Christian Puglisi is about to have a pretty big year. As revealed last Summer, the Michelin-starred Copenhagen chef is working on his first-ever cookbook that is now slated to drop in October 2014. But a profile in the Italian issue of Fool Magazine also reveals that Puglisi is gearing up to open a pizzeria in Copenhagen, adding to his restaurant collection that includes the acclaimed Relæ and the popular wine bar Manfreds. And — yes there's more — Puglisi also tells Eater that he's also opening a bakery in a space attached to the pizzeria.
Eater called up Puglisi to talk about the new restaurant, which will be named Bæst ("beast" in Danish). He says it'll be an "authentic restaurant with an Italian accent" — but not an authentic Italian restaurant — that serves primarily pizza and meat. Bæst is slated to open up this Summer, along with the bakery, at an unspecified address in Copenhagen's Nørrebro district. In the following interview, Puglisi also talks about the bakery, his cookbook, and the crazy year ahead of him:
How is the cookbook going?
It's going very well. We got all the pictures done. I am putting the last hand on the manuscript, so we start the design process now. I'm excited to see the end.
Can you tell me what the book is going to be like?
Relæ is a restaurant that has sort of brought a fresh idea to the style of a gourmet restaurant, and I wanted to keep onto that when making a book. Instead of just describing the restaurant, I wanted to have an approach that was a little bit singular, thinking outside of the box. [I'm] trying to consider dishes only as one expression of the cuisine, trying to get a little bit deeper with the ideas behind these dishes and map those out so that you get a book [where] you see all these dishes are connected to each other by ideas. Instead of making a list of ingredients, you could see the list of ideas, the ones that carry the dish through.
It's a book where all the dishes are connected to each other by ideas.
Instead of being linear, I wanted [it] to be circular. So whenever you're on a dish, you see a picture and a description of it, and then there's a page that points to different references where you jump onto an idea. Then you read about this idea and it brings you to other dishes. And then you go on and on and on and jump back and forth. That's how I look at a cookbook. I've never read a cookbook from the first page to the last page. I always just jump straight in there and see what catches my eye. I wanted the book to be able to do that. Short and interesting essays to catch your attention and bring you a little further to what we do and how we cook our food.
Is it going to have some focus on telling your personal story, too?
I think in everything we do, the work that we do, whatever you bring to the plate is also often something personal, something of your own. So in the descriptions of all these dishes and all these ideas behind, there is a little element of personal inspiration of the idea. This sort of translates into a dish. So every dish in that book [and] on the menu at Relæ is something for me that is highly personal and is something I'm very involved with. And that sort of integrates with the rest of my life, so these things are all connected for me.
Is this going to be a book you can cook from, or is this a book to take inspiration from?
For me, to make a book that is supposed to be for your information is impossible because to give you information is to give you something you don't know about. I mean, there is not a single technique or way of cooking cabbage or beef or whatever that you cannot look up on the internet by now. When I make a book, it should be [about] inspiration rather than information.
But everything in that book is something done at the restaurant or that has been done at the restaurant several times and is completely tested and written in a way so everybody can understand it. We spent a lot of time with Ten Speed to make sure that this is understandable for everyone. Sometimes you might need a machine you don't have, but it's very precisely what we do.
Relæ. [Photo: Heather Cowper/Flickr]
Why did you decide to write the book now?
I've been talking to Per-Anders and Lotta [Jorgensen] about making a book since like three months into opening the restaurant. So it's always been on the to-do list. But it's been a question of getting to the right point with the idea. We've been wanting to do everything from a very, very small book that shows more of a glimpse of the restaurant to much more like an encyclopedic book. So it took a lot of time to get a clear idea of what to do. I think we found it with this one. I'm very happy about the result.
For me, it was something I always wanted to do. I've always been interested in writing and always been interested in this medium. How to present the restaurant has always been very fascinating, so I always wanted to do it. For me, it could have been done earlier. The process is just so complicated. Combined with the running two restaurants at the same time, it just takes a long time.
I can imagine. And you're working on a third restaurant now too, right? What's the plan with the pizzeria?
When I opened up Relæ, it was very important for me to do something very personal, so I didn't want to have any geographical dogma on me: New Nordic or Italian or French or anything. It had to be Relæ being its own thing. Doing that, obviously I put myself a little bit away from Italian cooking, which I feel is a part of my own cultural heritage. Now with this place, I want to go back down that road and do something slightly more with an Italian accent, but not at all trying to be an authentic Italian restaurant. It's just going to be a very authentic restaurant with an Italian accent.
It's going to be a very authentic restaurant with an Italian accent.
Rather than be focused on vegetable cooking as Relæ and Manfreds are today, this is going to be a bit more focused on meats. A lot of cooking by fire. It's good for pizza, obviously, wood fire. We're going to do a lot of charcuterie ourselves. Both Relæ and Manfreds are certified organic and so we've been working a lot with vegetables. To be able to afford meats, we've obviously been using a lot of nose-to-tail techniques and using whole animals. So basically we want to use the experience we've gained from that at another place.
So it's not going to be just a pizzeria, it's like an Italian restaurant with pizza as well?
For me, the binding element is the fire because we'll cook pizzas on the wood-fire and then we'll cook meats on the other side. Flavor-wise, it's going to be centered around more Italian-style flavors, Mediterranean, and the focus is going to be the pizza and the meats. I have actually an American who is working now at Manfreds, Kris Schram, he's going to run it. I obviously have more things to do with Relæ and this is a project where I will be more restaurateur than I will be the chef. I'm really looking forward to approaching this in a different way than with Relæ and Manfreds. This is going to be very, very exciting and a lot of fun.
Relæ. [Photo: Per-Anders Jorgensen]
What's the difference in approach that you're taking?
It's just my working day. I'm going to make more room for people like Kris, who has worked with me for a long time at Manfreds and who I have complete confidence in. So it's going to be more of a joint venture than just my own thing. I have this curiosity about working more with the charcuterie and setting up these ideas and programs, but the everyday chef will be Kris. Obviously you need to make room for people and have confidence in them that they'll do a great job.
That's how you keep people on the team.
Yeah. For me, it was also the right moment because at one point [you have to] try and hold onto people and do something great with them or they will leave and find another spot to be challenged. It makes more sense to create more challenges for myself and for these people so we can move on.
And are you opening this restaurant this year?
Hopefully by the end of the Summer.
Can you tell me more about the research for it? I saw you took a trip to Naples, and in the Italian issue of Fool Corby Kummer wrote that your dough will be as inspired by Chad Robertson as it is by Italian bakers.
If you would have asked me 10 years ago, it would have been more this restaurant that I would have opened rather than what ended up to be Relæ. Pizza is so interesting because it is such an Italian thing and at the same time it is the most international food you can imagine. It is everywhere and everybody has a way of doing it. Being authentic about pizza is completely impossible. For me, the way of being closest to that is to grab onto something that is very international and have your own approach to it.
Being authentic about pizza is completely impossible.
Doing that in Denmark, it doesn't mean getting shipments of small cherry tomatoes and mozzarella from Italy. It means seeing what produce we have here. We have great Danish produce, we make a mozzarella locally. The types of flour we have here, that's where you can see my inspiration from Chad. I've known Chad for quite a few years now. His research in wheats and cereals and what can they do to bread is the same thing we do here. Not to make Tartine's bread, but to make our pizza. How can we find something that will be unique? How can we make a pizza here that you cannot ever possibly have in Italy?
That's what Noma did because all of a sudden you have a restaurant in Copenhagen that you didn't have in Paris. So that's what I want to do with this place. That's what we wanted to do with Relæ. And now pizza is like another discipline. The water here is different. The types of flour that we use are different. And we might even dress it a little differently because it suits us to do so. So that's the core of it.
Regarding the research, I've been very much interested in Italian food. It's a part of my heritage. I've always been afraid to fiddle too much with it. With this, I get an opportunity to rediscover where I come from and hopefully make it very produce-focused and very high in quality using the techniques that make it very simple, very rustic, very enjoyable for everybody.
Christian Puglisi and Relæ co-founder Kim Rossen. [Photo: Per-Anders Jorgensen]
I'm interested in what you said about trying to create a pizza that you can't have in Italy or anywhere else. Martin Kastner, who designs the serviceware for Alinea, talks about how restrictions lead to his creativity. Is that a philosophy that you take to?
For me, it's always sort of about personality. I try to cook my personality in everything I do. That's what you need to do with cooking for it to make sense. This is a place that is not here already. We will contribute to the Copenhagen dining scene with this, probably the Scandinavian dining scene because there will not be a place like this. I think it's a question of freeing your mind and focusing on what it is you really like and what you want to do, not trying to make something authentic that will just muddle everything and make it a little bit all over the place.
If people think the pizza is good, the pizza is good. But we can put so much more effort into it.
You know, the level of hydration of the pizza, if the dough is fermented for 24 hours or 36 hours, these are the things that really matter to me and that I think is going to be so interesting to work in that way. If people think the pizza is good, the pizza is good. That's finished. That's it. But we can put so much more effort into it and have a great time challenging ourselves. We have a lot of experience in baking. This restaurant is going to be connected to a bakery to make use of the same synergy as we've done with Relæ and Manfreds facing each other. This means that we can use the skills of a person baking bread every day — that's going to be our current baker at Relæ and Manfreds, Carol Choi. She is also American.
That's really exciting. I hear your bread is amazing. Will the bakery be independent, too, and consumer-focused? Like I can walk in there off the street and get a loaf of bread?
Yes, and that's the reason that we wanted to do that. We've had Carol working for us now for about one and a half years and she's been basically spending 80 percent of her day baking bread for Relæ and Manfreds. We've gotten a lot of good feedback and we're really proud of the bread we do so far. So we're like, okay, why don't we find a place for you to spend 100 percent of your day baking bread? We'll make a bigger volume, and people can buy it so we can finance you doing that as well.
Because we've been giving our bread away for free in both restaurants. We feel we do such a good job that we also wanted to make it available for people to walk in and just buy the bread. There's a few other things we will do: a croissant, a few savory things, a few sweets. Very cut to the bone. And then obviously [Choi] will take care of doing the pizzas and making bread for both Relæ and Manfreds and the restaurant.
That's great. And that'll open at the same time as the restaurant?
Yeah. It's one building but they are connected so we will open at the same time.
So you've got a big year coming up.
It's a crazy year. It's going to be a lot of firsts, but a lot of fun. The book is coming out in mid-October from Ten Speed. And we look forward to another fantastic year at Relæ. For me, it's never been better. I'm at the point now where I'm so privileged with what I have that I can really just do things that make me excited all the time.
That's a good place to be.
It's a fantastic place to be.