One of Denmark's Hottest Chefs Is Cooking in New York This Week
Chef Kristian Baumann of 108 in Copenhagen is continuing in the footsteps of his mentors, who helped transform Nordic cuisine. After helping Christian Puglisi open Relæ in 2010, he moved on to Noma, where we worked under Rene Redzepi and furthered his love of foraging and fermentation under the new Nordic master. Then in 2015, Baumann opened his own restaurant, 108, a slightly more casual destination that has since become one of the most popular spots in the restaurant-obsessed Danish capital.
This week, Baumann and his team have arrived in New York City to cook on back-to-back nights at Chef's Club, so he took some time with us to elaborate on the philosophy of his restaurant, veering away from super-fine dining, and why he wants to inspire his customers to experiment in their own kitchens.
Building on a strong foundation
According to Baumann, the kitchen at 108 is built upon three pillars that he learned from Redzepi and Puglisi. "Everything we create comes from our collaborations with farms, fermentation, and foraging," he says. "You can find each of these things in every dish we create, as American diners will see this week in our six-course menu here at Chef's Club."
Keeping it casual
Unlike previous kitchens Baumann's worked in, you won't find a tasting menu at 108. "The restaurant is à la carte with 10 individual dishes and three shared dishes each night," he says. "The reason it is set up like this is because we wanted our guests to have the freedom to choose whatever they wanted. So if they just wanted to come for one dish or they were very busy on their way home and they wanted to swing by for a grilled piece of monkfish and be in the restaurant for 45 minutes to an hour so they didn't have to cook, they could also have the option to do that."
Honoring the past
"In terms of the philosophy of the restaurant, we believe in the Copenhagen kitchen and the Nordic Manifesto and we want to continue to build on that foundation," he explained. "We're very connected to nature in terms of us foraging in the spring, summer and autumn and then preserving all of that for the rest of the year. We try to pick as much as we can and then preserve it in different ways. This then allows us to have a large pantry in the winter."
Connecting to nature
Besides foraging, Baumann finds other ways to connect to the natural world around him. "Being so close to nature is very, very important for me and I believe it helps our cooks to become more knowledgeable and be a bit more spontaneous in their way of thinking," he says. "There might be one day where our team shows up and certain ingredients aren't there like they were the day before or vice versa. By connecting to nature, we can constantly be improvising."
Fine dining for everyone
Unlike some of the previous restaurants he's worked at, Baumann wants 108 to be a more inclusive dining experience for all of his guests. "We want to cook for more people," he proclaims. "We're very focused on feeding as many people as we can and we never say no to people, unless we're completely, completely, completely full. If people want to sit and eat at the bar, we have a large bar around the waiter section and if people are okay with sitting there, then it's okay for us."
Cooking with guests in mind
Baumann is constantly balancing his role as a progressive chef and prospective guest. "I always try to have the chef's glasses on where you look at an ingredient and a dish and ask, "Is this interesting to cook and interesting to work with?" but in the end I try to put myself in the guest's shoes," he explains. "I always ask my chefs, "What if you were served this at a different restaurant? What would you think as a guest?" These questions are quite important and very interesting because at the end of the day, that's what we're here for. We want our guests to be happy and for them to come back to our restaurant and if we can inspire people along the way to pick some rose hips or some elderflower and serve it in a salad at home, then we have achieved what it is that we want."