This was the definition of that scenario. At one point, around 23:00, I went to go out to put more wood on the fires. I slid the door open and there were at least ten people smoking weed right outside. There were maybe only two or three tables that were non-MAD related that night. They must have been trippin’. I often wonder if those few tables thought that it was like that every night. Needless to say, it was a late night.
Saturday is usually the “journalist” night. A lot calmer and not such a party, but the tension is still there to perform. For many journalists, this is their one time of the year that they get to dine with us and we know they will be dissecting every move we make. It’s not quite the same energy as Friday, but nonetheless a very exciting night.
Heading up one of the discussion sessions at MAD. (Photo Credit: MAD Symposium)
MAD itself was great as usual. The vibe was different this year but in a good way. There were a lot of people there this year that were new-comers to the symposium. It was a young crowd of cooks and when you think about it, this makes perfect sense. These are the people that are the future of our industry, therefore, these are the ones that we need to make an impact on. Well done MAD Team. Thanks for another great year.
Harvest Dinner at Lummi Island 2014
Epic Sunset…Lummi Island Style. (Photo Credit: Amass)
I have to say it straight out. This was the best collaboration dinner I have ever been a part of.
Now that I got that out of the way…let me explain.
Blaine and I have never worked together, but have crossed paths numerous times. So when he asked me to come to Lummi Island in July, and I couldn’t make it due to a schedule conflict, I was gutted. Then, for some reason, he had to move the dates to September. Come by and cook with five chefs around the world? I’m there.
Some of the amazing local produce on Lummi Island. (Photo Credit: Amass)
Aside from the cooking aspect of it, you can’t help but be inspired by the sheer beauty that surrounds you. This is 100% raw nature and the products that come from this area are second-to-none. This is the precise reason that the format for the dinners: You are not allowed to bring anything with you. The day before the dinners, we were put on speedboats in the morning and were ferried around to different islands to forage and gather everything we needed. At one point we were standing on a small island no bigger than a third of a football pitch. I had just picked loads of beach goosefoot and was just told that at low tide you could pick oysters of the rocks on this island. Then our boat driver pointed to Lummi Island, which was less than a kilometer away, and explained that he raised lamb on the lower parts of the island and that they often found their way onto the beach to graze on beach plants. I asked if we had access to his lamb for the dinner and he said that there were three hanging in the refrigerator at Willows Inn where we were cooking. At that moment, one of my dishes came to me. My main course would be Lamb, Oysters and Beach Plants.
One of the fishing boats on Lummi Island. (Photo Credit: Amass)
After that we drank some beers on the beach and raced out to the reef nets where they fish the salmon that are so well known in this part of the world. All the fish that are caught in the nets are killed by hand, so when the offer was given to kill one of the salmon, I jumped at it. It’s incredibly humbling to take a life with your bare hands. In this case, you gently pick the salmon from the holding net and hold it up by its gills. You then reach in and pull its gills out and gently put it back into the flowing water until it bleeds out and dies. This may sound brutal, but the fish is completely calm when it finally bleeds out. Of course I used the salmon in one of my dished for the dinner. I named him Larry and he was honored to the fullest extent at the dinner he was served at.
This is Larry. He lived a good life. (Photo Credit: Amass)
In terms of my co-collaborators, Matt Lightener from Atera in NY and Nicolaj and Thies from Kadeau in CPH and, of course, Blaine Wetzel are true professionals. Usually at events like this can be a cluster-fuck. Not this one. There was an amazing vibe in the kitchen and everyone was feeding of each other. All the chefs were super-organized and calculated. The first night we all did three dishes each and just to push ourselves, we all did 4 dishes each the second night. It was truly an honor to cook with all of you and I can only hope that we can all do something like this in the future. And a special humungous thank you to Blaine. He is an amazing host and I am grateful that I was invited to be apart of this event. If you receive the email from Blaine to come and cook on Lummi Island, there is only one answer…..YES!!!!
Our new wall! (Photo Credit: Amass)
So we are just over a year old. It seems as if I have barely blinked and the time has flown by. I can honestly say, that despite working more than I have ever done so in my life, I feel more alive than I ever have. It seems as if the restaurant is taking on a life of its own. It feels worn in, like there is some sort of depth behind it. Its not just walls, ovens, tables and chairs — it has a soul.
We changed the art and it was as if we changed the entire restaurant –for the better, of course. We have added a total of 32 new planter boxes and an eight-compartment compost system. To this day, no plant kitchen waste has been thrown into the trash bins since we opened. Everything has been composted. We are so close to finishing our green house and the solar panels are being installed to power the green house next week. And we have hired two more in the kitchen. As most of you know, Milton Abel II started in June and is fine-tuning the pastry section, and most recently we hired Alex Cummings. Alex previously worked at Noma, and just returned from a year at Gramercy Tavern in NYC. We are becoming more organized and efficient in what we are doing. The dishes are becoming our own and how we want to cook is becoming clearer. I can honestly say that I am really happy with how far we have come in the first year. To see this progress only makes me hungrier to keep moving further and to not stand still. Like I said before, the restaurant feels alive and in order to sustain a living being you have to keep feeding it.