Making an Asset of Food Waste and Redefining Fine Dining in the Process
Claim to fame: A boundary-pushing restaurant that uses expert technique and gorgeous, unexpected ingredients
Reason to go: Ambitious cooking that will make you reevaluate the notion of sustainability
To look out for: The fermented potato bread (they’ll bring extra if you ask), so good it has its own cult following
The restaurant industry’s usual labels—‘fine-dining’; ‘sustainable’; ‘farm-to-table’—hardly do Amass justice. At his eatery on Refshaløen, Matt Orlando goes further than almost any chef in the world to rethink what sustainability really means, embracing the practice on an even grander scale than some of the globe’s most influential restaurants. What he’s doing at Amass is entirely his own.
Orlando will be the first to admit that, when he opened Amass five years ago in a former warehouse on what used to be the city’s desolate edge, he had no clear vision of what he was doing. After stints as executive sous chef at Per Se and head chef at Noma, he had a lot of experience cooking beautiful, technically precise dishes derived from pristine local ingredients. But he knew he didn’t want a conventional fine dining restaurant and he knew he didn’t want to be cooking ‘new Nordic.’ To start with, he hired a graffiti artist who painted the walls of the vast dining room, highlighting its industrial feel, he also planted a kitchen garden on the stretch of waterfront out back. Still, it would take a lot of experimentation before he arrived at a key insight: there is no such thing as waste, there are only more ingredients.
To say that Amass takes full advantage of every part of its ingredients hardly captures the scope of this operation; everything that comes through the kitchen— from seed to peel to stem— gets fermented, cured, dried, powdered. A meal begins with a bowl of chips made from assorted vegetable trimmings, including a mushroom version so intensely earthy it’s like mainlining ceps. Thin slices of ruby red wild goose are brushed with coffee oil made with the restaurant’s used grounds. ‘Bee bread’—the pollen that bees mix with nectar and digestive juices dots a satisfyingly dense roasted carrot.
Pumpkin diced into tiny cubes, drizzled with hazelnut oil, dusted with dried kale and set afloat on a pool of briny broth is an extraordinary mix of the luscious and the bright. Delicate, sweet squid and crunchy bits of fennel are enveloped in a luxurious hollandaise saved from too much richness by an herbaceous wormwood oil. And that potato bread—its exterior grilled to a thin crust, its interior steamy and addictively chewy—is so good that guests won’t let Orlando take it off the menu. It’s the only thing that’s remained unchanged since Amass opened.
None of this is simple: A silky, hay-smoked leek dish, sprinkled with powder from dried leek tops, is served with an egg yolk the texture of candy, cooked at low temperature leaving behind whites that are partly cooked, partly raw. The cooked proteins get blended with a salt brine and koji, and are fermented for two months, resulting in a parmesan-tasting sauce that Orlando uses for seasoning. The remaining raw whites are whipped into marshmallows and lightly charred for a final petit four that tastes like an adult version of the best S’more ever.
The diner who is interested in these details—and Orlando is nothing if not detail oriented—will get the full story. But Amass’ skilled servers are adept at gauging attention spans, it is possible to step into the airy room and simply sit down to a delicious meal while taking in the customized graffiti––the mustachioed man adorning the dining room’s western wall for the past year or two is Orlando’s father at age 28.