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In 1969, a Scottish businessman spent several weeks travelling around the island resorts of the South Pacific and the Caribbean and came home with an idea for a restaurant.
He called it The Touch of Tahiti and billed it as Glasgow’s only Polynesian restaurant.
By all accounts, it was unlike anything the city had ever seen.
There was floor-to-ceiling bamboo, dishes such as “chicken in banana and sherry sauce”, and a talking parrot that greeted diners upon arrival.
And in case that wasn’t enticing enough, the restaurant ran an ad in the local newspaper highlighting — and I quote — “the presence of Tahitian-clad girls who will be pleased to wait on you”.
Well, I think we can all agree the last bit hasn’t aged too well.
But nor has The Touch of Tahiti.
Indeed, Glasgow’s first Polynesian restaurant is long gone — along with its talking parrot and dubiously clad wait staff.
Who knows what caused its closure.
But as the American chef Bobby Flay once said — “everybody at some point in time has thought to themselves, 'I have a really great idea for a restaurant.’”
The subtext being that not all of them are necessarily good ones.
+++ THE RECIPE INTRO MUSIC +++
I’m James Clasper, this is The Recipe, and in this episode we’re going to be talking about restaurant concepts. Because if there is a recipe for culinary success, then it surely begins with having a good idea.
For some, that might mean spotting a gap in the market. For others, it could be about doing things differently. And for others still, it might be about completely ignoring what everyone else is doing.
So, in this episode, we’re going to hear the origin story of three distinct restaurants. We’ll find out what inspired them, what makes them different, and what’s on the menu and why.
Coming up, we’ll hear about a novel approach to standing out in a saturated market. And we’ll resume our conversation with the Michelin-starred chef Jonathan Tam and talk about the sources of inspiration for his new restaurant.
But first we’re heading to Cadence, an all-day eatery in the Carlsberg district of Copenhagen. Like its sister restaurant, The Sixteen Twelve, Cadence is the brainchild of Rhys Howell-Morgan, a restaurateur from Wales, and André Rossi, a management consultant from Australia. To understand why André traded KPIs for KPs, I met him for coffee at Cadence recently and began by asking him how he ended up opening a brunch restaurant in Copenhagen.
André Rossi: My journey started on the weekends in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. We would go to a place called the Gypsy Hideout, in Northcote, and that was what I would consider the first kind of hipster cafe in Melbourne. They used to have this extreme focus on coffee and used some locally roasted coffee. They had some chefs there that had a bit of a — I would call it a Middle Eastern twist on the dishes — and they did classic brunch dishes, but with that Middle Eastern flavour to them, and it was just different. And I think that it really caught on with the counterculture there and a lot of young people started to go there and it turned into this thing where every weekend you would go to a different place and just see what their take on brunch was. We were totally into that and we’d love just sitting around having a chat with mates and having a cup of coffee, and brunch is obviously a big part of that. Coming to Denmark and seeing that things are different in the brunch scene and having this gap in the social part of our lives, it was an obvious thing for me, that there's this thing that I used to do and love and I can't do that here in the same way and maybe there's something there. But really when things started to kick off was when I went to Danish school. Just soon after we came here, I met a couple of guys there who were musicians and I'm also a musician, I play the drums, and we became good mates. And one of the guys was Rhys. He’s a fantastic singer, but he has also owned cafes over in Cardiff, Wales. So we'd always joke about starting a place and how cool would it be and “I've got a great idea, it can be different” and, “Oh, you know, I know how to run the place”. And it was kind of joking to begin with, but then at some point, we kind of realised we could actually do this. We looked just for fun for some spots and found a really nice salad bar and the price was right and, you know, everything kind of aligned for us and we thought, you know what, let's give it a go; if it doesn't work, fine, we tried it. And we got to work building The Sixteen Twelve and tearing that salad bar apart, moving the kitchen, plumbing, wiring everything, and turning it into a cafe. To begin with, it was obviously a slow start the first few weeks, but then Politiken came by and gave us a nice review and it took off from there. And that's when we started kind of realising that, “Hey, this concept actually has some legs.” And the idea is really not rocket science. It's just that, in my experience, brunch is something that is really centred around the social aspect of daytime dining. So you go out on the weekends to have coffee with your friends and there's food there, of course. It's not the main event, but it's part of the whole experience and Danish brunch has had a format for a while, with the scrambled eggs and the fruit and the bread and whatever else, all on the same plate. And then that's kind of evolved into what it is today, which is essentially the same kind of ingredients, but you can tick a box and choose what you want, so it's kind of a choose-your-own-adventure, which is great and works for a lot of people. But, in our minds, it’s lacking… if you look at what's happened to restaurants in the last 10 years, there's been a lot of innovation about what a restaurant can be. Ten to 15 years, with Noma and Geranium and Alchemist and all these guys just really pushing the envelope and what that experience can look like. At the same time, coffee roasteries have had their own little revolution here in Copenhagen, especially Coffee Collective and Prolog, and there are a number of other smaller roasteries around. This third-wave coffee scene has really taken off here. But, for us, the same thing hadn't really happened in brunch. And what we try to do is take the best parts of both of those and infuse them into what we do, which is brunch. So it is an experience focus. It is chef-made and -designed dishes that play into that experience. It is third-wave coffee, extremely high-quality coffee, and then a high focus on craft, in making the coffee, and doing that in a space that is different and inviting and inspiring and casual at the same time. So all these factors need to play into it. It's a different take on the same thing that really tries to push it in a different direction.
James: You also describe yourself as a health-forward restaurant. Can you describe what that means, a modern, health-forward restaurant?
André: So the health-forward thing comes in especially and specifically with fermentation in mind. When we were going through the journey of developing The Sixteen Twelve, we met a number of people that really inspired us about the possibilities of fermentation and coincidentally, at the same time, both Rhys and I had people in our lives that were struggling with gut health and we found that fermentation was really something that helps that, consistently. So we thought, “Okay, we have to figure out a way to get this into what we're doing because it unlocks so much for us." Fermentation is kind of a key to unlocking nutrition, to unlocking flavour, to transforming ingredients into something that they aren't by just cooking them. So it's raw, it's live, it's unpasteurised, it's good gut health. There’s great stuff in there and we try to incorporate that into every dish. So the health-forward part is really about the integration of the fermented elements with more traditional brunch dishes. But we try to innovate the whole dish or at least do something a little bit different with it. So we make basically everything ourselves. I'd be hard-pressed to name something that we don't make in-house. We want to control in a lot of ways what goes into the dishes, because the purity of the ingredients, the sourcing, where it comes from, and how the fermentation plays into that is hugely important to us. Because, like I said, with unlocking flavour, if you mask that with something else that's unnatural or that you can't control, it kind of messes up the whole balance of the dish. So we want people to be able to come here and have something that benefits them health-wise. But, look, we're all human, if we go out on a Saturday night and we're feeling a bit rotten on a Sunday and want to come and just have a dirty French toast or an Eggs Benedict, you can have that too and it's bloody delicious, but it's not the most unhealthy version of that you could have. There are still probiotics in there with the coconut yoghurt. The Hollandaise in the Benedict has miso and apple cider vinegar that we also make here. So there are always ways to add flavour and enhance dishes that are typically not considered healthy options, in a way that actually improves the flavour and improves the benefit to you, aside from just being delicious.
James: There are also some dishes on the menu that are familiar to people, but you seem to put your twist on it. So smashed avocado by being a good example of that.
André: I mean, the smashed avocado is pretty much a staple in Melbourne. Every place has a version of the smashed avocado, so we knew we had to have something like that on the dish. There's a lot of fattiness in the avocado and the egg. And we wanted to cut through that somehow in a different way. And the acidity is where we felt that there was an opportunity to do something. So we developed a fermented hot sauce. It's a tomato hot sauce that we ferment and that goes onto the bread. And the avocado has apple cider vinegar that we make here as well. And then we put on some goat cheese for a bit more fat and it also has a really nice flavour to it. But on top, we decided to put a turmeric egg. So it's an egg that’s cooked at 63 degrees, so it's got a very nice gooey consistency. And then it’s pickled in a brine of turmeric and some other secret ingredients. So there's something in all the layers of that dish that have fermented elements in it. And I think for us, it’s a really well-balanced dish because the acidity really cuts through it in an interesting way. It's not just throwing some lemon juice on avocado and calling it a day.
James: Every time I come here, I feel I'm transported away from Copenhagen. I mean, was it rooted in your experience back in Melbourne? Were you trying to kind of replicate that or were there other influences that came into play in how you create this vibe? What are the sort of things that you've done here to create this vibe?
André: It’s about balancing a restaurant-style experience with the nature of brunch, which is extremely casual. It's extremely social. It can’t be too formal. It can't be too strict in how you do things and where you sit. So we looked at creating zones in the restaurant. We have casual seating, we have more formal seating. It's all open, though. So it's like part of one space and it's more of an intuitive design, so people will just intuitively know where they want to sit, based on how they're feeling. I want to feel like I can just come here and have a chat with my mates, not feel pressured to do or be or feel anything, just enjoy my time and then leave, and that's kind of what we're here for. I always think of myself as an outsider to the industry. But, at the same time, I think of myself as the apex customer in a lot of ways, right? Because, you know, all I'm chasing is that experience. I’d be happy coming here every day, sitting down and just having a coffee and if I feel comfortable in the space, I’ve accomplished what I came here for, in some ways. So, in terms of the style inspiration, of course, there's a lot of inspiration from cafes back in Melbourne. We wanted a lot of greenery. We wanted a lot of light. Obviously, we’ve got huge windows here. The vibe also — like, how the staff are, you know? How do you create a restaurant experience that’s also super casual? And how do you make people feel really comfortable but also like they're being taken care of by a professional? And so we have this term that we use called “casually awesome”, which is this way of saying we do things to the highest standard that we can, but we do it in a way that makes it seem like we don’t really know that we're doing that. It's very casual. It's very aloof in some ways, but we really focus on what parts of the experience matter and what parts we can kind of disarm people, and balancing those is what we've spent a lot of time thinking about.
James: I’m really interested in two things you just said. One, you reminded me that you an outsider to the industry and two, you said, you're kind of like the apex customer. So are there benefits to being an outsider working in the industry? Are there challenges as well? How how does it sit with you coming into the industry, without years and years of experience but yet with years of experience in management consulting and in thinking about branding and in thinking about identity and about what is a great customer experience? How do you see those two competing elements to your background?
André: Good question. I think a big part of it is Rhys. He and I play off each other really well, in the sense that he has industry experience and has done this before. So operationally, we split things, based on our strengths. From my perspective, it's got its advantages, obviously, not being from the industry, and seeing things as an outsider has really allowed me to see that there’s an opportunity here to bring something new to the market. So it’s allowed me to be more objective about how we do things and do something really different without really trying to do something different. It's just doing what I know in some ways, or trying to do something I'm chasing after, that I'm missing in my life. So I really see it as solving a personal problem, in a lot of ways. It's also allowed me to bring myself out of the complexities of opening and running a restaurant and really focusing on: What’s the brand? What is the concept behind it that people can really engage with and the emotional side of it? How do all these things fit together? How does the menu reflect that? How does the whole package work together?
James: What, as an outsider coming into the industry, has surprised you the most, or what have you found most interesting or challenging about the industry that you just didn't know, even as a customer who spent a lot of time in restaurants?
André: One thing that I'm really focusing on now and realising a lot is that this is a people business. It's just about people. It's about obviously creating an amazing guest experience. Every individual that walks through the door needs to feel like this is for them, but also on the other side, staff are by far the biggest asset of any restaurant and, you know, any business really, in a lot of ways. But it's really opened my eyes to the fact that, if you find the right people and you give them the right environment and give them the right incentives and help them be the best version of themselves, they will give you back tenfold what you put in, right? So it's really opened my eyes to the value of people.
That was André Rossi, one of the co-founders of the Copenhagen restaurants Cadence and The Sixteen Twelve. And if you want to hear more about their philosophy of “casual awesomeness”, then head over to our website, superbexperience dot com, where you’ll find an interview with Cadence’s general manager Ewa Janowska, the latest in our profile series The Specials.
Now, while André knew exactly what kind of restaurant he wanted to open, our next guest has a very different kind of story to tell. In the previous episode, we met Jonathan Tam, who decided to launch his own restaurant in early 2021, following the closure of Relæ, the Michelin-starred restaurant that he’d worked at for 10 years.
If we didn’t spend much time talking about what was going to be on the menu at JATAK, well, there was a good reason for that. You see, Jonathan hadn’t decided what kind of food he wanted to serve — or at least, he wasn’t yet willing to put a label on it. That’s not to say there weren’t several factors pushing or pulling him in various directions — and you’ll hear Jonathan talking them in a second or two. But when I met him at a café in Copenhagen last month, I began by asking him whether his thinking about the kind of food he’d be serving at JATAK had changed over time.
Jonathan Tam: Oh, definitely. It's completely changed because we're doing this project by ourselves. So that is also something we talked about going in, thinking of the operation. You also have to think about what is your capital, what is actually manageable for us. So, you know, we found a really small space. At first, the idea was to keep it pretty much as it was. One of my favourite places is P. Franco, in London. It’s this great wine bar and they always have these rotating chefs. He or she just has two induction burners, the chef that ends up getting to cook, and they're just making great food and the place is always packed. And that was kind of my mindset going into this project. I was just imagining me keeping everything as is, just a place for me to cook and maybe if we're successful in a few years, we'll get to turn it into a restaurant we imagine it could become. Now we've been building for eight months, that's just to let people know how much has evolved. It's crazy to look back at what we were thinking when we first stepped in.
James: So to what extent can you describe what the new restaurant will be like?
Jonathan: It used to be a small cocktail bar and we decided to turn it into a restaurant and it doesn't have a walk-in fridge, I won't be able to fit 10 chefs in there, we're only going to be around 26 seats. Some chefs, they see that as a negative thing but I've learned that having limits is what sparks creativity. It makes you think of ways to be efficient and makes you think of how to get the most of something. I want it to be a place that is really fun. Fun for the guests, but also for me to cook, you know? Because I love to be creative, I love to develop new ideas. But I also like, when my chef friends come, to just cook something that is really tasty and simple. We're trying to have it give us space to do a more creative menu and then there's another part of it where it's going to be more like simple casual food, but we're having it be within one space and within one team. The actual menu and the cuisine, that’s still a thing I'm leaving until my team and myself is in the kitchen. That's just the way I am as a chef. I'm not the type that sits down and draws out a dish and has these composed things and then acts on it. I'm like, “What is in my hands now? What am I feeling like?” and then build it from there. And I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it's a personal project and I'm still figuring out who I am as a chef and I want to create a space that allows me to do that.
James: Now, of course, this summer you got to go to the US and do a residency at Stone Barns. Remind me what that is and remind me how it came about and what you did with it.
Jonathan: Blue Hill at Stone Barns is Dan Barber's restaurant just outside New York, in the Hudson Valley. And it's one of those really magical places. It's like every chef's dream because they have their own farm and agriculture centre and tied with it are things from raising their own livestock to having an arts and ecology department. There’s a fermentation and preserving lab. And then you have one of the world’s best restaurants with an amazing team. But they had to pivot, so they came up with this chefs’ residency programme, where it was inviting chefs to take over the property, the team, everyone there, for a month, each chef, and use it as a way to tell their own story, to tell their own cuisine. I was given that opportunity. Dan was asking after some chefs that he thought would utilise this opportunity or who was up for the challenge and Christian [Puglisi] mentioned me, and so that's how I got the opportunity.
James: Tell me about the culinary side of your residency. What did you explore and why?
Jonathan: The theme for season two was “What do Americans eat?’” That was the overall theme, but before I was pitched that, Dan was like, “So what's your deal? What’s your story?" And my first instinct was, okay, like Relæ and Blue Hill really share the same philosophies. But then I just saw it as a chance to really do something new. I’ve been looking more and more trying to connect with my culture, with my background. I’m Cantonese and my parents were born and raised in Vietnam. Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine was what I grew up with and being away from it, I really missed it. And as I evolved as a chef, I realised how special the techniques and flavours are, and I found myself gravitating with more interest to what a chef in Chengdu or Hong Kong was doing more and more, when I was always just so excited about these pioneers within Europe or North America. The whole layout of the residency was to use all these great developments I had at Blue Hill and all these labs and resources and go into new territory. So I think they’re putting themselves out there each month, following some chef’s lead, redefining the kitchen, redefining the cuisine, changing the way they work. So I thought, okay, I have to step up to the challenge. So I wanted to use it to focus on Chinese cuisine.
James: What kind of triggered that desire to explore your heritage?
Jonathan: I have a family, I have a ten-year-old daughter, and my upbringing was very important to me, how my parents showed me the traditions and the culture of Chinese. And I thought it was going to be easy for me to implement or share it with my daughter, but I’ve been away from home for so long. Even just getting Cantonese, the language, I was having a tough time. And as I was trying to do that, I was realising how disconnected I was. And growing up in Edmonton, it's a pretty blue-collar city, and I was always trying to look outside my Chinese background to fit in. Even with my cooking career, I went to culinary school, so it was French-based and I was always excited to go to Spain or, you know, I ended up here in the Nordics in Copenhagen. So it was always just looking away from that. And as I got older and in this moment, I’m wanting to get back to it and I think for me, I can't just read into these traditions or these cultural stories. That’s not the way I function. I'm about food. So the next chapter for me, it felt if I wanted to find a way to connect with my culture, to share it with my daughter, I needed it to be in my everyday.
James: What are the dots, then, that connect the Stone Barns residency and your exploration of Cantonese, Chinese cooking, to JATAK? To what extent will it be there?
Jonathan: There have been so many things that we went into the residency [with] because I didn't cook any dish or anything that I did before. We went in there with 20, 30 experiments that I thought related to my philosophy but of course related also to Stone Barns’ philosophy, from their seed programme to their way of good farming. They have fresh-milled flour. They work with only a hundred percent wholewheat, all these amazing things. And there are also things we strive for here in Copenhagen and what I would like to do at JATAK. I think when you hear Chinese cuisine, it was a thing that’s so far away that people probably expected us to just pull in all these ingredients from abroad because that's what it's built on. But we saw it as a chance to do so it related with the property, with the region. So we kind of reverse-engineered the cuisine. We wanted to have everything come from the area. Something like soy sauce, instead of … even high-end chefs in Asia, they rely on these industrially manufactured soy sauces. They're great. Some of them have been produced for hundreds of years. But for us to do something that reflected a time and place, we had to use what was developed there. So, like hoisin or sweet flower sauce, all these things, we tasted it and found ways, creative ways, to make our own version. So if you had a dish with fish fragrance sauce, a really classic sauce in Szechuan cooking, and you had the classic recipe compared to what we used for our dish during the residency, it tasted familiar and people from that area, who were born and raised in China, it brought back these nostalgic flavours and connected it with what they grew up with, but it was made completely differently. So we really did regional Chinese cooking and I almost don't want to say it's Chinese cooking, because I really respect the cuisine and I'm not experienced in it enough to say I know it, but we were using it to explore and I felt like we developed something of our own and that’s what I hope to do here at JATAK. So there is a huge exploration and what I figured out and what we turned Hudson Valley and connected with Chinese cooking is having me come back to the Nordic region and seeing in a completely different way, where even though I worked at the greatest restaurants here, I was running a kitchen, we had our own farm, I thought I had it all figured out, I thought, of course, I can push it a little further, but I'm coming back really excited and seeing the ingredients in a new light and seeing many more possibilities with it. And that's what we're going to explore at JATAK. But it's not just going to be focused on Chinese. That's what I'm going through right now. But with JATAK, I hope there isn't going to be a title or a specific culture or cuisine linked to what we're doing. I really want when people come that they feel that it's just something they experienced there. And it’s probably going to take some years till we get to that point. But to put words on summing up the cuisine, I still can't do that. And I think that's exciting, you know? I think that's what makes a place special. I guess that is just my approach.
That was Jonathan Tam of restaurant JATAK in Copenhagen.
Now, it’s a question as old as the hills — how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace? And answering it is especially important for restaurants — not least those offering fast-casual cuisine such as pizza or burgers.
Which is what makes Copenhagen’s Pico Pizza so intriguing. Founded by Rasmus Christensen and Lars Hylby, in 2019, Pico makes smaller versions of its organic sourdough pizzas, so that diners can try different flavours.
I visited Pico recently and began by asking Rasmus to explain the concept further.
Rasmus Christensen: Pico is basically a new pizza place in Copenhagen that does pizza in a different way. We didn’t want to make a product that was just like a nice concept and hoped we could sell it. For us, it was about creating a different experience. So instead of having one big pizza, we aim towards a different experience within the food industry where you can try different flavours, high-quality pizzas, without breaking your wallet as well. It's no secret that we got inspired from sliders and that was an interesting concept, a different way of dining and going out: "sharing is caring”, having a good time with your friends is not about “this is mine and this is yours”. So we were looking into that concept and then figuring out, let’s try it with pizzas. Lars spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen trying to find different recipes and seeing if we could come up with a product that we thought was also good quality-wise because that was very important to us. He made the Sweet Cheesus, which is four different kinds of cheese in one little pizza, our best-selling pizza, with a little sprinkle of lemon pepper on top. It’s still our best-selling pizza, it’s very popular.
As you might have guessed from Rasmus’s description of Sweet Cheesus, at Pico, the pizzas have clever names inspired by their toppings. Like Legend of the Fall which comes with mushrooms and butternut squash purée. Or Rosemary’s Bacon, whose toppings include smoked bacon, deep-fried capers, and fresh rosemary.
So when co-founder Lars joined us, I asked him to explain the menu.
Lars Hylby: Our menu consists of nine pizzas. We have eight that are main pizzas and then we have one seasonal pizza. But the general dogmas for Pico were kind of rooted in our name — pizza Copenhagen — and it's very much a question of trying to represent the multi-ethnicity of the kitchen scene in Copenhagen. We have moved a bit since then, but this is where we started. We had an Asian-inspired pizza that was a banh mi. We’ve had stuffed with kimchi, which was great. It was fun, it was interesting, but we also just found out that it didn't work on pizzas in the long run, for various reasons. One thing was, let's call accessibility, from the guest’s point of view, but also from a production point of view. It can also go too weird and I think there's a fine line between keeping something fresh and new and interesting, but you also need to keep it delicious because that is just what it's all about. We would like to try to do something just a tad different, without trying to invent the new pizza, because it's hard changing perfect, at least if you do it right. Sometimes the creation of pizza can be a bit conservative, which is fine, but it’s also good to take a peek out of the box. Sometimes, at least.
James: First of all, it sounds like a lot of fun, but I’m also sure there’s a process to it all. So tell me, how do you approach menu development at Pico?
Lars: The creative process is “fail forward”. I cannot count how many bad pizzas I've made. I won't say too many because they’re the whole reason the good ones are there. I like the idea of deconstructing other dishes or deconstructing other flavour structures that you can then present in a different way. And I’m not inventing anything here. I’m just doing what everybody else is doing, but I think it’s interesting. And it’s also interesting in a pizza context, because you only have that much preparation of the food, of produce. We have one oven. That’s it. Of course, we can do a bit before, we can also prepare something and put it on afterwards. But it's a very, very limited creative space to work with compared to a regular kitchen where you can braise and cook and fry and all this stuff. We can bake. So in order to do that in a good way, it really creates a need to think in textures, in flavours, in how different things can complement each other. And, as with any other dish that works well, it's about balance. I think one of the things I find quite good about our setup, by doing three small different pizzas, the fact that they’re small gives us the opportunity to push things a bit more. If you did our Sweet Cheesus pizza as a full-size pizza and ate it all, it would be a cardiac arrest in a minute, simply because it is so rich. We’re talking four different cheeses, brown butter and lemon pepper. It's a bathtub of goodness, but if you took a full pizza in, your veins would stop working, they would just clog right away. We can have stuff or we can at least try to push the flavour profile a bit more than we would, by doing one big pizza, because it can quickly become too much.
James: Remind me what your culinary experience is.
Lars: I have no training as a chef. None at all. Like a lot of other people, I just like food. It's a fantastic medium. It’s the modern workshop. Depending on which way you go, you can quite easily go from thought to practice, so it's quick to get a result. I like that part, working with food in general. But had you asked me four years ago if I would be making pizzas for a living today? Uh, no. Wouldn’t have seen it coming, but then this came and it's interesting.
James: What were you doing?
Lars: Websites. Which is quite far from pizzas, some would say. They needed some extra help. And then they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. And I figured, sure. The dream of having a restaurant is at least something that people want to try. It’s hard work. Nothing comes easy. But it was an opportunity. I’m going to sound like a cliché, but I’d rather try it and fail than sit in 30 or 40 years thinking “what if…” So really just taking a chance. We were six people, nobody had ever made a pizza before. The odds of this going south was all over. That we are actually here today is a miracle in some ways.
James: With no training per se, where do you get ideas and inspiration from?
Lars: Research, letting myself become inspired by… this is such a cliche but the world around me. Anything from colours to produce to other restaurants, smells, sounds, all that stuff. And also what people say about stuff. Because if you can translate that into some sort of expression of food, it just makes it interesting. But it's also, of course, a question of deliberately challenging something. The creative process is also about challenging it on purpose, knowing that you will most likely fail. Mostly. But then those times it actually works out, Bob's your uncle. And I think the most important thing is to try it as quickly as possible, because normally you never hit it in the first one. So you need to know that it takes some time and you need to know that there will be a process of failing.
James: So who makes the call about what works and what should go on the menu?
Lars: It’s mostly myself because I take things away very quickly — because I can see whether it works or not. And then at some point I know, okay, this might work. This can have something to it. This might be good. And when I reach that point, it makes sense to take people further into the process. Whoever's in the house, it’s good to have their input. Because sometimes you also just work too much with the same things to actually be able to differ it or to get hold of it and then you just need to go away from it, eat something else, a piece of rye, something that has nothing to do with the taste range of pizza, in order to go back to it and see, “Okay, where was I? And what was the point of this?” I think that’s, at least creatively, one of the main things. And then it's also great to have a deadline. Because at some point you just need to make a decision. I mean, there’s no such thing as perfect. I believe in very, very good. But perfect? Nah. Pizza isn't the perfect product. Not to me. I mean, you don’t do pizza with tweezers and that kind of gourmet setup. It's probably one of maybe three perfect comfort foods that can have just an amazing taste. But, in my opinion, eating pizza with a knife and fork should be criminal. It’s stuff you do with your hands.
James: Another hot-button issue to end with. Where do you stand on pineapple on pizza?
Lars: Well, we have a Hawaiian pizza. I like it because we use fresh pineapple that is ripe, as it should be. When I was a kid growing up, we of course had pineapple pizza with canned or tinned pineapple. Never go there. Don’t go there. But to try to actually prove that you can do a pineapple pizza that works, we’re doing one with tomato, fior di latte, our ham, prosciutto cotto, ripe fresh pineapple. And then we do dry and fresh oregano. I think it works. Of course, what canned pineapple lacks is the flavour spectrum of a proper pineapple. It is super-compressed. So you don't really have any sweetness or any acidity or any of anything. But if you do it properly, you actually get this … it is sweet, it's fruit, but I think it's good. That whole policing of pineapple … come on. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, then don't eat it. It's very simple.
That was Lars Hylby of Pico Pizza, with your regular reminder that if you want to put canned pineapple on your pizza, knock yourself out.
And speaking of canned pineapple, I did some digging into the demise of The Touch of Tahiti, and discovered this titbit on a website called Urban Glasgow.
A few years ago, someone wrote on the site that the restaurant had been staffed by — and again I quote — “young ladies in grass skirts and skimpy tops serving cocktails in coconut shells and food topped with tinned pineapple rings”.
The writer noted that the Touch of Tahiti “didn’t last long as I think the tin opener broke.”
As much I’d like to think that that solves the mystery of what happened to The Touch of Tahiti, I’m going to assume it’s a cruel joke and that something else led to the untimely demise of Glasgow’s only Polynesian restaurant.
Was it a culinary concept way ahead of its time? A good idea poorly executed? Or just a bad idea from the get-go? Truth be told, it was probably something much simpler. Like bad service, bad publicity or a bad location.
And it’s the last of these probable causes that we’ll be talking about in the next episode of The Recipe.
We’ll hear from Matt Orlando about the pros and cons of his restaurant’s location.
Matt Orlando: “We came out here eight years ago and we were the only ones out here. Taxis wouldn't come out here. There'd be a dude smoking weed right in front of the window and not really caring that there were 60 people inside having dinner.”
And we’ll find out why it’s taken former Noma chef Torsten Vildgaard more than two years to find the right spot for the restaurant he wants to open.
Torsten Vildgaard: “I have activated every single broker in Copenhagen. I don't know if I'm doing something wrong or… if you could see my face, it would be like, I don’t know what to do.”
But all that’s to come, of course, on the next episode of The Recipe.
This episode was written, produced and hosted by me, James Clasper, for Superb.
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Thank you so much for joining me — and, from all of us at Superb, I’d like to wish you a very happy holidays.