“I was pretty fed up with so called collaboration dinners, where you just go to a place, you bring all of your stuff with you and there’s no collaboration what so ever; You come up with a dish, the other guy comes up with a dish, you just kind of go back and forth. Which really isn’t in the definition of ‘collaboration’ or a collaboration at all.” — Matt Orlando, Head Chef and Owner of Amass
Collaborative dinners have been around for quite a while now and admittedly, it is a nice way to change up the everyday ins and out of running a restaurant; New scenery, new people, and hopefully some great dishes. However, the frames of a collaborative dining could need an update, at least in the opinion of Matt Orlando, Head Chef and Owner of the sustainable beacon restaurant in Copenhagen: Amass.
We called up Matt for a chat about his coming events in the restaurant and why he had decided to carry them out in a fairly different manner than usual. It turned into a bigger conversation about the importance of reinvention and collaboration amongst chefs.
What can you tell me about the event you’re working on at the moment?
“…for me it’s the new way of doing collaborative dinners. It’s a true collaboration, where the other ones - I don’t even know what they are, but they’re not collaborations. They’re just two guys cooking together…So I wanted to do these dinners, and we usually do them Spring, Summer and Fall. We’ll actually invite someone here, they have to come by themselves, they cannot bring any ingredients with them, and we cannot discuss the menu before they arrive.”
“They get here usually 2-3 days beforehand and we spend two days usually going to see fishermen, going diving, going to farms - basically I just show them everything we have to offer in Denmark in regards to products and where they come from. So along these two days we gather different ingredients and then we sit down and we write the menu.”
“Every single dish is a full collaborative effort, so every dish is both of us working on it. We do 50-60 guests per dinner and it’s really about putting two people together, myself and another person, and looking at products with different eyes, because I look at a food group differently than for example Jorge Vallejo from Mexico City.”
Who have you worked with while doing these new collaborate dinners?
“So last year it was Jorge Vallejo from Quintonil in Mexico, then it was Eli Kaimeh chef de cuisine from Per Se in New York, and then in October is was Chris Kostow from Meadowwood in Napa Valley. That was last year, this year coming in June is David Breeden who’s the chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, then August is still open, I don’t have a chef for that yet, and in October my younger brother who’s three years younger than me, he’s the head chef of what I think is the best restaurant in San Diego (called Campfire), all based on fire. And he’s coming in October to do the dinner.”
What kind of value do you feel you get out of hosting these events?
“You get so much out of it as a chef, from a really selfish point of view this is really about myself and the other chefs growing as cooks. But it’s really about how two people with completely different thought processes come together to make a menu. And literally that menu is served that night and none of those dishes will ever be served again. So it’s a completely one-off menu as well.”
“So it’s just a really unique experience for the guests and it’s also a huge thing for the guys in the kitchen. They see things they’ve never seen before and it just breaks the mold of what you do every day. From an educational stand point it’s amazing for all parts involved. And that’s what keeps us fresh here and it keeps the chefs coming in to see new things as well.“
THE BLACKOUT DINNER
Another concept Matt has been doing for the last two years is called “The Blackout Dinner”. This next event is on Wednesday the 14th of March and it has been completely sold out for a long time.
Can you tell me about the exact setup of The Blackout Dinner?
“So two years ago on a Friday night, I think it was in December, we were fully booked at 7 o’clock at night, full restaurant, all the power on the whole island out here, went out. So I was like ‘okay, everyone relax’. So we put candles on all of the tables and I walked around to all of the tables and said: ‘Listen, this is not what you’ve paid for, so we would love to book you another table. If you’d like to stay, we’ll cook as many of the courses as we can for you without power, and you don’t have to pay for anything’. Only one table got up and left, so I was like ‘oh shit’.”
“So we ended up cooking almost the entire extended menu without power and the amount of e-mails I got back the next week from people who ate there that night saying that it was the best dining experience of their life was amazing. So it made us think: ‘Shit, why don’t we do this on purpose the next time?’. And why don’t we do it in recognition of Earth Hour, which is on the 25th of March.”
“So we said: ‘Let’s do it on purpose, let’s plan it out. Let’s have someone who comes and plays guitar and sings, so we don’t have music playing on the system. And at 5 o’clock all of the power in the restaurant gets shot off. Everything. Then we have to cook only with fire and desserts we do with liquid nitrogen. It’s really challenging but it’s also an amazing thing to be a part of.”
“Last year we did it with James Lowe from Lyle’s, James Knappett from Kitchen Table and Dan Burns from New York. And this year we’re doing it with Doug McMasters from Silo in Brighton, we’re doing it with Atsushi Tanaka from AT in Paris, and Christian Puglisi (Relæ) is doing it with us this year. They get in on Sunday, we’ll have dinner on Sunday night, Monday we’ll spend the day at the restaurant, going over all of the products that we have available, then Tuesday we’ll do mise en place and Wednesday we’ll do the dinner.”
We ended up in a more existential discussion about growth as a whole.
Why is it interesting doing these events in terms of community?
“…you can easily run a restaurant from day to day and just not change anything. I love taking risks a little bit. And when you do these dinners, you are taking a risk because you’re doing something that you’ve never done before. But because the reward and the exploratory act of doing something that is out of your comfort zone, is the only way you’re going progress ever as a restaurant.”
“There’s so many restaurants that get to a certain point where they’re successful and they don’t want to change anything because they don’t want to mess up. But if you work like that you’re never going to find new ways, better ways, more interesting ways of doing things. And for me, a restaurant is something that is very much alive. And you need to keep feeding it new ideas and new ways of doing things, or else it kind of dies and becomes irrelevant.”
“And doing these community things - if you think about what a restaurant is, it is an extremely materialistic thing. And people come, they eat food, they get drunk and they leave. What is the long term effect of that on anything? There’s none. A restaurant also needs to be a catalyst of doing things for the community and bringing people together and having an impact on the environment, which is much bigger than what exists in the restaurant.”
And that indeed is what Amass strives to embody with this new way of doing collaborative dinners; Constantly evolving of the concept and challenging the status quo. Whether or not this will change the face of collaborative dinners for good is not for us to say, but we definitely value the effort and the thought behind this striving towards bettering yourself, your restaurant and your community. And we will for sure see you at Amass for the next collab.