By the end of 2017, it was announced that Norway would become host to the world’s largest underwater restaurant, Under. A unique restaurant experience never seen before in Europe. Situated on the country’s southern coast, the structure that houses the restaurant will straddle both the land and the sea.
We have met with the Danish chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard, former head chef at the acclaimed gourmet restaurant Måltid in Kristiansand, to discuss how he became part of this spectacular project and to know more about the upcoming guest experience at Under.
“At Lindesnes, in the southern part of Norway, we will give our visitors the possibility to experience a mysterious, but amazing underwater world unknown to most. We want to be your eye to the local, marine ecosystem. Hand-in-hand with Snøhetta and a few experienced local partners, will we create an iconic building with a unique gourmet restaurant.”
The structure will go down five meters into the water and will be encased in meter-thick concrete to withstand the underwater environment. In addition to being a restaurant, the submerged structure will serve as a research center for marine life. It will also act as an artificial mussel reef; the building’s coarse exterior will invite mussels to attach to it and eventually, the mollusk community will densify and become a reef over time.
Tell me about your career?
“Several years ago, when I was working at Henne Kirkeby Kro on the Danish west coast, a good friend of mine was offered a position as head chef at a restaurant in Norway. At that time I was a bit bored looking to try something new, so I decided to join him. In 2011 I started to work at Måltidin Kristiansand. My initial plan was too safe money for backpacking, but we quite quickly became successful and received great acknowledgments, which tempted me to see how far I could actually take it. I, therefore, forgot about my backpacking plans and ended up staying at Måltid for 5 years as Head Chef. In 2015 we closed Måltid. At this point, I was tired of cooking. I was I was still involved in different projects together with the owner of Boen Gård while thinking about my future career.”
How did you become part of the project?
“I started to miss cooking. I was still curious to see how far I could take it. In November 2016 I was contacted by the brothers behind the Under project, Gaute and Stig Ubostad regarding the head chef position. They contacted me based on my knowledge of the local area and my involvement in the local community. Furthermore, they were both very impressed by my cooking at Måltid. I already knew about the project. I was immediately drawn to their high level of ambitions and this spectacular project. I was so unique. I mean who gets to cook under water? We quickly realized that our high ambitions matched. One month after I signed the contract. It went pretty fast.”
How does it fell to be part of this amazing project?
“It feels truly amazing! I’ve had the opportunity to influence and put my mark on how things should be done since the very beginning. I basically designed my own kitchen – exactly as I wanted it. It’s a fantastic journey. We have had some great discussions about how it should take form and together we have made some really great decisions. Even though we open in 2019, this year I will start to collect and prepare ingredients. I simply can’t wait to get started.”
What are your ambitions for the project?
“Our ambitions are high, but most importantly our aim is to create a great and unique guest experience. We strive to keep a high level in the kitchen and desire to be acknowledged for our food on a global scale.”
Walk us through the guest experience at Under?
“It will be a truly unique and rare guest experience. You won’t find a similar dining experience elsewhere in Europe. The experience and settings will vary from season to season. The color of the sea and the visibility will change according to the season.”
“The design of the restaurant has been selected to evoke images of the sea. At the upper level of the restaurant, the color palette will reflect the coast and as the guest descends closer to the seabed, it will change to darker green and blue hues.”
“The restaurant will include three levels. Guests will enter into the wardrobe area and from there, they will be escorted down one level to the Lounge area, which is where they will officially be underwater. At the lounge, guests will start with the dining experience with a drink, glass of wine or champagne. The first snack will also be served at this level. From here, guests will be able to look down at the seabed section of the restaurant, where the main dining area is located. Tables will be situated in front of a 36-foot wide panoramic window with views into the ocean.”
“The restaurant will accommodate 40 dining guests (80-100 guests for special events). We will be serving a fixed menu with between 18-20 courses. The dishes will vary and change accordingly to the season.”
How would you describe your kitchen?
“Given our location, it is natural for us to focus on seafood. But also local specialties gathered from the woods, the garden, underwater and at the beach will be found on our particular menu. We will transform the ingredients we use into creative dishes within the local and Nordic kitchen, and give you a food experience you will never forget.”
“We are we are going to have large pools for our shellfish enabling us to pump water from 80 metes depth to provide the very right temperature and most nutritious water.”