Copenhagen (Reuters) - Finding his own culinary identity has been crucial for Michelin-starred chef Christian Puglisi after leaving one of the world's best-rated restaurants to avoid being "that chef from Noma" forever.
In the past four years, the Italian-Dane, 32, has opened three restaurants in Copenhagen's graffiti-covered multi-ethnic area Norrebro, including the organic eatery Relae that won a Michelin star in 2012.
Relae is ranked 53rd best in the world by Restaurant magazine, which has rated Noma as number 1 for four of the past five years.
Returning from promoting a book of recipes from Relae in New York, Puglisi met with Reuters at his newest restaurant Baest ("beast" in Danish).
Q: Why did you become a chef?
A: My father is Italian and when he and my mother came to Denmark, he became a waiter at an Italian restaurant like many Italians did. Instead of having a sitter, I went with my father in the evening to the restaurant from the age of seven or eight years. I remember being fascinated by the kitchen and the energy.
Q: What is the thinking behind your cookbook Relae - A Book Of Ideas?
A: The target group is not people who want inspiration for their dinner tonight, but people who want to take their interest in cooking to another level.
Q: Is sustainability or quality foremost when you pick ingredients?
A: Both. For instance, we have high-quality organic milk in Denmark, so at Baest we adapted the technique they have perfected in Campania in Italy and created our own unique mozzarella made of local milk instead of importing.
Q: What has it meant for you to come from Noma?
A: It was a great privilege to be in at the start, before Noma was on everybody's lips, and we were just five or six staff with a lot of ideas. When I started for myself, the Noma brand was without a doubt a great help, but now it is nice that we have proven our own worth, as there is no fun to keep on riding on somebody else's success.
Q: How did you distance yourself?
A: It always felt wrong for me to limit the cooking to one region. Relae, Baest and Manfreds are not Nordic restaurants nor Italian restaurants, they are a combination of all the best we could find. The most important teaching I brought with me from Noma was finding your own culinary identity - not just making lobster and bouillabaisse like everybody else. Nobody wants to travel to Copenhagen to eat French food, half as good as in Paris.