As the Dewakan X Kristian Baumann collaboration happens in Kuala Lumpur, Natasha Kraal looks back on her tête-à-tête with the Noma disciple on his influence, development and a day in his new one-Michelin star restaurant, 108.
Natasha Kraal: What is 108?
Kristian Baumann: We call it the Copenhagen kitchen—this means we set the pillars of our kitchen consistent of fermentation and all the foraging that we do; the collaboration with all the farmers; and a close collaboration with Aarstiderne, where we have land planted with 195 different crops, growing plants of the future and the past.
NK: What exactly are plants of the future?
KB: Aarstiderne works together with a gene bank. 10, 15 years ago—they introduced multi- coloured carrots to Copenhagen and to Denmark. Now we have 13 different types of Jerusalem artichokes, there’s 5 different types of cucumbers, there’s 3 different types of shiso, there is 17 different varieties of cabbage…
NK: Food science is incredible, isn’t it?
KB: We have a cabbage called Francesca Wasabina, and it’s called wasabina because of it almost has the same flavour as a wasabi plant. The whole idea of it is that 108 is the guinea pig for all these new ingredients and some of them are great, and some of them are terrible. And we only learn by doing these.
NK: How do you balance creativity with perishables, while pushing boundaries?
KB: I look at it and I taste and I see, “Is it delicious?” And then, “Is it interesting, from the chef’s point of view?” Once we’ve worked through it and tested it a couple of times, I always ask me and my chefs, “What would you think if you sat in a different restaurant in Copenhagen, and they serve you this? What would you think if you had no knowledge about this dish?” I think that is an interesting question and it’s just a way of working. I really like that to put myself in a dining room point of view, to understand what people are looking for.
NK: Do you think with all eyes on Copenhagen, it makes you more competitive?
KB: It’s a strange but wonderful time, the competition is intense but it just means you have to wow people even more. I feel very strongly that we have our own voice, and, we have established this image that is ours. Everyone else here in Copenhagen has their own voice, a very strong voice. It’s just the way of getting it across to the diners that is different.
NK: So is this like the future of food? Has meats and seafood become secondary to you?
KB: Well, yes and no. This farm project is one of our main pillars, but we also have our fermentation work, which we’ve chosen to focus on seeds—pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds… We fermented the leftovers of everything – bread scraps, squid guts, and use them to make a savoury pastry which is very interesting. And then, we used the seeds as an extra element in making our salad paste for the romaine salad, seasoned with parsley oil and some miso. Complex, with a little bit of umami.
NK: That’s a lot of work…
KB: The dish is the connection between everything that we’ve foraged, it comes together to create a bigger picture.
NK: Just like an artist, you know?
KB: Well, when I taste certain seasonal ingredients like bleak roe, I don’t really like the intense flavour by itself. And my mind tells me, we need to marinate, we need to do something about it, add some golden hip berry oil (that tastes like roses) to bring out the flavour, to give it depth.
NK: You’ve really gone on a journey to bring that personal touch to your cuisine, and making the Copenhagen kitchen into an international kitchen, in that sense.
KB: Yeah. We believe in the Nordic manifesto, and that’s what we do here. We get up in the morning and we do what we love. That’s what we preach here to our cooks, “Don’t think too much about what I want, think about what you think is interesting. And then we will find a way.”
The 11-course Dewakan X Kristian Baumann dinner collaboration is happening on November 10 and 11. Priced at RM 450 nett per person, reservations can be made on www.dewakan.my