The Future Is a Restaurant Apocalypse and I’m Armed and Ready
In 2050, chefs are going to have to change their menus and their dishes constantly, and there will be no safety net for a lack of creativity.
Today was a good day. We had beets on the menu for the first time in two years. "Beets grown in soil," read the menu. It was as if Elvis had returned to earth for an encore. As soon as the word got out on social media, a line started forming outside the restaurant.
After service, all of us chefs gathered outside in the garden, looking across the water to the flashing neon signs and skyscrapers in downtown Copenhagen. The last real chef had left the central part of town years ago; all you saw were the multinational fast food chains spewing out compressed grease and synthetic greenhouse tomatoes. Only the conglomerates could afford to live in this area and be this careless. The rest of us stood defiant here in our self-sufficient utopia, armed with compost, culinary ambition, and fermented leftovers.
When I think about what the future means for Amass and for other restaurants, these are not just far-fetched sci-fi scenes that fill me with dread. This vision could become reality and we are already preparing ourselves for it. Everything we have done since setting up our restaurant in an old abandoned industrial site in Copenhagen is essentially to prepare ourselves for this future. For 2050.
An important part of that is our location outside the city center. In the future, I believe that high-end restaurants will be forced to move out of the city. Real estate will be too expensive, and you won't be able to work in a sustainable way if you don't have space to compost, to recycle, and separate your waste. Only the fast-food places will be able to survive in urban areas because of the way the government taxes the level of food waste compared to the amount of food being served. The mid-range bistro will no longer exist. Only the fast-food industry can afford not to give a shit.
If you want to cook at a high level, you more or less have to grow all your own stuff. You won't be able to import anything because it will be too expensive. The government at this point in time will be taxing carbon emissions like crazy. And since you can't import anything, cuisine itself will become extremely localized. As chefs, we will have to embrace this. It will be fascinating, because when you travel to a certain region, you'll have a true definition of that region—not regional because it's the current zeitgeist, but regional because it's the necessity.
If you come to Denmark, you will eat food with no lemons or olive oil. Everything is going to be seasoned with vinegars. It's going to push ambitious chefs in a direction where they increasingly have to use what's around you.
Chefs in the future can no longer afford to cook the prized cuts. Gone are the days of the chateaubriand. Today, a lot of chefs are already taking this approach, championing exotic cuts, blood and guts, but as an industry as a whole, it's not the norm. The word "byproduct" will not exist in the future; it will just be another product.
Everyone knows that beef is not a viable option in the future, where it will be a luxury item only raised in a very protected way. But certain common fruits and vegetables are also going to be luxury items. Things like strawberries, even carrots and beetroots. The amount of soil that is suitable for growing could diminish in this apocalyptic future, putting even root vegetables under threat.
Chefs are going to have to change their menus and their dishes constantly, and there is no safety net for a lack of creativity. We cannot afford to import tomatoes from Spain or Holland to keep a signature dish going until autumn. People are going to have to learn that food is a scarce resource and chefs will have to learn to grow and appreciate the whole plant. Take something like celeriac: You have the root, the stalk and the leaves and you are going to use everything single thing possible.
I think about all these things—about the futuristic fast-food metropolis covered in neon lights and what we will be cooking—when I sit here in our utopian wasteland garden. The basis of what we do is that we are thinking about this now and being proactive. If we only react as chefs, then it's going to be too late. Those who have already made this pivot in their approach are the ones who are going to be ahead of the game.
One way to meet this challenge is to try and cook a menu using only what's in our garden. Of course we'd use butter and oils, but that's it. No protein, nothing else. To do a full menu only with produce out of the garden is a challenge that I look forward to. There would be carrots, sunchokes, roasted cabbage stems, braised celeriac. It would be like a culinary time machine to see what the future holds. And there might even be beets on the menu.
As told to Lars Hinnerskov Eriksen.
Matt Orlando is the chef and owner of Amass restaurant in Copenhagen. Every day this week, MUNCHIES is exploring the future of food on planet Earth, from lab-grown meat and biohacking to GMOs and the precarious state of our oceans. Find out more here.