Interview: Restaurant Moment
According to you, which is the biggest challenge (linked to sustainability) for your restaurant right now?
“As I see it, the biggest challenges actually relate to how sustainability is debated and understood these days. Our biggest challenges relate to changing this and making the complexity and importance of the topic more available. I could imagine this lack of clarity is what makes it difficult for restaurants to implement aspects of sustainability – because where should one start? If one is to act more sustainable, it is not just a matter of implementing a few changes, it is sometimes very fundamental.”
For us, it is actually not that difficult to run a sustainable restaurant, because, for us, sustainability already is the highest priority. The entire concept behind our gastronomy is that nature decides what is on the menu – so it is just everyday life that the menu changes all the time dependent on what we have right now and what we have preserved from other seasons. On average, 1-2 dishes out of our 13 servings are completely changed every week, and most of the other dishes undergo minor changes and revisions based on what we have available. To some degree, it is a challenge to find enough local producers who share our ambitions and philosophy.
For us, it is central that we know our producers. Sustainability does not have a clear definition, and that means that almost anything can be sold as being “sustainable” while it remains invisible for the restaurants or the “normal consumers” what is the actual impact on nature. For example, “organic” products are better than “conventional” products in many ways. But for us, it is not sufficient that the products are “just organic” – we want to pursue the idea that growing food for people can have a positive impact on nature, not just a “minimally negative” impact. Therefore, many of our producers are so inventive and explorative, they do not want or do not fit into the very low and sometimes “square” requirements for being an organic producer. Our closest producer, for example, works with forest-agriculture on a smaller scale, and shows that their farm “regenerates” the soil, bringing back natural ecosystems. In this way, we will much rather be part of developing future farming techniques than we want to fit into preexisting categories. From a biodiversity perspective, you can still create a “barren desert” with monoculture while being an organic producer. This is the same with many and maybe all kinds of certifications. We only serve vegetables, but if a consumer buys fish with the MSC certification, they are only certain that poison and explosives have not been used – they may still buy fish that have been trawled, resulting in a destruction of the local ecosystem. So working towards being a more sustainable restaurant is complex, it involves all aspects, from interior to heating sources, to composting, and all daily practices.
We believe it is an important challenge to find a way to communicate about and investigate these complexities. Even for eat guides, it must be difficult to “rate” who is more sustainable. Because today, there are no easy answers or “quick fixes”. Being certified organic sometimes means that one is more sustainable than another restaurant – but in many cases, it does not mean that. Buying only local produce may mean that one is acting more sustainable and responsible. But not in all cases. There are few but important examples of products where e.g. CO2 emission is much less and the impact on nature is much more positive when buying certain products (e.g. palm oil where this is used to raise forest and prevent deforestation) instead of local products.
It is one of our biggest challenges – which is also an exciting and interesting challenge – to deal with this issue with cooking as a tool.”
What can you get better at?
“We can get better at everything. In all aspects of our practices, both with regards to gastronomy, the level of the guest experience, and sustainability, one must never stagnate and believe that “one is doing good enough”. We do not set a limit to ambition in these matters – of course always with a reasonable level of being humble and to know how little you understand. There are many things, one could focus on. We could get better at methods for growing vegetables, herbs, and microgreens indoor. We could become even more self-sufficient. We could increase our collaborations with universities to become not just knowledge-based but knowledge-producing.
We could also be better at working towards the integration of knowledge. Today, it is strange how all restaurants working with sustainability need to invent everything from scratch. But sustainability is clearly not a competition – it is work for a common good. We could become better at creating platforms for sharing ideas and experiences in order to support sustainability at other restaurants.
Is it difficult to communicate what you do in the area to your guests? And is it relevant?
“It is highly relevant. And we do many different things to communicate sustainability and our philosophy. Waiters and chefs spend much time thinking about and training how to present drinks and dishes so that information about sustainable production or choices of produce (and many other topics) is being communicated in the correct dosages. It is very important not to preach or to condemn others as this will only create a distance to the guests. We want all our guests to learn something when they visit us, and we want to show them that they actually do have a choice when it comes to buying wine or foods – also in their everyday lives.”
As one of many initiatives, we offer a “behind the scenes tour” where guests arrive 30 minutes before the restaurant opens. Here they are given a tour of the garden and the restaurant per se, and they are told in detail about different sustainable initiatives, research and practice partly also based on their own interests. We find it very important that guests can choose this deeper insight into our work – if they are interested and want it themselves.
We do our best to communicate sustainable ideas on social media. This is of course always limited by the amount of information that one can pack into one post on Instagram or Facebook, but we find it important nonetheless. Again, we face the difficulty that there are no simple and universal answers to questions of sustainability. We are strongly committed to the idea that this fact should not make people feel hopeless – that “there is nothing we can do when there are no simple answers” – but rather that we should all feel inspired, curious, and explorative in order to learn more.”
How does the corona pandemic affect your long-term work on sustainability?
“Whereas the corona pandemic clearly has a big effect on most restaurants, it has almost no effect on our work with regards to sustainability. From our position, this continues unchanged.
If anything, it does of course affect our ability to communicate about our work directly to an international audience – as we have almost exclusively Danish guests due to the travel restrictions. This increases the importance for us to seek out other ways to communicate – using e.g. social media, collaborating with eat guides as here, etc.”