The Takeover of Henne by the Man From the Andes: Virgilio Martinez
Food is getting more emotional, chefs have to more responsible, explains Virgilio Martinez. For a week he juggled heritage, local farming and the Scandinavian love of seasons: A freak thing when you come from a country with very little seasonality, and very much altitude – the complete opposite of flat Denmark. The man from the foot of the Andes, the chef-expert in the edibles of the many biospheres of Peru, had to be a Dane for a night, cooking at Henne.
Earlier this summer Virgilio Martinez of restaurant Central in Lima, Peru took over Henne Kirkeby Kro – an inn placed on the far western coast of Denmark, where the winds coming in from the North Sea bend every tree, and where sand dunes and heath reach as far as the eye can see.
Virgilio – who this year rose to the number four ranking at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants couldn’t be any further from the terroir or feel of Peru. Taking part in the Grand Gelinaz Shuffle arranged by the charismatic food critic Andrea Petrini, Virgilio Martinez was one of 37 of the worlds most creative chefs swapping restaurants for one night, exchanging talent and ideas and working? in very different restaurants. Aorta volunteered to help bring Virgilio out to the North Sea, where he took command of this gorgeous old inn, refurbished by charismatic patron Flemming Skouboe, a gastronomic philanthropist who brought the English expat, the ever playful Paul Cunningham out to head up the kitchen. Henne is established as one of the absolute best places to stay and eat in Northern Europe. Virgilio Martinez take was not to take the whole thing to the Andes – he spent four days in Copenhagen and Henne to get a feel for the place, then applying his food thinking to a restaurant very rooted in its own products, it’s own garden and it’s local farmers and producers.
Virgilio Martinez’ own cuisine is based very much on the variations in altitude and microclimates of Peru, but at Henne and in Denmark you’re pretty much at 0 altitude, given that the highest point of elevation in Denmark is a pillar in one of the bridges tying together the islands of Denmark. We talked to Virgilio about how he as a Peruvian experienced Denmark and Henne, and how he sees the role of the chef changing.
Virgilio Martinez on Henne Kirkeby
I have never met Paul, but everyone talks about him here. Hisstaff are great, competent and very likeable. You know you’ve come to one of these places where you can feel the chef as a constant hovering spirit. So I haven’t met Paul – but it feels like I have. It was great to work with him through his staff. How can you not like the guy?
I was inspired by agriculture and farming – the growing of things in the garden and the close cooperation between the restaurant and local producers. It gives a depth, a substance to place. I would like one day to run a place which in the same way ties together farming, local culture, history into a food experience. It takes the food to a different and very rooted place.
Virgilio Martinez on Denmark and climate
The freak thing here is your dependency on seasonality. I am not used to that – we don’t have your extreme variations in climate in Peru. Your food is shaped very much by the food technologies of preservation; off course preservation of food is important here to stay alive during winter . I would love to come here again in the fall once you pickle and preserve for winter. And to see how you make a local cuisine when everything is covered in snow. My cuisine is based very much on the exploration of microclimates in Peru, with the Andes and the Amazon as the extremes. Rolling with seasons is a completely different way of thinking. I enjoyed your love of berries for example. You love berries like you can only love berries when you have them 1 or 2 months a year. You celebrate season. I tried working with this approach here at Henne.
Virgilio on the role of the modern chef
Food is getting more emotional. Food and cooking is becoming a stronger cultural institution, a carrier of identity and purpose. That means the role of the chef has to change as well. The rock’n’roll attitude of the chef community will probably have to give way to a more serious attitude. I think the cooking community has to grow with the increased importance of food in the awareness of the public. Food is getting recognized as an expression of culture and values. You have to be serious once you channel that many emotions and values.
One of the things I noticed when visiting Noma, Amass and the chefs in that community in Copenhagen was what great sense of community and collegiality there was. You get the feeling of a very tightly knit community, where there is a sense of common purpose. Don’t you think that has something to do with the success of the Copenhagen restaurant scene? I do.
THE DISHES VIRGILIO COOKED AT HENNE
A light snack covered in grilled flowers – still one of the prettiest things we ever saw.
SAMPHIRE & FLOWERS
The samphire covered in a olive-purée, dipped in flowers – a salty snack with herbal caharcter from the flovwer leaves.
SALMON ROSE TIRADITO
The Tiradito is a Peruvian dish of raw fish, a Sashimi or Carpaccio. The truly different thing here to the Danish palate was the intense “tigers milk”-sauce that took the local ingredients to a different hemisphere. Tigers milk is the lemony juices from ceviche. This version had a snap of ginger giving it an Asian sensation, a tribute to the large Chinese Japanese population of Lima. Notice the thinly sliced berries giving it seasonality.
The braised lettuce was filled with lardo and rhubarb. Rhubarb being a Danish summer favorite most often used in the sweet cuisine – here is gave zing to a gorgeous dish: The braised lettuce was served with cockles-broth. It was actually a fish dish. (editors note: This was other worldly good).
MULLET & HONEY & CACAO
Cacao and fish is not in the Danish gamebook – but the dry, earthy flavors gave great bottom and bouquet to the succulent fish.
Raw langoustine – with quinoa. The quinoa gave it some of those dry flavors that were a constant of Virgilio’s take on regional ingredients.
The king of the sea turned ceviche – with large crisps of dried fish skin. Lima and the North Atlantic in one dish.
OYSTERS ON ICE
Large European flat oysters with a ginger ice cream: Just lovely and fresh and not at all European.
LAMB CAULIFLOWER AND TUBERS
Succulent, earthy and elegant – a meaty yet light dish.
BERRIES + FENNEL
Celebrating berries with crisps, a sheeps milk ice cream – and bronze fennel. Something earthy everywhere.
CACAO YOGURT CHILLI
Looked and tasted like the great dirt we all come from
He loves good mess, doesn’t he?
PHOTO ESSAY: A PERUVIAN IN DENMARK