Where Food Meets Art: Meet Rasmus Munk, the Chef Behind Copenhagen’s Alchemist Restaurant

Where Food Meets Art: Meet Rasmus Munk, the Chef Behind Copenhagen’s Alchemist Restaurant

Forging the new frontier of fine dining, Copenhagen’s two-Michelin-starred Alchemist fuses molecular gastronomy with theatre and politics. Chef and co-owner Rasmus Munk lets us in on his favourite restaurants in the Danish capital, fulfilling his childhood dream and an unfortunate culinary experiment with a cow’s udder.

If you liked everything, then we did a poor job

chef Rasmus Munk

new universe of fine dining unravels across the three
cavernous storeys of a former set-building workshop used by the
Royal Danish Theatre. Under Alchemist’s enormous domed roof unfurls
a labyrinth of conceptual dining rooms, where fantastical
multimedia installations and molecular gastronomy force us to talk
about the social and political issues of the day.

At its helm? Rasmus Munk, a 29-year-old Danish chef (some may
say “magician”), who dreamed up the idea for his now world-famous
restaurant as a schoolboy. Within seven months of opening,
Alchemist was awarded two Michelin stars. Charming, modest and
easy-going, Munk usually prefers to shy away from the spotlight and
let his culinary experiments take centre stage instead. He lets us
in on family memories, fulfilling his childhood dream and an
unsuccessful culinary experiment with a cow’s udder.

What inspired you to create such a concept?

Ahead of the opening of the restaurant, I found myself in a
theatre. It left such a deep impression on me that it felt like I’d
reached a point of no return. I invited a philosopher, a dramaturg,
actors, a psychologist and I created my own “theatre” with a dome
like a planetarium I’d visited as a schoolboy. I remember as a
child sitting in the magical darkness among the stars and planets,
wishing that if I was to ever open a restaurant, it will be a kind
of fascinating planetarium. And it happened. During my final exam
at culinary school, when I was 19, I was asked to write about the
restaurant of my dreams. When Alchemist opened, my teacher sent me
that paper. My dream had come true.

What was your objective when you opened Alchemist?

There are so many problems in the world that I wanted Alchemist
to be an escape into another reality. I didn’t want to repeat
myself or copy an existing project. My objective was to create a
product that could change people, to present them with inspiration
and the ability to make discoveries.

That’s quite a theatrical approach. In drama, the protagonist
is often transformed throughout the production. What changes in a
person, after they visit Alchemist?

I hope that after finishing their dinner, guests leave the
restaurant with a feeling of catharsis from experiencing a shift in
consciousness. Many often discuss global problems at our tables:
climate change, hunger in third-world countries. People leave not
only with the memory of a nice dinner, but also with a reflection
on the present and the future.

So, you are presenting people with the freedom of thought?

Yes, we do not force our opinions onto anyone; we simply offer
food for thought. For example, one of the restaurant’s exhibition
rooms currently focuses on the multiculturalism of New
York City
. It’s a reminder that music, architecture, cuisine
and other important things come to us through travel and the
exchange of expertise. However, we don’t explain anything, we just
show it. Everyone can draw their own conclusions.

What is the philosophy behind your cuisine?

In our holistic approach, food is part of the world, where
everything is interconnected. We strive for innovation, choosing
products and methods which have not been used before. For instance,
we have been working with cow’s Achilles tendons and lamb lungs,
both of which are usually discarded.

Which local ingredients do you prefer?

In Denmark, there are a lot of small suppliers of elderflower,
ramsons and sea buckthorn. There are even people who use coffee
beans and used coffee grounds to grow mushrooms – I love local
stories like these. My grandma and I would often go to the farm to
pick strawberries, then we would pour cream over them and eat. For
me, it’s the taste of childhood. I always use strawberries when
they’re in season.

Has it always been a smooth ride or have you faced any

I face challenges all the time. I made everyone ill because of
my experiments once. I was trying to figure out what can be done
with a cow’s udder (butchers usually throw it away). I visited the
farmer, took the udder and placed it in my car. While I was
driving, the milk rose to the teats and began to spray everywhere.
Drenched completely, I came to the revelation that the udder can be
cut up and served so that the guests can watch the liquid, which
will later become the sauce, pour out. Yet when we began the
experiment, we didn’t take into account the dangers of bacteria and
many of us came down with an intestinal infection. One of the chefs
had to be taken to hospital, and the others were out of action for
a couple of weeks.

Which other chefs do you admire?

I learned from Ferran Adrià’s Spanish restaurant El Bulli, which
was ahead of its time and paved the way for the emergence of places
like Noma. Much of the innovation in new-wave northern cuisine has
been borrowed from Japan, but it is the Danish who first introduced
many culinary technologies to the world. We wouldn’t exist without

How has travel influenced you?

I love exploring new cultures. I have travelled through Italy
and Spain a lot, though my life changed after I visited Japan.
Here, they pass down knowledge so carefully, from generation to
generation, perfecting their chosen profession. But this
perfectionism has its downside too, and raises a serious ethical
question: can the pursuit of ideal quality and pleasure justify
food waste and the excessive use of plastic? I don’t think so.

What are three of your favourite restaurants in

Definitely Noma,
where I have been 24 times. When you’re there, you can really feel
the international spirit, the desire to work, to achieve set goals
and to produce the highest results on a daily basis. I also love
going to the classic French Bistro Boheme and
the restaurant Geist.

Have you recently had any fresh ideas?

We’re currently working on lines of flavour which are created by
each guest independently. Out of the given ingredients, you choose
four. Then, based on your preferences, you choose the flavour of
the additives: bitter, sweet, sour, salty. Thus, a unique dish is

You now have two Michelin stars. What next?

The Michelin guide was never my goal, although it is nice to be
recognised, of course. I would like to change the gastronomic
landscape, see how far I can go with my experiments while
maintaining a holistic approach and integrity of the cuisine. We
are also taking part in the development of an open education
project for children about food, in partnership with a planetarium.
It should be finished in a couple of years. The Novo Nordisk
Foundation has provided us with almost 2.5 million Danish kroner
[£300,000] for the creation of Alchemists Explore. The point of the
project is to merge the history of food, the traditions of various
countries, technology and live streams with our cuisine.

Anton Krasilnikov is a restaurateur and co-founder of Go To

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