My So-Called Day Off

A few months ago, I agreed to go and teach English via cooking to 25 third-graders. We made oat chips with whipped chocolate. Basically, I got them all riled up on sugar then left. (My apologies to the entire staff at the school.)

But this did not mean I didn’t get my just desserts. I can honestly say that three hours with 25 nine-year-olds is the equivalent of a 100-hour workweek. Hats off to the teachers that do this every day. Here are a few pictures from the day.

Thanks for organizing it Christina.

When in Mexico…

Market

Market Freestyle! (Photo Credit: Amass)

MEXICO!!!!!!!

It had been 7 years since I had set foot in Mexico. Growing up in San Diego, I had spent a decent amount of time in Baja surfing with my Dad and friends. I went to the Yucatan 7 years ago with Rene to do some dinners and a few lectures and was blown away by the “other” Mexico. So when Roberto sent me the mail to come and be a part of the ten-year anniversary dinner for his restaurant Nectar, I could not refuse.

The man himself, Roberto Solis, congrats Cabron! (Photo Credit: Amass)

The man himself, Roberto Solis, congrats Cabron! (Photo Credit: Amass)

I met Roberto 9 years ago when he was staging at the Fat Duck. He has, since then, staged at every restaurant I have worked at. Needless to say, we have become really good friends over the years. This is despite the fact that he left me standing alone to face a guy swinging a two-by-four in my face. When I asked our attacker what he was going to do with chunk of wood, I turned around to see if Roberto had my back. Roberto was running as fast as he could…in the other direction. When I got home he simply said, “Matteo, I’m a lover not a fighter.” We were friends for life from that point on.

This trip was epic. I arrived a day earlier than everyone so I had first crack at the local market and ingredients. When I asked Roberto a few weeks earlier what the set up was going to be, he simply said, “ Freestyle Matteo.” Just how I like it. The ingredients in the Yucatan are mind-blowing. Maybe because they don’t exist in our part of the world, the opportunity to use such unique products is akin to being a kid in a candy store. Recado Negro, Epazote, Zepote Negro, Pepito tostada, Naranja Agria. I could go on and on.

Dinner in the jungle (Photo Credit: Amass)

Dinner in the jungle (Photo Credit: Amass)

Roberto is over the top. He set us up for the first few nights at this outrageous Hacienda. The first night it was just Albert and myself out in the jungle. We were told there was food in the rooms for us, but in actuality, there was a bag of Cheetos, some tonic, two cases of beer, a bottle of mescal, and three cigarettes. At about 21:00, Pamela showed up with some eggs, raw masa and tomatoes. The girls made tortillas and we made tortilla Española. Beers and Cheetos for dessert. Can it get any better?

 

Fresh tortillas in the jungle (Photo Credit: Amass)

Fresh tortillas in the jungle (Photo Credit: Amass)

The 25 meter plunge that felt like a baseball bat to the tailbone. (Photo Credit: Amass)

The 25 meter plunge that felt like a baseball bat to the tailbone. (Photo Credit: Amass)

Breakfast of champions (Photo Credit: Amass)

Breakfast of champions (Photo Credit: Amass)

The next day, everyone else arrived and the festivities began. We went swimming at a cenote (basically a big hole in the earth with the cleanest, clearest water you’ll ever be in). The last cenote I was at was pretty big and when I asked if I could jump from the top, I was told yes, but I would be arrested. We rolled up to this one and I asked if I could jump. The guy said, “No problem. Let me move the rope.” I asked if it is a regular thing for people to jump, and he said, “Only the crazy Americans jump.” I climbed up, looked over the edge 25 meters looks a lot bigger when you are standing looking down as opposed to standing at the bottom looking up. I jumped and left my ass sticking out to far. It felt like someone spanked me with a baseball bat. My tailbone was sore for the entire trip. We also ate the most insane lunch that day in the jungle. Everyone raves about cochinita pork. Cochinita has nothing on lechón. I can honestly say that I ate between 80 and 100 tacos on this trip.

Wild deer, zapote negra, epazote, burned chili, sour orange (Photo Credit: Amass)

Wild deer, zapote negra, epazote, burned chili, sour orange (Photo Credit: Amass)

Sour orange, salt of larvae and chili cricket. Standard issue garnish for mezcal. (Photo Credit: Amass)

Sour orange, salt of larvae and chili cricket. Standard issue garnish for mezcal. (Photo Credit: Amass)

The dish I did for the dinner was local wild deer, cooked in toasted local pumpkin seeds with zepote negro, grilled and pickled chili, sour orange and epazote. I had never worked with any of these ingredients before. It took me back to the time when I was a young cook and someone had taught me a new technique or ingredient-the same giddy little kid feeling of awe. And then there were some, well, let’s call them local sourcing issues. When the deer arrived and half of it looked and tasted like pork. I called to see why they sent pork and was told it was “milk-fed wild deer.” I called bullsh*t right away. I was assured over and over again that it was in fact deer. I told them, “That’s great, but it tastes like pork.” Needless to say the correct deer was finally delivered and life moved on. In fact, it was the ongoing joke between Roberto and me for the rest of the trip. The dinner itself was great. I wish I could give you some elaborate story about the preparation for the event, but in the name of freestyle we really didn’t start to do any misenplace until 5 hours before the dinner. Ingredients trickled in as the misenplace pushed on. Someone took ten of my chillies and I started to freak a bit. Albert touched me on the shoulder and said “Relax Matteo, It’s Mexico.” Albert and I worked next to each other for the service and we had a blast. Service was reeeeeeally spread out. At midnight, the Mariachis started playing and the mezcal started flowing. The next thing I knew, I woke up at a beach house. Elena and Guillermo woke me up and Roberto took us to lunch. But the surprise was to come at dinner at one of Roberto’s friend’s place later that night. We arrived and after scanning the room for guests, we realize that the legend Jeremiah Towers (if you don’t know who he is, find out now) is standing there.

Lunch in the jungle with Curtis Duffy and Albert Adria (Photo Credit: Amass)

Lunch in the jungle with Curtis Duffy and Albert Adria (Photo Credit: Amass)

After the trip, I had a chance to think about why trips like this are so productive, especially in terms of being a new restaurant owner. Amongst other things one of the coolest things about a trip like this is that you get to chat with other chef/restauranteurs about their restaurants and the trials and tribulations that come along with owning a restaurant. It is a great time to share experiences and ideas. You get so caught up in the everyday life at your restaurant and you tend to not wander far from that bubble. There were no egos and everyone seemed really relaxed. There was such broad spectrum of chefs from Albert, who has 4 restaurants to Curtis who has been open for only a year to Benito and Jiar who own restaurants in Baja, to Guillermo who has multiple restaurants in Monterey, to Elena who has a restaurant in Mexico City. The advice and information that we exchanged over beers and Mezcal was amazing and I really appreciate those chats we had.

This was a great trip with loads of amazing people. A big congratulations and thank you to Roberto for making this happen. See you in January…

 

The legend: Jeremiah Towers (Photo Credit: Amass)

The legend: Jeremiah Towers (Photo Credit: Amass)

Six Months Down…and Absolutely NOT Out

Sunrise on our first day back. Someone wanted to welcome us back.

Sunrise on our first day back. Someone wanted to welcome us back.

So first I want to apologize for the long pause between blog posts. It’s been in the back of my mind like a monkey on my back. But time goes so quickly—you blink and six weeks goes by.

The time since I’ve opened the restaurant has been the craziest six months of my life. There have been so many emotions, so many guests and the opportunity to work with (this may be a biased statement) the best team I have ever worked with in my career. Of course it all hasn’t been fun and games. There have been times when I felt as if my head was going to explode (and sometimes it has), BUT at the end of every day, the good far outweighs the bad, and I couldn’t be happier with where we are currently as a restaurant. This is not to suggest that when I say, “where we are at,” that I am content. We have so far to go. There should never be an ending point. The restaurant is alive and growing and anyone who is a part of it will always be attached to that living being.

What else happened after the first six months? One can really start to feel that the restaurant is finally starting to break itself in. It is still the same room, but it feels warmer and the energy from the guests is in the walls itself. But I only noticed this when I came back from winter break. Our first service back, I just felt that there was something missing in the dining room. Was it the lights? Was it the music? Whatever wasn’t there was freaking me out.

We talked about it after service and I still couldn’t figure it out. After a few days, I finally got it: it was people. It’s people that give the restaurant so much energy. and when it’s absent, you feel as if something is off.  Only after I was gone, did I realize that it was the people–guests, chefs, waiters, purveyors–that gave the space so much energy. Without people, the restaurant is just an empty shell.

While thinking about how to get things going again, I took the time to step back for a bit and analyze what we’ve been doing for the past six months. It’s so easy to get so caught up in the whirlwind known as a restaurant that one can forget to take that step. What’s in our menu? How’s service? What happens when we get our new pastry chef? What will we do for the garden? Where will we put the greenhouse? What guest chefs will we invite? And what kind of impact do we want to have on the industry? What mark do we want to leave?

Yes, I had to throw one in from snowboarding. (Or what I did on my winter break beyond think about the restaurant). Photo Credit: Amass

Yes, I had to throw one in from snowboarding. (Or what I did on my winter break beyond think about the restaurant). Photo Credit: Amass

When winter was coming upon us, I was a little nervous as to how it was going to pan out in the end. I wanted guests to feel as if what they ate was an extension of what they saw outside our windows. That also requires a certain dedication to seasonal products. And those products? They are tied…to the weather. We talked about it a lot as a team and we have really taken the challenge full on. The menu has become more focused and the flavors a bit stronger. This is not to say I’m not looking forward to warmer weather, but I think next year, I’ll actually be excited for it to get cold again, but hopefully only for a few months.

Air potatoes brought back by Kim from Japan. Bury in hay, sprout and plant as soon as the ground is not frozen. Photo Credit: Amass

Air potatoes brought back by Kim from Japan. Bury in hay, sprout and plant as soon as the ground is not frozen. Photo Credit: Amass

The break was a great chance to think about the next year. Super-excited and ready to make our plans a reality.

 

On the nth day of the Rest of Our Lives

This is one of our waiters, Emil. He has a unique role at our restaurant that…well, can only be explained in his own words….

A Service Introduction

How many different ways can a sentence possibly be sung, screamed, performed or in other ways conveyed? And more importantly; how will it come out when you don’t think about how you’re going to perform it before the second it needs to be there?

What I am writing about here, is a phenomenon I honestly think only exists in this one restaurant in the world. I am talking about the ”pre-service introduction” ritual that we have been practicing since the first time we opened our doors to the hungry masses. I’m not exactly sure how it came to be my job to do it, and why we haven’t put a stop to this ridiculousness a long time ago, but now it’s there and I have a feeling it’s going to be around for quite a while.

In most restaurants of a certain level, the staff always gathers for a meeting before going into service. At this meeting we go through menu changes that may have taken place, new wines, things that may have sold out, etc. We also go through all the reservations for the evening, just to pass around the information you have on the guests, such as anniversary or birthday celebrations, allergies and dietary restrictions, if people are bringing kids, etc. Basically, it’s a meeting to discuss anything that can help us in providing the best service possible to each guest.

On our opening day, Chef Matt Orlando opened the ”pre-service meeting” (now also called the ”pre-surfing” by staff for some unbeknownst reason) by looking at all of us in the eye and saying: ”Welcome to the first day of the rest of our lives”.

That sentence, that way of officially sending the restaurant out on its journey, turned out to be a bit of a milestone at Amass.

After the meeting we joked around about introducing each day of service with that sentence, getting to obscure numbers of days after being open for 20 years. Matt  Orlando with grey hair and crutches saying: welcome to the nine-thousand three-hundred and fortys-second day of the rest of our lives while trying to holding onto his fake teeth.

It was funny, good times, we got ready for service, the guests started walking in the door and I forgot all about it.

The next day, sure enough, 5 pm came around and so, the pre-service meeting. As I wrote earlier, I’m not quite sure how it happened that I became to be the one in charge of this ritual, but suddenly I was yelling at the top of my lungs: “Welcome to the second day of the rest of our lives!” And that was it, point of no return. It was officially a tradition.

Since then, every single service has been saluted with one of these introductions– we even do two of them on Fidays and Saturdays, because we have both lunch and dinner service on these days (i.e. welcome to the 37th day of the rest of our lives Part One and Part Two). Since the opening the ritual has evolved immensely. Everything from singing made up verses about the awesomeness of the restaurant over AC/DC songs to ballet performances done while chanting the sentence. There’s been aerobic sessions and Christmas carols, death metal and musical songs.

The rules for the introduction are pretty clear: Don’t destroy the restaurant, don’t take more than 2 minutes (“Please Emil!”) and ”Welcome to the Nth day of the rest of our lives” has to be in there somehow.

Over time, we have been through many great introduction successes and many miserable fiascoes together, but without fail, every single service we’ve had here has had an introduction. I usually don’t pay any thought to what I’m going to do before i do it and there is really a certain thrill in the act of just opening your mouth to see what comes out when you’re on the spot like that. The backside of that, is that sometimes, what comes out is really just a bunch of crap. Like the ”blah blah blah” introduction…Oh well, you can’t win them all.

I might be kidding myself, but I like to think that this way of going into service helps to energize and motivate staff, shake everybody out of our zombie-like glass-polishing-state-of-mind and get our heads tuned in to service mode (after all, we do all of this work for our guests and only for our guests, so after a long day of preparation, we need to really get our heads right for service). But more importantly, I hope it reminds us all to  keep on having fun with what we do. It’s an incredibly exciting, but it’s a tough business we’re working in. If you take the fun out of it, you’re left with just tough and that can get old really fast.

Today is the 109th day of the rest of our lives, so if you’re walking by Amass at around 5 pm. stop and listen. You might catch a little piece of wonderful weirdness.

To Every Season, Turn, Turn, Turn….

Crisp Winter Morning (Photo Credit: Amass)

Crisp Winter Morning (Photo Credit: Amass)

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.

The Monday Night Delivery...you never know what's inside...(Photo Credit: Amass)

The Monday Night Delivery…you never know what’s inside…(Photo Credit: Amass)

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.

Squid Season! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Squid Season! (Photo Credit: Amass)

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.

Squid, Onions, Virgin Butter and Roasted Hay (Photo Credit: Amass)

Squid, Onions, Virgin Butter and Roasted Hay (Photo Credit: Amass)

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.

Winter Inspiration (Photo Credit: Amass)

Winter Inspiration (Photo Credit: Amass)

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.

 

 

 

Winter on a plate

Winter on a plate

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.

 

Storm Rolling Through (Photo Credit: Amass)

Storm Rolling Through (Photo Credit: Amass)

Chicken Sandwiches=Firewood: Celebrating our Refshaleøen Community

Continuing with our series on our staff, our gardener/chef extraordinaire, Jacquie Pereira, talks about playing chicken with our neighbors….

Home is where the garden is...(Photo Credit: Amass)

Home is where the garden is…(Photo Credit: Amass)

There are a few reasons why stepping into Refshaleøen can sometimes feel like you’ve entered an alternate universe– the buildings generally don’t have that ‘Danish modern’ lustrous design and space feels like a vast dimension out here, at least to me.  After a few months of making an almost daily journey to Refshaleøen, what i have come to associate the most with this place are not any of the above noted physical elements but, instead, its incredible sense of community.

IMG_3235From the days of the gardens inception, back in April, the feel of community was apparent. Everyone was so interested in what we were doing and welcoming.  So welcoming, in fact, that it was sometimes difficult to gauge who was more excited about our opening-our little Amass team or our wonderful neighbours! Community is so important to me and thankfully it is to Matt as well.  We often spoke about it during our afternoon sessions of moving around wheelbarrows of dirt together. Undoubtedly, we were going to embrace our new neighbourhood and try hard to make it even stronger. And, of course, it’s easy to take action when you’re surrounded by people who share similar goals with with you. Now, months later, this aspect of community is fast becoming an inherent part of our existence. For instance, the garden benches, cleverly constructed  from recycled wooden palates were made by our neighbouring carpenters. We also developed a bit of a bartering system with them and exchange chicken sandwiches (a Friday staff meal tradition we seem to be cultivating) for their scrap wood to fuel our nightly bonfires. Additionally, we’ve started using Dale and Heidi’s ( a lovely pair who live on a houseboat close to us) honey on the menu after Dale stopped by one day to give us a jar– we tasted it and asked if we could have more! And then there’s Shadow, a little white and brown dog who comes running into the restaurant every now and again whenever he’s nearby and outsmarts the hold of his leash. We’re always thrilled to see him (even when he runs onto a bed of radishes!)

Some of the local businesses that have kept us supplied in firewood (and good vibes). (Photo Credit: Amass)

Some of the local businesses that have kept us supplied in firewood (and good vibes). (Photo Credit: Amass)

There are so many other characters and stories to make note of but, for now, I’ll leave things here. Come and see us sometime and meet the neighbours!

 

Some Ways to Amass…with a Thanks to Our Purveyors

Happy Chickens! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Happy Chickens! (Photo Credit: Amass)

One of the recurring fantasies for most chefs is the idea of going into your own garden, digging up some vegetables, washing the dirt of them, putting them in a pan and serving them moments later. We all approach that ideal in many different ways, trying to imitate that closeness with our products in multiple different ways: Some restaurants have their own garden, some go foraging for wild products, some have farms rear their animals for them to their own specifications.

At Amass this desire is built into the core concept – and even the name – of our restaurant. As Matt has said so many times before, one of the driving ideas behind our menu structure is that we want our purveyors, the people we deal with every day, to tell us what is good right now, what is going on in their fields and gardens, or at their abbatoir, or on their fishing boats right now. That ideal comes at a price, of course: it takes a lot of work on both parts to stray from the more trodden path of using one protein or a few main vegetables for a month, or two, or three, and instead to be constantly ready to take in and cook whatever is at its peak right now. A fishing boat goes out to catch mullet and finds them in beautiful form, and full of roe. ‘Do you want 3 kilos of mullet roe?` Yes, we do. A lemon cucumber tree towards the end of the season still gives off a dozen cucumbers – will we take them? Yes.

Christina and Steen, our passionate providers of egg with an intensity of flavor and color we have found nowhere else, have a small farm about an hour outside of the city.

 

Christina and Steen's Farm (Photo Credit: Amass)

Christina and Steen’s Farm (Photo Credit: Amass)

They keep their chicken in the same fold as their lambs – because they enjoy each other’s company. And their two old horses keep watch over the mixed flock. Christina brings in eggs two or three times a week and everyone looks forward to seeing her. This is in no way dependent on the fact that she also sometimes brings us homemade drømmekage (the best coffee cake you ever had), though, of course, that is also appreciated. One time she brought us 5 kilos of cherries from her garden simply because she couldn’t stand the thought of them going wasted. We tasted them, and put them on the menu the same day. For a couple of weeks she kept bugging us to come pick her elderberries that were ripe and ready – otherwise they too would go wasted.

So we went to the little village near her farm and she picked us up and drove us to the farm where we spent a beautiful autumn afternoon picking elderberries, and digging up horse radish, and picking sunchoke leaves, and a few other herbs to take home.

 

Our leader in a tree (Photo Credit: Amass)

Our leader in a tree (Photo Credit: Amass)

And of course we also had drømmekage, and jams, and coffee, and talked about their lamb that was up for slaughter over the coming weeks.

Drømmekage! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Drømmekage! (Photo Credit: Amass)

At Amass we work with people who are excited about their products, and who go out of their way to bring it to our attention – and to bring it to us, at any odd hour of day. Their excitement becomes our excitement, and a large part of the energy of our kitchen.

This is a thanks to them.

It Takes Guts…and a Pushy Guy Named René

GUTS!!!! (Photo Credit: Amass)

GUTS!!!! (Photo Credit: Amass)

It has been a couple of weeks since the MAD Symposium overtook the city. For me, this was the first time I have gotten to look at it from an outsider’s perspective and it is truly an amazing thing. I’ve always thought of it as pretty incredible, but I had a biased view of it for the first two years because I was directly involved in the planning and the event itself. But now that I have my own place, I realize that MAD brings an energy to the city and especially to all the restaurants within it. One of the reasons that I wanted to stay in Copenhagen is the sense of community within the restaurant industry. There are no egos or attitudes. Everyone is working towards the same goal. That sense of community was put to the test during MAD and I have to say that I have never seen a city come together as a team and cook like Copenhagen. Not only did everyone feel the responsibility to perform for their own restaurant’s sake, but also for every other restaurant’s sake. From what I heard around town, no one fell down on their responsibility.  So to the restaurant industry in Copenhagen: Thank you so much for such an incredible week and for allowing us be a part of something special.

The legend. If you don't know who this guy is, you don't deserve to know... (Photo Credit: Amass)

The legend. If you don’t know who this guy is, you don’t deserve to know… (Photo Credit: Amass)

But before we even got to the MAD Symposium, we had some decisions to make. When we announced our opening date there were two reactions: 1) You are crazy to open only 4 weeks before the MAD Symposium, and/or 2) You need to open before the MAD Symposium. Obviously we were all for the second response. Yes, it might have been a bit risky to only be open for a month before the restaurant world has its eyes on Copenhagen, but it pushed us harder than any one person could have ever pushed us.  It made us evaluate and reevaluate everything we were doing on a daily basis. We were forced to find solutions  ­– NOT problems. The staff rose to the challenge and I am truly grateful for their hard work and commitment to this place. Thank you Bo, Kim, Julie, Jens, David, Daniel, Kim, Mikaela, Fanny, Emil, Scotty, Evelyn, Emil, Jacquie, Lamin and Tibi.

What happened? To work at a restaurant during MAD is one thing, but to own a restaurant

Is that a mixer???? (Photo Credit: Amass)

Is that a mixer???? (Photo Credit: Amass)

during MAD is another. The pressure to deliver is crazy, but first and foremost you are cooking for all the people that you love to cook for – your friends, past colleagues, other chefs. Of course we held back for last minute bookings, but we also put some tables for random people to book. I remember looking out into the dining room at one point and it was a Who’s Who of the restaurant industry. The energy in the room was explosive (EXPLODE JACQUIE!!!! Sorry…inside joke). Amongst all of these people was a table of locals looking around and wondering why are all these people walking around and talking to each other? Are we in the middle of a private function? They looked a bit confused, so I went down to chat with them and explain what was happening that week. Once informed, they too were so excited to be a part of it.  Over the course of the week, it happened a few more times; it was amazing to see the excitement on their faces.

Mission Street Chinese. Finesse under pressure. Tak for mad (For non-Danes: Thanks for food). (Photo Credit: Amass)

Mission Street Chinese. Finesse under pressure. Tak for mad (For non-Danes: Thanks for food). (Photo Credit: Amass)

In addition to all the things that I just mentioned, there’s one aspect to MAD that I really hadn’t appreciated before, especially as restaurant owner in Copenhagen. (And if you don’t recognize this then you should embrace it!) MAD drives us to do things that are above and beyond. It pushes us to our limits. At this point you can react in one of two ways: 1) You can fight through it, be thankful it is over and then go back to your previous routine OR 2) You can embrace them and at the end of it realize that these limits can become the norm. We chose the second. We offered an Extended Menu for the Symposium Week. I am happy to say that we are still offering the extended menu and that almost a third of our guests are ordering it. THANK YOU MAD, for pushing us to our limits and beyond.

And to René, I don’t even work for you anymore and you’re still pushing me.

Tusind Tak Chef.

Souk el Tayeb (Photo Credit: Amass)

Souk el Tayeb (Photo Credit: Amass)

 

No B*llsh*t Wines Here

Love Unfiltered (Photo Credit: Amass)

Love Unfiltered (Photo Credit: Amass)

Making your very own wine list from scratch must be every sommelier’s dream. A new restaurant, a new opportunity, and finally a chance for you to put your personality into every glass in the dining room.

Wines have arrived! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Wines have arrived! (Photo Credit: Amass)

For me, it was no different. When Matt first talked to me about Amass, I felt like a child on Christmas day.

Choosing wines for the Amass winelist (Photo Credit: Amass)

Choosing wines for the Amass winelist (Photo Credit: Amass)

From the first steps, talking to the importers, securing allocations even though we still had 9 more months before opening. It was not merely just a matter of filling out a form online.  It required reserving loads of Jeroboams for our wine paring and traveling Europe visiting almost every producer that is now represented in our wine list and a lot of back and forth between farmers, importers and myself to make sure I could get everything that I wanted.

Despite the insecurity of dealing with getting the actual bottles here at the restaurant, the style of wine was clear from the beginning. It had to come from farmers and not winemakers, who instinctively understand the plants, soil and climate that make their product.  Unlike vintners who may rely upon artificial additives or cellar tricks to manipulate their wine, I wanted wine that some call “natural wine.” Frankly, I never liked the term –no one has been able to define it – thus I would prefer the term “honest wine” for the bottles we serve here at Amass.  Much like the food we have here at Amass, there is an integrity born in the ingredients and the methods used in making these wines. It was a natural fit.

2 week old wine from Cascina Degli (Photo Credit: Amass)

2 week old wine from Cascina Degli (Photo Credit: Amass)

I first came across these wines in 2009.  After working at a classic French restaurant serving, well, very classic wines, going to Noma was an education in learning about the wines I had only heard about in passing. While I was exposed to these wines every day at Noma, it was one wine, or I should say one farmer, that changed my whole perception of wine, and made it impossible to go back. The 2004 Vigna Pinolo from Cascina Degli Ulivi in Piedmonte Italy. A Dolcetto clone coming from the south of Piedmonte called Nibio, from 80+ years old vines, growing on a beautiful chalky/limestone hill named Montemarino, farmed by Stefano Belotti, did just that. Soon after I tasted his Filagnoti. A Cortese from more Iron rich soils on the other side of the road from Montemarino. He could call it a Gavi, but since it matures one year sur lie in acacia barrels, it tastes amazing, and nothing like any Gavi I had ever tried

Complete awestruck by the wine this man was making, the only thing left to do was to go the farm myself. Working for Stefano for 7 month, and only drinking wines from him and his friends, really had a lot to do with the wine list at Amass. After only drinking Stefano’s wines, I realized that my palate couldn’t take the sulfites and the added yeasts in conventional wine. The wines tasted of manipulation and frankly, were unidimensional compared to Stefano’s. I knew at that point, I couldn’t go back.

I mean, is it really that exiting to be amassed by the nose of a wine from a foreign country, when most of the character comes from yeast made in a lab in Avedøre, Denmark? We’re a no bullshit restaurant. Our wines should reflect that too.

Life is more viral without chemicals! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Life is more viral without chemicals! (Photo Credit: Amass)

 

There is no “I” in Team

Restaurant

All Quiet on the Amass Front (Photo Credit: Amass)

It has been a couple of weeks since I have written a blog post. Not because I don’t want to, but because there only 24 hours in a day. (By the way, if someone can arrange for there to be 27 hours in a day that would help me tremendously. I am sure I am not the only one that would benefit from three extra hours.)

Our very own lemon cucumbers from the garden! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Our very own lemon cucumbers from the garden! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Where should I start? The Team. I am so lucky to have the staff that I do. Everyone is so focused and professional, but above all they truly are taking ownership of the restaurant and are offering up ideas and suggestions as well as embracing the way that we are doing things. You can feel this mini-culture starting to form within the restaurant. Thank you to the entire staff. You inspire me everyday.

Wild cherries from Katherine. Delivered late last night! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Wild cherries from Katherine. Delivered late last night! (Photo Credit: Amass)

Lets talk about the food. As I touched on in the last blog entry, the fact that we are trying to cook to-the-day and really let the products lead the menu has pushed us to another level. As we get more comfortable with our kitchen and ourselves as a team, we are being able to press our limits a bit more not only day-to-day but service-to-service. Fresh shrimps come in on Friday afternoon and they go on the menu Friday night. We get 3 kilos of mullet roe in and we sell it for 2 services. Yes, it takes a lot more work to constantly change as the week progresses, but just seeing the excitement for both the chefs and the service staff in letting our guests know that this particular product is only going to be around for two days is amazing.  And it also spurs a constant dialogue between the chefs and myself about new products and ideas and yes, food. I’ve worked in a lot of kitchens, and this is one of the few times I’ve had a team that steadily thinks, breathes and talks about the food – all the time.

1.2 Kilos of Mullet Roe from Jesper

1.2 Kilos of Mullet Roe from Jesper (Photo Credit: Amass)

Speaking of our staff, I want to get back to them. While they work as a team, each one brings something unique as an individual. I’m also really interested in how they are feeling about this whole process and the emotions that they have experienced. So with this in mind, we are going to do some guest blog posts from the staff. I will relinquish the blog to the staff and over the next month, a different staff member will post every week.  I think this team is incredible and hopefully by sharing their stories, all of you will see why this team deserves all the credit it can get.

Baby chard from the garden. (Photo Credit: Amass)

Baby chard from the garden. (Photo Credit: Amass)