Headlines this week:
Danish Spring Brings Menu Changes
Settle in, I’ve got a lot to say.
The calendar says we’re getting closer to Spring, but it’s snowed twice in the past week. Danish Spring is more like intermediary winter.
Nevertheless, as we move towards a change in the season, Kristian has been working on new menu items. The beef short ribs, one of our sharing dishes, are changing to pork belly. We cook them in this contraption called a josper. The josper is essentially a coal fired oven that feels like you’re standing in front of the sun. It’s very, very, very hot. I found out this week that pork belly will actually explode in the josper, if left too long. Yes, explode, with a bang and a firey, pork fat inferno. To accompany the pork, chef has designed a terrine of kohlrabi, fermented apples, and watercress, that’s finished tableside with a rhubarb juice. It’s incredible. For me, it could easily be dessert. It has perfect acidity and sweetness that’s going to balance really well with the rich pork belly. (However, it looks like a huge pain in the ass to make. Naturally.) He’s also working on a new chicken dish, with a fermented bread and mushroom glaze. Or a dried scallop glaze. Something really umami-heavy.
I love watching Kristian get excited about food. I love watching anyone get excited about food. It’s made me think a lot about my own food this week.
This place has changed my palate. In my experience, different restaurants have different palates which they train their cooks to follow. In Grant Achatz’ autobiography, he talks about training his whole kitchen to taste and season food the way he would—training their palates to mirror his. When I worked at Food IQ, my boss, Cristi, trained my palate over three years. I have the Food IQ palate. People that work at FIQ get their palates adjusted to how FIQ cooks and seasons. It’s very globally influenced and balances a lot of spice with sweetness, and richness with acidity. Here, my palate has been introduced to a lot of new flavors and ways of layering flavor. It’s not that I have a whole new sense of taste, but there’s definitely been an evolution to how I taste food. However, in the beginning, having to adjust to a new set of flavors really, really shook my confidence. It’s like learning a new language. It’s like being a telemarketer, where your job is to talk to people, but you don’t have a grasp on the words. I second guessed myself a lot for the first six weeks or so. But I grew more comfortable with the flavors, my palate adjusted, and I remembered, oh wait, this is what I do, I cook. Things got easier after that, but it really taught me the value of learning new tastes and incorporating them into your personal encyclopedia of flavor and ingredients.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about this week is being too close to your food. Sometimes you work on a dish for so long, and you get so fixated on a component, ingredient, or flavor, that you just can’t tell if it’s good. Sometimes, you end up making something truly awful, but just can’t tell, because you’ve been working on it so long. Sometimes, you make the same thing over, and over, and over again, so you become bitter towards it and bored with it, and you lose sight of the fact that you’re actually creating something wonderful. This is why it’s so important to have people you trust around you, people with strong palates, and the language to be able to tell you what’s good or bad about what you’re doing, rather than simply saying, I like it, or, I don’t like it.
I think about food here. I think about food A LOT. For the past three years, I’ve been paid more to think about food, and for my intellectual property concerning food, than to physically cook food. I’m very close to finishing the lengthy menu for our pop-up at Urban Roots, but I could create an entirely separate menu of dishes I’ve come up with and discarded over the past two months. And they were good ideas. They just got left on the cutting room floor.
I used to think that, as a chef, you had to aspire to be a creative genius. I used to think that if you weren’t innovating, if you weren’t trying to invent something better than the wheel, you weren’t doing your job. Here, I’ve come to realize that not every chef feels that way, or needs to feel that way. Some chefs are very strong when it comes to organization, others with prep, others with technique, others with flavor, and so on. If everyone were trying to push creativity, it would be a disaster. I’ve been lucky enough to have been surrounded by immensely intelligent people, who think at a very high level about food. Being trained to think about food, for me, has been incredibly impactful on my career. It’s helped me take all the wild, creative energy I had, but didn’t know how to use, and focus it into meaningful dishes and flavors.
I used to be obsessed with never cooking the same dish twice. I still am, actually. When I cooked for the chef’s table at Metropolitan Farmer, I drove myself crazy with coming up with five new courses every night because, for me, after I made something new, it was played out and I was over it. It also felt like I was cheating myself. It felt like if I made the same thing twice, that I was phoning it in and not pushing myself creatively. It’s easy to phone in dishes. It’s easy to just whip up something that you know is tasty and you know people will like because it’s safe. For some people that works, and that’s totally fine. But for me, because I’m slightly mental, I’m always trying to push for what’s new and what’s next. That’s one of the reasons a concept like progress is so perfect for my personality. We get to totally overhaul everything we do, every single time.
So, all of these thoughts, all the thinking I’ve done this week, has lead me to write the progress manifesto. I’ve shared it with Cass and Jersey, and I’d like to share it with you.
The progress Manifesto
At progress, as a collective, we hold certain beliefs in food, people, and attitudes, which help to shape what we do. We use these ideas to remind ourselves to stay true to who we are and what we do.
1. Stay inspired. Inspiration and innovation are chief. Cook what inspires you, and what you believe can inspire others.
2. Let your food tell a story. Give your food a voice and a vision, and see where it leads you. Your food should have a narrative. Don’t let yourself be constrained by ingredients, at least, not at first.
3. Create food that makes sense. Remember time (when you are cooking) and place (where you are cooking). Let the ingredients and flavors be cohesive with the message of the food, but don’t be so confined by something as tedious as citrus not growing in your back yard.
4. Push boundaries, and listen. Comfort zones create complacency. Push the boundaries each time you create a meal/experience, and see the response. Sometimes you’ll hit the mark. Sometimes you’ll miss. But learn from each experience.
5. Think big. Look beyond where you are. Seek out flavor and inspiration both globally and locally, and let it filter through you and translate into the experience you curate.
6. Stay humble. There will always be someone or something better. Remember where and how you began.
7. Collaborate. Make use of the resources you have, and the talented, like-minded people around you. Collaboration fosters growth and creativity.
8. Ask for help. No one can do everything on their own. Be generous, thoughtful, and gracious, and hope others will be the same in return.
9. Work hard. You’ll be amazed to find just how hard you really can work and push yourself.
10. Embrace the struggle. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
11. Imbibe with friends. Drink with your friends and colleagues and take time to relax at the end of the day. Explore new horizons in food, beverage, relationships, and experiences.
12. Never say, “we can’t.” Instead, ask, “how can we?” That’s how big moments happen.
13. Be thankful. Be thankful for everything from the ingredients you work with, to the people who help and support you, to the guests that dine with you, and every small detail in between.
14. Embrace change. It is rarely easy, but most times worth it.
15. Evolve. Just like embracing change, it is rarely easy, but it is the lifeblood of what we do at progress. Continue to learn. Educate yourself. Grow. Push yourself and let yourself be pushed by others. By continual evolution, you continue to create something truly unique and beautiful, both for ourselves and others.
16. Be patient. Be patient with your experiences, with one another, with ingredients, and with time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
17. Make it nice. You don’t have to strain a sauce 27 times for it to be nice. But whatever you do, please, make it nice. People will notice.
18. Notice the small things. The devil is in the details. Whether it’s a signed note to a guest, or the way a leaf looks on a plate, take note of the details that others might overlook—it will separate the cream from the milk.
19. Rise to the challenge. If you bite off more than you can chew, that’s okay, it’s how you grow. But don’t fold. Rise to the occasion and learn from whatever pitfalls you encounter along the way.
20. Be as prepared as possible, and let whatever happens, happen. Some things will be out of your control, but do the best you possibly can to make sure that you’re ready for what the world could throw at you. Because whatever can happen, will.
21. Love. Love one another, love what you do, and make sure you love what you’re creating, otherwise, this may as well be any other job.
A few more things, and I’ll wrap up, here. I met a guy last week who worked at a few different three Michelin starred places in France, and is here, doing a two week tryout at Geranium (also three stars and no. 19 in the world). I asked him what it’s like at a three star. He laughed and said, “You’re an animal. Say, someone uses your oven, you grab them by the shirt collar and scream in their face. You’re just an animal.” That is not food that I’m about. There can be a very ugly side to fine dining that I won’t get into, but it’s there, and it’s something I’ve learned I don’t want to be a part of.
If you’ve been to progress, you’ve probably seen the good people from Hoy Creative, in St. Louis, floating around, photographing and filming. They took an interest in us at the very beginning and have been working on a documentary about progress. In May, they’re coming to Copenhagen to film at 1O8. Copenhagen, as I’ve come to realize, has played a key role in how progress has been shaped. The first time I came here, I came back with a million new ideas for how progress should look, feel, and taste. Every time I’ve worked in a kitchen here, it’s influenced what we do at progress. I think Hoy Creative realized that before even I did. Having them come here feels very full-circle, and I’m hugely honored that they see something in progress, so much so, that they’re taking the time to fly out here and follow our story.
I’ve always been a very stoic, pensive, quiet person. I think that’s been intensified while I’ve been here. People ask me if I’m okay, often. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not. It’s not easy to be here. But I’m very glad I’m here. I’m very glad I’m doing this, and I can’t wait for all of you to see what it’s meant for me to be here, as it translates into what we do at progress.