In the small cobbled streets of The Latin Quarter of Aarhus Downtown is a fine gem of a restaurant named Gastromé. Inside the stunning kitchen, we met up with the head chef to discuss what makes a great New Year’s Eve menu, Nordic Cuisine, the importance of teamwork and what a Michelin star means for the business.
But let’s begin in the kitchen. We’re only handful weeks away from New Year’s Eve now – so it’s obvious to ask how a top chef eats on the last evening of the year?
“Especially on New Year’s Eve, we deserve a little extra. And what’s better than lobster and champagne? It’s good; it’s classic – it’s just New Year’s Eve in a nutshell for me. So that’s what I’m going for,” says William Jørgensen, who will showcase a specially made menu at the end.
He is one of two local chefs who two years ago opened a gourmet restaurant in Aarhus. The idea was to unite the gourmet rural cuisine with the raw, urban cuisine of the city and transform the countryside gastronomy from the surrounding forests to the downtown Aarhus location. So they did just that.
It didn’t take many hours for them to be noticed. Only six days after the opening night the Michelin Guide visited. This later resulted in Gastromé becoming one out of just three current restaurants with a star in Aarhus.
Jørgensen remembers the surreal experience like this:
“It was an odd feeling in a way… The first nights of service we got a really good welcome and then boom! The guide was visiting. Suddenly along with the Michelin star, there followed new expectations. That took us some time to get used to. I think we spend about a year to define who we really are. But it’s indisputable a nice recognition to get. And it gave us the possibilities to be even more experimental – which otherwise can be a little tough because people really do value white potatoes with gravy here. That can be a difficult thing to challenge,” Jørgensen says with a smile on his lips.
In a typical humbled, Danish manner William Jørgensen and his companion Søren Jakobsen don’t really display the star. Actually, it’s placed a little in the background both in the restaurant and mind. For them it’s not about glimmer and fame, it’s mainly about superb taste and a hospitable environment.
”Teamwork is everything. We want to break with the angry old-fashioned dictatorial mentality and atmosphere in the kitchen. All the screaming and throwing with pots and pans is an absolute no-go here, the same goes with the traditional rivalry between kitchen and floor. We believe that if the vibe is pleasant and our staff is enjoying working together it will spread all the way out to the guests and that the experience of coming here will be warm and uplifting,” Jørgensen says.
There is no strict dress code or etiquette either at Gastromé. Those days are gone. Come as you are is the modern message here.
For Jørgensen, the curiosity for food and dining started at a very young age. With a Danish father and English mother, he experienced the joy of going out to restaurants and being ‘spoiled’ when he was visiting his mother’s family in the southern part of England. It brings back some lovely memories of well prepared and thorough cooking, he says. That passionate ambiance has been a motivation for him all through his career as a chef and restaurateur.
”I’ve always used my childhood memories as a reference for my cuisine – and I still does. When I create a new dish or are putting together a new menu, the inspiration from memories of an old beach house in Denmark or those joyful days in south England, arises.“
Jørgensen now 40 and Jacobsen 38 met each other at a cooking school for more than 15 years ago. They immediately clicked and became mates. Little by little they realized that they also shared the same common determination for creating the perfect evening for their guests. When everything comes together in a perfect symbiosis they still feel the rush of excitement, but nowadays the responsibilities are different. Jacobsen is the head of the restaurant while Jørgensen ‘rules’ in the kitchen.
Before opening Gastromé the two companions successfully run a gourmet restaurant called “Det Gamle Mejeri” (The Old Dairy) in the southern part of Aarhus for about 10 years.
With those many years of experience in the luggage do you still get the quivering feeling of butterflies in the stomach? Well, Jørgensen still does. Not that much has changed over the years; he’s still as passionate as always.
“It feels like a new examination each day walking into the kitchen. I constantly try to develop both my staff and myself. Every little detail matters when cooking. You have to pay attention to all the minor steps in the process for you to succeed at the end. When we achieve a flawless result it’s magical. On those nights there is this special buzz around the kitchen. It reminds of why I started doing this. You can’t really compare that feeling with anything else.”
“The same feeling of success also strikes me when multiple flavors go together and raise the dish to a whole new and unexpected level. I know it may sound nerdy but I am a nerd when it comes to food. I’ll gladly admit,” says Jørgensen with a smile on his lips.
”But again this is indeed a team sport, so for me, it’s redeeming when everybody on board is lifting each other to new heights. The biggest upturn I can get is when my staff receives praise. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Nowadays it’s not only in Denmark or the other Scandinavia countries that people appreciate the rich flavors and distinct taste the Nordic Cuisine has to offer. Over the last couple of years, the phenomenon has trended all over the gastronomic world.
With Restaurant Noma as the flagship for Nordic Cuisine, the world has discovered the beauty of all the little treasures that sprouts in the Scandinavian soil.
“We will pickle and preserve, we will smoke, we will always have good seafood. Trends come and go, but if it’s good quality and the technique and products are great, people start to incorporate it in their food. The food of Scandinavia has a point of view and it has always been unique,” one Swedish top chef once said about the rise of the Nordic cuisine.
And Jørgensen doesn’t hesitate to agree. He believes that the importance of eating what’s growing in nature next to you can’t be marginalized. That’s why the vast majority of the herbs and seasonings used in the kitchen are locally grown in and around the Vilhelmsborg Forest just outside Aarhus.
”I love the taste of our local commodities. The earth taste, the fresh forest floor and the fruits of the sea are brilliant. I don’t like that Denmark exports so much of our best stuff to other countries. As an example, we export up to 80 percent of our best Norway lobsters to Italy. That’s way too much. It’s important to eat local and it’s better for nature and environment as well,” he says.
So instead of picking the goods up in Italy or elsewhere you could go there and have a taste of your own. But why is a feast at Gastromé worth traveling to Aarhus for?
”You should really come here to taste authentic Danish food with a twist. Come here to get your senses opened – come and try the earthbound, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere that we try to deliver. At Gastromé you will solely be served dishes, which are loved by the chefs personally. Every single glass of wine and beer has been carefully selected and there will always be an organic or biodynamic alternative available for you. But let me repeat myself; come for the homegrown taste,” he says.
New Year’s Eve
As promised in the beginning here is Jørgensen’s special made menu for an astonishing Scandinavia inspired New Year’s Eve’s menu.
Confit of halibut – Jerusalem artichoke – wild watercress
Langoustine – cauliflower – brown butter
French quail – chanterelle – yellow beets
Gooseberries – ymer – dill granita – white chocolate scoop