I am in Copehagen, Denmark and I am with chef Christian Puglisi, founder of the much loved and highly respected restaurant Relae, the first and only Michelin starred restaurant in the world that is fully organically certified. Christian a pleasure to meet you.
AM Why was it really important that you took Relea down that path to be fully organically certified
CP Having a child and having to feed a child gave me a very different responsibility than I was used to, so I started thinking of food and gastronomy not only from a gastronomic point of view, or technical point of view, but also way more as nutrition as a part of this self research and trying to understand why are we not certified organic, what is it that we chose not to be organic and why. Now today we have moved forward we established our own farm last year, so we have our own 20 hectares now with vegetables for the restaurant and also cows and hens and eggs and geese and pigs and all sorts of things.
AM So Relae has in a sense become more than just a restaurant, that state of mind, that philosophy that you are creating an eco-system and one of the things that I have always been actually very interested in is the idea that food eaten should be grown locally and that the money then and the eco-system is supported in a way that is much more beneficial to the locality. Is that something you would agree with
CP Yes, but I think what is important is not to look locally as something geographical because for me what is the dogma that always wins is quality. To me finding a small producer as we have done in Sicily that has 7 hectares, sends us the olive oil, but is a very small producer that makes very, very high quality and someone that we connect with directly and I think that is also local.
AM I think that is a very interesting point and you have touched on again that word that seems very important to me which is quality. Can you just talk a little bit more about that, in terms of how that has defined you was a professional and as a human
CP For me the quality that I try and source more as in the produce being harvested at the right time, being cultivated in the right way, so ethically, done right in as good a symbiosis with nature as possible and then brought to the kitchen and then used in a way that I think is with that quality in mind. Which is also I think gives you a real responsibility of not fucking around with it too much, I mean cutting waste off and trimming, trimmed to the point that you then gained quality or did you reduce the quality, because you’ve lost a lot of those carrots at this point. For me that is an interesting challenge, particularly in this higher end of gastronomy world.
AM Let’s talk about your book of ideas which is an unusual way for a chef to talk about the recipes that they have created.
CP Starting off it was untouched ground for me and I was very focused on I didn’t want to do the thing that everyone else was doing and then I felt like it feels like we have some concepts that would be a very liberal way of thinking of concepts rather than dishes and I want to try and understand this a bit more and I want to try and see if I can dig into what is behind the dishes and write a book about that, instead of writing about the recipe because the recipe is boring, I mean there is nothing interesting about how this dish is executed because the recipe tells you how it is executed. I think how it is thought, that is interesting.
AM I believe as a maker, as a designer, as a creative person myself that actually you can’t pick up anything without that why being very deep within you that informs the way you want to make things. I am really interested for you to tell me a bit more about you how you went about designing the dinning experience at Relea and what informed your thinking.
CP As I started at Noma I found myself in a kitchen where you had a totally open view of the restaurant and you were very integrated in the restaurant and you would really see facial expressions, you would see how people would approach the table, you would see how people would enjoy themselves, or not and these things. That to me was very important piece of the puzzle for me to be able to go out and understand what is it that I want. What kind of experience do I want to have when I am in a restaurant. To me it was very important to be able to create a space that would be casual, that would be relaxing, that would be homely. For me it was very important that I would feel at home, the old fashioned fine dining, posh, crystals, gold, wow – but I want to live here, no. No I don’t want to live in this sort of site – it is beautiful, but it is not for me, I don’t feel at home, I feel impressed. Why does a restaurant need to give that impression, it doesn’t make sense. I want to do something that feels this is Me. That was way more limited than something like that.
AM What is the role do you think of leadership from your experience
CP I think leadership is really, really important, I think also it is – I have come to understand that there is not one way of doing it. I mean, there is a hundred ways of dealing with people, with staff, but I think what is always important is to have a vision and to have a vision I think you need to want to have something at heart and want to be able to, not necessarily accomplish something, but speak – tell – do something.
AM You write a lot about in the book about making sourdough, which made me smile, by obviously the passion with which you approached that particular challenge and task. Should every single person be baking bread every day and if so why?
C P I think it would be a great thing for you to do. I think I have the same feeling about that as I do about farming and that might take up more of my time today because I really feel that this way of grounding yourself and nurturing yourself in the same way, is a win-win situation, we go about thinking how to download mindfulness app so you can relax a little bit and then we hurry off and go buy take-out food. That isn’t the solution – it is just in front of you. Food in it’s whole perspective gives you so much that is so important to us and the making of food I think is so important and it is such a good way of connecting with people around you and I have my kind on my own to cook food with him, I think it is a great pleasure of him touching things and understanding things and it is so inspiring to be with kids around food, because they just see – so many things that are new for them and you realise what it is that you have between your hands and how exciting it really is, but you just forgot because you are focusing on all sorts of other things. I think baking, farming, cooking, fermenting, doing all these things that takes your time, but takes your attention for some time, I think it is very healthy and I think it is very, very important to everybody to do.
AM So my last question to you is. Can you make great food without love.
CP I really, really, don’t think so. I think it is a craft it is about a passion, if it is in a home for yourself it is about love for yourself and for your body and what you nurture yourself with. If it is for your families it is obviously for that. I think, really that food and cooking and eating can really be at the centre of the universe. It is something that all of us do and that is the same with love, right, so there is a connection there that I think is just so, so important and so connected.
AM Christian, thank you very much.
CP Thank you.