“It almost feels like opening a brand-new restaurant,” says Head Chef and co-owner of Alchemist Rasmus Munk about the approaching premiere.
Having faced 8 months of lockdown during the restaurant’s first two years, Rasmus Munk is more than eager to once again run a house buzzing with staff, performers, visual tech, sound effects and above all: expectant guests.
“When the second lockdown hit, we had just finished work on two completely new installations in the restaurant, both of them in different ways linked to the pandemic. Now we will finally have guests in the house to experience them,” he continues.
The initial installation is centred around a solo violinist performance and is a collaboration with the symphony orchestra, Copenhagen Phil. Three violinists rotate in taking on the part of “Lulu” every evening, performing a 19th-century emigrant song in a dramatic, dark setting for arriving parties of guests at the very start of the evening.
“Hospitality and the performing arts are two of the industries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. This melancholic performance reminds me of the ‘black hole’ we all fell into during the first period of lockdown. It signifies a longing for the things we lost, but also the positive effects in the form of more time for undisturbed reflection,” says Rasmus.
For the chef, incorporating a live music performance is a milestone on his way to creating a truly holistic experience.
“In the 17th-century music was merged with theatre to create a whole new art form: opera. With this update of the Alchemist universe, I feel that we have come one step closer to integrating gastronomy and art. Food is an integral part of human life and development, and we need to start equating gastronomy with other cultural expressions like the performing and visual arts.”
The second new installation room is completely and utterly bright pink with tacky decorations in every possible shade of the colour. What happens in the “Pink Room” stays in the pink room – but Rasmus Munk can reveal that the idea behind it is to toy with the contrast between complying with authoritative social rules and a longing to let loose. And yes, there is a disco ball.
“I suspect I share an inner yearning to break free with most people in the world during the pandemic. Even though I understand why the restrictions are necessary – it has been challenging for me that outside commands and authorities are dictating and changing my life’s work. The Pink Room was a way to channel this. Even though it probably unnerves some guests going in, most of them are actually dancing and giggling at the end – that is very uplifting to see,” says Munk.
A number of new edible impressions have also been incorporated into the experience.
“The creativity in our development kitchen has been explosive during this second lockdown. We have had the time to research deeper subjects like hunger, social media surveillance and blood donation as well as experimenting with new techniques like growing mycelium patterns, making cheese with formic acid from ants and harvesting invasive jellyfish. At the same time our visual effects team has been working on some amazing new 360-degree universes for the planetarium dome. I can’t wait to share it all with our guests,” says Rasmus Munk.
The dish is inspired by the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell. The main character in the book, Winston Smith, works at The Ministry of Truth, and his main task is to constantly falsify historical facts to suit the present regime. The population are constantly controlled and watched by an all-knowing presence: Big Brother. The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” screams out from the posters in Orwell’s version of London in 1984. Reading the book today there are some striking and scary parallels with modern society, mainly with reference to the harvesting of information through social media. The pupil of the eye is filled with white asparagus juice, pistachios and raw hamachi, it is topped with caviar and a fish eye gel.
The dish is a tribute to one of the world’s largest organisms. Mushrooms can spread their threadlike thin hyphae up to several kilometres underground, creating a web of mycelium that connect vegetation, bacteria, and nematodes. Mycelium is a key factor in distributing energy within and between ecosystems – the forest’s own information highway.
In this dish, we toy with the idea of a mushroom soup. In a petri dish, a gel of mushroom broth and malt extract is inoculated with oyster mushroom mycelium that slowly grows into a beautiful weblike pattern. It is topped with an emulsified mushroom soup and apple vinegar and is served with coffee kefir.
The dessert is created to raise awareness about the importance of blood donation, which is an easy opportunity for almost everyone to actually save lives. 39% of all blood donated here in Denmark will be used in treating patients with cancer. The ice cream is made of pig’s blood and cream and sugar, where the blood has taken the place of eggs and acts as an emulsifier. The drop is filled with wild blueberry jam, and a “ganache” made of deer blood garum and juniper oil. Photo: Søren Gammelmark
Due to the decline of their natural predators, the Moon jellyfish are becoming an invasive species in the Baltic and North Seas. In this dish, we have combined it with another invasive species, rosa rugosa, a non-native plant that is taking over the Danish coastline. The jellyfish is marinated in rosa rugosa oil. It is served with a nuoc mam sauce with coriander, fish sauce, green chillies, gyokuro tea and topped with beach herbs.
Ants are a very common ingredient in many cultures, especially in Asia and Africa, where they are appreciated for their citrusy flavour. In this ice cream sandwich, all elements contain ants. The ice cream in the middle is made by combining sheep’s milk and fresh ants, we suspect that the formic acid in the ants acts as a coagulant and creates a natural fresh cheese that is used as the base for the ice cream. Between the ice cream and the cracker, there is an ant gel, and the crackers are made from flour and ant powder.
What happens in the “Pink Room” stays in the pink room – but Rasmus Munk can reveal that the idea behind it is to toy with the contrast between complying with authoritative social rules and a longing to let loose. And yes, there is a disco ball. Featured in the image is performer Nana Lind.
Three violinists rotate in taking on the part of “Lulu”, performing the 17th-century emigrant song “Vi sålde våra hemman / We sold our homes” in a dramatic, dark setting for individual parties of guests at the very start of the evening at Alchemist. This is the first step in what is to be a larger collaboration between Alchemist and Copenhagen Phil, the Danish symphony orchestra which both serves as Danish Regional Orchestra for the region of Zealand and, in the summer season as the resident orchestra in the Tivoli Concert Hall. Featured in the image is violinist Lisa Vogel.
This new dome universe is inspired by the artist MS Escher’s pieces “Circle Limit IV” and “Relativity”. The inspiration behind the universe is the self-reflection that came out of being in social isolation during lockdown. We were all going in circles in an endless loop in the restaurant – just waiting to open our doors.
Architecture and Art
Chef Rasmus Munk designed and drew the new Alchemist himself back in 2016. Architect Michael Duncalf of Duncalf Ltd (UK) got involved in the end of 2017. The interior at Alchemist is contemporary with a high focus on aesthetics, art and technology, far away from the colour palette and the interior styles that characterize a traditional restaurant.
The massive bronze doors that lead into Alchemist measure 100 sq ft (8 ft wide and 13 ft tall) and are designed by Danish Artist Maria Rubinke. The height from floor to ceiling in the main lounge is over 74 feet (22 metres) with a partly veiled view into Alchemist’s test kitchen.
Around 200 tons of steel went into the construction of the gigantic planetarium dome, which lies at the heart of Alchemist. The dome has a diameter of 57 feet (18 meters), with 12 mapping projectors supplying the guests at the winding dining bar with a 360-degree visual experience whence dining.
Guests pass through several sensory rooms during the dining experience. One room is themed on music in collaboration with symphony orchestra Copenhagen Phil, and another is a pink installation room themed on the contrast between complying with authoritative social rules and a longing to let loose.
The sonic identity of Alchemist is created by music producer and composer Lars Bork Andersen with the composition “A voyage of sound through mystical spaces”.
The owners of Alchemist are Rasmus Munk and former CEO of Saxo Bank, Lars Seier Christensen – who is the majority owner.
The Alchemist experience
The Alchemist experience is divided into 5 acts and consists of 50 edible and non-edible “impressions”. An evening at Alchemist will take between 4 to 6 hours depending on each individual guest/party. Alchemist seats 48 guests in one seating per evening.
Several dishes as well as the visual content in the planetarium dome carry strong political and environmental messages – commenting on for example plastic pollution, gavage and organ donation.
The menu can be accompanied by one of three different wine pairings or a house-made non-alcoholic beverage pairing mainly focusing on kombucha, water kefir, and tea. Wine Director Helle Hasting has curated Alchemist’s extensive wine list. The three-story wine cellar holds about 10,000 bottles of wine.
Alchemist is located on Refshaleøen in Copenhagen, Denmark, in a warehouse where The Royal Danish Theatre used to build and store their backdrops.
Photos © Claes Bech Poulsen; Søren Gammelmark and Kim Holtermand