Rains Journal Issue Seven - The Secret Garden

April 20, 2016

Matthew Orlando & Restaurant Amass

Words & Interview: Pernille Bøgeskov
Photos: Nikolaj Thaning

In July 2013 restaurant Amass opened its doors for the first time, presenting a unique take on Nordic cuisine and the way of producing and working with food. The restaurant is located at Refshaleøen, a rare and alluring area of Copenhagen, with an outstanding ocean view. Amass was founded by Matthew Orlando, who has a very impressing resume working at some of the best restaurants in the world. Latest Matthew worked as Chef de Cuisine at Noma before he decided to open his own restaurant. Today Amass is known worldwide and is one of the most desirable restaurants in Copenhagen. Matthew is originally from San Diego. The thing he misses the most from home is Mexican food. If he had one last meal left on this planet, it would be Mexican food served from his favorite taco shop in Ensenada, Mexico. The one thing he doesn’t understand from the Danish food culture is ketchup on spaghetti, he doesn’t like it and just can not figure out why it is so popular in Denmark. We met with Matthew to talk about his secrets behind the success that is Amass.

Do you bring any of your favorite Mexican food into Amass?
We actually did a dish last year, which I think I did unconsciously. It was a poached egg in a combination with 60 pieces of corn, which was cooked in water for 4 hours – it was at least 40 liters reduced to one liter, so it was really intense, and it was made with this black pepper oil. I had some friends from Mexico eating at the restaurant and they where like “this is like a Mexican tamale in a bowl, like a soup tamale!”. So it comes out once in a while when I least expect it.

So you love Mexican food, but do you have something you eat at night when no one else sees you? A guilty pleasure?
Well I have something, and it is really kind of embarrassing, and Danes don’t understand this, but I love peanut butter. Peanut butter and honey, right out of the jar, wow.

Mexican food and peanut butter – does the Danish kitchen influence you as well?
I have been working in Denmark for the longest time in my career, I think it is 7 years now in total, so of course I have a lot of influence from Denmark, but also from the other restaurants I have been working at. I think it is my take on Nordic food. I actually believe we will experience a lot more like this, and maybe even witness the next evolution of Nordic food, where we start to see a lot more influence from the outside – using the same ingredients, but approaching them in different ways, which people have learned in other parts of the world.

Was it a deliberate choice for you to open your restaurant in Copenhagen?
Yes. I have worked all over the world and everywhere else the restaurants are fighting each other for the best waiters and guests. It's kind of a hostile competition. One of the first things I noticed when I came to Denmark was that everyone works together, especially here in Copenhagen. The common goal is to promote the city and each other and to create an attention to the city. No one can promote a city alone and no one would visit a city just for one restaurant – well, except for Noma (smiling, red.)
This was actually one of the driving forces that made me come back. Also the products here are amazing in Denmark. It is a very short season for the vegetables, but when they are here they are just amazing. The short season is different and challenging and it really makes you explore this one ingredient that you become obsessed with, and you start to come up with all these different ways to cook a beetroot. You hate the beetroot and love the beetroot at the same time.

You grow beetroots, vegetables and herbs in the garden outside the restaurant, is this place something that has a special meaning for you?
For me the garden is such an oasis. I am often out here on Sundays and Mondays when the restaurant is closed. Even if I don’t have anything to do, I just come out here and sit in the garden having a cup of coffee by my self and just relaxing. It is so nice.

Is this always where you go to relax or do you have a secret hiding place?
There are those secret trails at Christiania, like up behind the houses, it is so peaceful there – I was just there yesterday actually. You have the look over the lakes and it is really nice and relaxing. It is the perfect place to go and escape the everyday life, it is like you go there and you go to another country almost. Another get way for me is snowboarding. When I was younger, around 18-20 years old, I used to be sponsored for snowboarding and it has always been a great passion of mine. I take at least two or three trips a year. Snowboarding clears my mind much more that anything else I do. If I for example go running I am always thinking about the restaurant, getting new ideas, but when I go snowboarding it is a completely shut off and it feels so amazing.

Is there a special person in your life, who has inspired you or changed you in a way?
I worked for a chef in San Diego, Francis Perrot, and he has by far influenced me the most, not just in cooking, but in life. Francis always said to me “food is life and life is food, and you have to make both coexist together”. You have to respect both. Of course you can get involved in cooking as much as you want, but you have to also respect that there is a life going on around you, and you have to try and find that balance. I mean, I worked here around 90 hours a week and I loved it, but for me it has made me realize that there are other important things in life.

With this restaurant being your dream, have you achieved everything you wanted or do you have another dream or goal for the future?
I have a goal. I love beer and the process of making it, this is something I would like to work with in the future. Another great passion of mine, which is also crucial for my restaurant, is the fact that I know where everything comes from. I make sure that everything you put in your mouth in this restaurant, whether it is wine or food, comes from a manufacturer we have personally visited and who I have a personal connection with. Transparency throughout the whole system is very important for us and essential for going into a partnership. I recently discovered that there is no transparency in the micro brew industry at all, as far as I know. So I would really love to start something, whether it is a brewery or something else, which can wake the beer industry and make them realize that they are 30 years behind. Today it is important for people to know where things come from and this is really something I would like to promote by leading the way.

The following is four selected dishes Matthew is exceptionally proud of at Amass.

Chewy Beet Roots, Sour Curd, Caramelized Yogurt and Mugwort.

Grilled Mackerel, Burnt Citrus, Fresh Peas, and Nasturtiums.

Young Onions, Fermented Cep Mushrooms, Chicken Liver and Pickled Rose Petals.

Dried Tomatoes, Lemon Cucumber, Lime Basil, Broth of Grilled Fennel and Cherries.