Kristian Baumann raised a hand to the vent and muttered under his breath. He reached for a paper towel and held it up to the duct; instead of being sucked against the grate, it hung limply. He watched as smoke poured from his new, state-of-the-art kitchen into the sunlit dining room, clouding the air above the handcrafted maple tables with their custom-made leather cutlery holders. It was opening night at his restaurant, and a critic from one of the leading papers was in the house. He cursed again, and called the person whose help he had hoped, at least tonight, not to need.
Baumann is the chef of 108, the more accessible sister restaurant of Copenhagen's Noma, which opened on 27 July. The 29-year-old was tapped by René Redzepi to lead Noma's first expansion. "Kristian is extremely creative, and he's a fighter," says Redzepi. "He's going to make 108 into a new classic for Copenhagen."
Dining space, 108 Copenhagen. (Photo credit: Freya Mcomish)
"Classic" is an interesting word for a city whose dining scene is barely a dozen years old. But the past few years have seen it transform at a feverish pace, and Baumann - like Redzepi - believes he has an opportunity to define what it means to be a restaurant in Copenhagen today. He's not even afraid to use the "N" word to describe it.
"It's okay to put a name on it," Baumann says. "We still believe in the Nordic manifesto. Of course, we'll use lemons - the best organic ones from Italy. But the foraging, using local farms and local ingredients - it just makes so much sense for us."
Still, he's intent on carving a distinct identity for 108, which is just a few metres from Noma. It's a goal for which he has Redzepi's support. "The idea is that a year from now," says Redzepi, "no one remembers 108 is related to Noma."
To that end, Baumann has thought carefully about each aspect of the restaurant's design. He chose the massive hand-blown bulbs that adorn the ceiling lamps, and not only found a ceramicist, named Magdalena Kaluzna, to make 108's plates and bowls, but put in a big enough order - 1500 pieces - which enabled her to get a loan and open her own studio.
108's sourdough cone with toasted barley cream. (Photo credit: Hannah Grant)
Of course, Baumann's greatest influence is in the kitchen. Bucking local practice, he has done away with the tasting menu, offering several small plates and three larger ones meant for sharing instead. The dishes themselves are beautifully crafted but relatively straightforward; on opening night they included spectacular cured mackerel luxuriating in a pool of gooseberry and spruce oil, and a smoky-sweet monkfish that came to the table looking as though it had been lacquered. "It's okay to do something comforting, as long as it's delicious," he says. "You don't have to challenge people all the time."
Of course, monkfish glazed in reduced bread miso - made from bread fermented with koji - and prepared with smoked butter is hardly mac 'n' cheese; and just as Baumann has his own creative take on what counts as comfort food, so too is he intent on forging his own leadership style in the kitchen. Hints of that style were on display earlier that day when, though there were only five hours until 108's first customers walked in the door, Baumann was calmly cleaning leaves from a heap of Chinese malva and complimenting the cook standing over five pans of boiling milk for his ability to make 110 delicate milk skins in a mere five hours. He acknowledged the pressure that came from having such a high-profile restaurant like Noma behind him, but he also thrived on the possibilities. "It's the same as how I feel before Thai boxing training," he says. "Nervous, but good nervous."
Or at least it was good until the ventilation went out minutes into his very first service. About half an hour in, after Baumann had repeatedly restarted the system to no avail, Redzepi stepped into the kitchen. He stood there, hands on hips, for a few minutes, watching the ventilation not work, then turned and disappeared.
A few minutes later, Stu Stalker and Ben Ing (Noma's sous-chef and head chef, respectively) bustled into the kitchen, shovels in hand. With the solemn efficiency of gravediggers, they scooped up the flaming charcoal from the grill station, dumped it in pans, and carried it outdoors. R&D chefs set up Weber grills, pulled pallets into an impromptu workstation, and helped with the cooking.
Dining space, 108 Copenhagen. (Photo credit: Freya Mcomish)**
Inside, the diners were none the wiser that the upper echelons of Noma had swooped in to save their meal. The smoke cleared, and Baumann resumed his quiet, careful oversight of the kitchen. The burnished lamb shoulder, the caramelised milk skin piled with pork belly and a meadow's worth of wildflowers; the gorgeous salad of marinated cos stems and marigold petals went out to a dining room buzzing with convivial enjoyment.
In the two weeks that followed, Baumann and the rest of the staff would move closer to establishing 108's distinct identity. The café would get a lot of attention for baker Britt TK's gorgeous beef garum pastries; the first reviews - overwhelmingly positive - would go up; and, yes, the ventilation was fixed. But the night in which a certain culinary Swat team saved the day would remind Baumann of how lucky he was. "The thing I really learned from René," he says. "is that we can do anything."
108 Copenhagen, Strandgade 108, Copenhagen, Denmark, restaurant open Wed-Sun 5pm to midnight; The Corner café open Mon-Tues 7am-8pm, Wed-Fri 7am-midnight, Sat-Sun 9am to midnight. 108.dk