In the hands of Rasmus Munk, dinner sends a message at The Alchemist

The Copenhagen chef’s “holistic cuisine” merges science, gastronomy, performance art, societal issues and storytelling in a restaurant designed to look like a planetarium.
Rasmus Munk presenting
Rasmus Munk describes how The Alchemist integrates the arts with societal issues and gastronomy. | Photo courtesy of Unilever Food Solutions.

With little hesitation, an audience of 180 people simultaneously dug their forks into a small plate of food called “Plastic Fantastic,” topped with what looked like discarded trash.

The dish, which has appeared on the 50-course immersive tasting menu served at The Alchemist in Copenhagen, was served to attendees at Future Menus, a conference hosted last month by Unilever Food Solutions at the company’s global Food Innovation Centre called “The Hive” in Wageningen, the Netherlands.

Plastic Fantastic

Edible "Plastic Fantastic" is designed to build awareness about ocean pollution. | Photo by Pat Cobe

“Plastic Fantastic” was actually garnished with edible collagen extracted from cod skin, crisped to contrast with the savory cod tartar underneath. It was created to send a message about ocean pollution to diners, explained the restaurant’s chef and co-owner, Rasmus Munk. “One-third of Danish cod is infused with microplastics,” he said. While the course is served, images of ocean life are projected on the restaurant’s planetarium-style ceiling. 

The attendees didn’t have to sign up on The Alchemist’s waiting list of a million people nor pay over $700 to dine at the two-Michelin starred restaurant that is ranked as the fifth best in the world. While we only tasted one dish, we were treated to a number of astonishing revelations about what Munk calls “holistic cuisine” during his presentation.

“We tried to break the rules from the start about what a restaurant is and focus on more than technique and ingredients; we  incorporate art, society and theater into the experience,” he said. “We create storytelling to amplify what’s on the plate, and lots of guests come for the experience and not the food.”

A UNICEF poster communicating world hunger inspired one of Munk’s most provocative and disturbing dishes. The poster showed a photo of an emaciated child with the message “It’s time to share.”

rabbit sashimi

Rabbit sashimi is draped over a metal form that resembles the ribcage of a starving child. | Photo by Pat Cobe

The Alchemist employs artisans as well as cooks and servers, and the chef had one of his team members fashion a silver rib cage to replicate the body of a starving child. Sashimi made from rabbit—one of the most sustainable animal proteins, he said—is draped over the ribcage and served with harissa on the side. Guests are instructed to peel off the sashimi and eat it with dabs of harissa.

He also showed the audience a slide of The Alchemist’s blood donation dish called “Lifeline.” It’s an ice cream made with pig’s blood, caramelized to enhance the flavor and texture, then served on a plate imprinted with a QR code. When diners scan the code, it takes them to a web page with a link to sign up to become a blood donor.

Munk and his chefs are constantly exploring alternate proteins as well. “We do a lot of research and discovered that there are edible butterflies that are high in protein,” he said. The restaurant started farming butterflies and freeze-drying them to use as an ingredient on the menu. “We serve the butterfly with a leaf made of roasted kale and a dollop of nettle cream sweetened with honey water.” Although it’s a little off-putting to see a colorful monarch butterfly on a plate, he admits, “it’s a fun way to start a conversation."

The ultimate goal: To get people to think while they’re eating.

The chef has also established an R&D lab at The Alchemist, dedicated to creating new food products. In the works are a high-protein rapeseed cake that could help stem world hunger and a chocolate bar made from spent grain, mango jam and caramel that’s more sustainable because it uses no cacao—a crop that is diminishing due to climate change.

Munk’s top takeaway: Food tech companies invest a lot of dollars in R&D but don’t use chefs to add taste and texture. The chef’s role of the future should be to focus on creating culinary-driven change-making products that taste good.

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