Italian culinary traditions with Christian F. Puglisi
Text: Sebastian Frank
Photos: DANIEL STJERNE
For those who are true foodies, Christian F. Puglisi needs no introduction. For the rest of you, he is the chef who started his culinary career at Copenhagen Hospitality College, and has later worked at three-star El Bulli in Catalonia, three-star Taillevent in Paris and three-star Noma in Copenhagen. Since then he has run his own restaurant: Relæ, with one Michelin star, this is therefore listed as one of the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. The restaurant closed its doors in 2020 alongside its sister restaurant: Manfreds after 10 years active. Luckily, Christian has other restaurants, and we had the opportunity to meet him at one of them. More specifically restaurant Bæst, at Guldbergsgade 29 in Copenhagen.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a chef?
- I have wanted to work with food in some way since I was little. When I was around 16-17 years old, I worked at Hotel Phoenix here in Copenhagen, and during the winters, when there was not much to do, I used to hang out a lot in the kitchen among the chefs. I remember a time when one of the chefs chopped mushrooms very quickly, which I thought was super cool. That's when I realised I wanted to be a chef.
You were born in Messino, Italy. What food memories do you have from your childhood?
- When I was around 8 years old I moved to Denmark with my family, so I have lots of memories linked to food from Italy. We used to travel back to Messina every summer, so tomatoes, passata, and Italian dishes have been a big part of my upbringing. Every time I return to Sicily during the summer, my aunt usually cooks stuffed aubergines. It's something we always eat there. That is something that we always eat there. You halve the aubergines and dig them out, fill them with tomatoes, ham, parmesan and some breadcrumbs. Then peel the other half of the aubergine and use as a lid, and then cook them in tomato sauce and serve with potatoes. It is without a doubt my absolute favourite dish from childhood.
Has your childhood influenced your cooking in any way?
- Absolutely. When I first started working as a professional chef, I was very interested in the technical work around food. What temperatures are best, textures and what it takes for a dish to be perfect. Later, as I got older, I also added the cultural elements that I carry with me from my childhood. I think food is really more complex than just a culinary experience. From a social and cultural perspective, food is something we all share. Everyone eats and cooks in all parts of the world. My way of cooking and serving food has definitely been influenced by my upbringing in Italy.
- Right now I have a thing for kefir. I have been interested in colostrum for the past four to five years, and have tried to use this both in restaurants and at home. Colostrum is special and shares many, some find it a bit controversial. What I do is I ferment the colostrum and make cheese from it. Nowadays I always have fermented colostrum at home to both eat and drink. It is very easy to make yourself and extremely good, and also very useful.
Name something that you always have in your fridge.
What is the most common dish in your home?
- During the last year I have become more interested in hunting, and at present I have excessively much venison at home in the freezer. Right now it is the most popular ingredient in my home, and I cook it in lots of different ways.
Tell us about your restaurant Bæst.
- Bæst is a restaurant which cherishes the Italian food tradition, but it is not a pure Italian restaurant. We use local ingredients as much as possible, and make our own cheese from colostrum, our own mozzarella, our own burrata and so on. We prefer not to import anything. We always look at the Italian tradition, and you could say that Bæst is a kind of tribute to the Italian craft. When I opened Relæ och Manfreds in 2010, I was very focused on expressing myself personally when it comes to cooking. Now I'm more interested in exploring my roots.
Was it a tough decision to close Relæ?
- It wasn’t a tough decision for me. We had been around for 10 years and I wanted to move on and do something else, like focus on Bæst and Mirabelle. I also understood that more is not always the best in the restaurant world, and the time that has now been freed up means that I can spend more time on other things.
Tell us about Farm of Ideas.
- In 2016 we launched Farm of Ideas, which was basically there to deliver ingredients to all the restaurants. Now it's just for Bæst and Mirabelle. We have two hectares of land where we grow vegetables of the highest quality. For me, the farm is a way to understand the whole process and to create a deeper knowledge of the raw materials.
What kind of relationship do you have with clothes?
- Just like with food, I also buy high quality clothes. I'm pretty simple when it comes to clothes and am by no means a big shopper, but I appreciate quality and would rather spend more money on fewer things that instead last longer. I also try to buy sustainable products made from, for example, organic materials. Stylistically, I am quite classic and dress in things that I know will last a long time. An example is my four pairs of Red Wings that I love. They last forever.
What does the future hold for the restaurant industry?
- I think it will be a bit of a battlefield and actually get even tougher than it is now. Now, when the problems with Covid-19 have ended, I think you have to focus on quality and work incredibly hard to be successful in the restaurant industry.