Photography by Morten Germund
Written by Kristoffer Jensen
|EDITED BY VICTOR THOFT|
No food has ever brought tears to her eyes, but Mette Martinussen has had dining experiences that made her cry. For her the concept of gourmet food extends far beyond using the most exquisite produce, superior cooking techniques and pristine presentation. Dining is essentially about human sensuousness – about people. And the social aspect of food has always been a key ingredient for this Danish top chef ever since she graduated in 1993 from one of Claus Meyer’s restaurants – Meyer perhaps being the Godfather of the new Nordic Cuisine and one of the driving forces behind the world’s now second best restaurant Noma. “I was taught to buy and eat locally. And over the last few years we have developed a real identity for Nordic food.
It is now part of everyone’s gastronomic awareness. And the Nordic Cuisine is really wonderful. Even so, I have always felt the need to put the Nordic cuisine into a big blender and mix it with all the other things that are equally important to me,” she says. Because even the most exquisite mushroom, the finest filet of turbot or most rare burgundy wine mean absolutely nothing without the human companionship around the table, according to Mette Martinussen. This conviction led her to open the pioneering gourmet restaurant 1st floor to the Right in an ordinary Copenhagen first floor flat. In deliberately homely surroundings Martinussen creates a warm and embracing experience that resembles a private dinner party with best friends.
Everything from the handwritten invitations to the coffee in the living room in front of the bookshelves is staged in great detail. The people of Copenhagen quickly fell in love with the experience and the restaurant was a big success, so much so that one day a man with a special kind of laminated card tucked away in his dark suit suddenly showed up ... But more on that later. “I have always been fascinated by places that push people’s boundaries and challenge their curiousness, and spaces in which social interaction takes place” says Mette Martinussen and looks around the living room of 1st floor to the Right.
Fairytales for for dinner
Mette Martinussen never had any doubts about what she wanted to do for a living. There was no other path for her. While the other girls played with their dolls, young Mette leafed through her cookbooks. “But I have always fought a battle from within the system, insisting that human sensuousness, seasonal changes and the colours and smells of the produce were as important to me as the professional and technical aspects of cooking. I was never happy slaving away, cooking and sweating behind the stove. And no single dish or glass of wine has ever brought tears to my eyes or made the small hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But nibbling sardines in the company of great friends, just as the sun went down over the mountains and a local band was playing... I just had tears running down my face,” she says, her eyes
watering just from the recollection. “And to me that is what food is all about. I don’t spend all my time struggling to find the perfect food and wine match or learning how to ferment (a chemical process that has become very popular among top chefs, ed.) something to the third degree." "...It was never my style to isolate myself in the white-tiled kitchen serving the food through a hatch and getting praise back from the people at table two, whom I never saw. No, I wanted to meet my guests.”The following four years Mette Martinussen spent developing and honing her skills as a dramatist creating gourmet narratives, before she handed over the pots and pans to Denmark’s other female top chef, Anita Klemensen, who is now in charge of the kitchen of the one-starred restaurant Den Røde Cottage. But she also found time for other projects such as Mette Sia’s Summer Bus where the guests bought a ticket
for a bus ride and over the entire summer visited some of the best Danish producers of food – from organic strawberries to wheat flour to kids (young goats, ed.) – and at each place was served 13 dishes based on local produce. The dramatic performance was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Elf Mound and was supported by the Ministry Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark.Nine weeks and 121 dishes later people finally got off the bus after what had been an incredible gastronomic experience. “What could possibly be more fantastic than sitting outside in the forest in the pouring rain eating freshly slung honey and cold mushroom soup? It was a time of many beautiful summer evenings and very happy guests,” says the chef who practically grew up in and around the Royal Danish Theatre, where her dad worked as a lighting designer.
The Michelin Man
“I have always loved the theatre, but while the overall grandeur of a Shakespeare play may be impressive, it is more the intensity of being in the moment that does it for me. The way the actor performs in that instant, or the ballet dancer, who lands just perfectly. I love being a part of all the things in between. I am an entrepreneur by nature and my mind is always thinking up new projects,” she says and begins talking about Madeleine’s Food Theatre, which in 2007 became her new darling. This was a performance that took the concept of gourmet narratives to a whole new level.“Madeleine’s food theatre was like a system of coordinates where drama, words and movement defined the horizontal axis, and tangibility, temperatures and serving fluxed up and down the y-axis,” she explains. One of the dishes presented had the guests eating fish garnish, while goldfish swam in fish tanks on the dining tables. Another was called “dessert massage” where each guest was ‘attacked’ by up to six chefs simultaneously with dessert wagons filled with delicious treats such as strawberry marsh mellows and caramelized popcorn, until the guests felt so pampered and overwhelmed that several of them almost cried with excitement.This season her newest endeavor The Snow Queen has played 29 sold out performances at the Republique Theatre in Copenhagen.
The play is Martinussen’s take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story of poor Kai who is kidnapped by the evil Snow Queen and Kai’s sister Gerda’s struggle to get him back. Throughout the audience plays an active part in the performance. Expect to be lead down into the basement and kept there, while the character the Lappish woman serves you crisp fried fish skin.This season her newest endeavor The Snow Queen has played 29 sold out performances at the Republique Theatre in Copenhagen. The play is Martinussen’s take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story of poor Kai who is kidnapped by the evil Snow Queen and Kai’s sister Gerda’s struggle to get him back. Throughout the audience plays an active part in the performance. Expect to be lead down into the basement and kept there, while the character the Lappish woman serves you crisp fried fish skin. Audiences will also be transported to a nearby flat to eat carrot tartare with raw egg yolk with the flower lady, and finally attend a rambunctious troll party, where wild boar and hare are served up by a bunch of trolls that don’t mind being up close and personal. The whole performance lasts three to four hours and the entire time your senses are under constant bombardment. In the end even the most skeptical among the audience let themselves be captivated. “It is absolutely amazing to see what this performance does to people.
We see guests dancing, kissing the actors or yelling at them. It just does something to people. Some nights it gets so crazy that I have to ask. Mette Martinussen hopes that her gastronomic Snow Queen will get to travel abroad. It is however an extremely complicated task every night to serve 12 dishes to the entire audience of a full theatre. All things considered everything was a bit more simple back in the days, when she ran the kitchen at 1st floor to the Right and that mysterious man in the dark suit showed up and sat an entire evening alone at his table. When the dinner was over he went up to Mette Martinussen and showed his laminated ID from the Michelin Restaurant Guide. He confessed to her that he had personally enjoyed the entire experience tremendously, but explained that he wasn’t sure that the esteemed Michelin Guide could honour such an experimenting restaurant with a star. Since then the Michelin reviewers have officially stayed away from 1st floor to the Right even though the restaurant is still very much at the top of Copenhagen’s gastronomic hierarchy. “Of course it was very exiting for me when the Michelin guide paid a visit, but it is not like any dreams were shattered. I am just not that much into that aspect of the foodie scene and I have always gone for catering to the human sensuousness rather than the Michelin star. My drive comes when the guests arrive at 7.30 pm. Just like the theatre.”
Current City: Copenhagen
Occopation: Owner of Restaurant 1.TH