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Christian Puglisi Is Closing His Influential Copenhagen Restaurants. COVID Is Only Partly to Blame



Two weeks ago, Copenhagen’s food scene was hit by major news: Noma’s sibling restaurant, the Michelin-starred 108, announced it would cease operations at the end of September due to the coronavirus pandemic. And last Friday, trailblazing chef and restaurateur Christian Puglisi added even more turmoil to the city’s restaurant industry when he announced that his two flagship restaurants, Relæ and Manfreds, will close by the end of the year. Their final services will take place December 19.

Along with Noma chef René Redzepi, Puglisi is a groundbreaking chef of new Nordic Cuisine, which turned Copenhagen into one of the world’s greatest dining destinations. These days, being a “Noma alum doing your own thing” is almost a cliche, but Puglisi was the first when he opened Relæ in 2010 in the residential neighborhood of Nørrebro. With his 100 percent organic menu, featuring dishes like sheep’s milk yogurt with beets and black currants, he became a trendsetter in a city known for setting dining trends. And when he opened Relæ’s follow-up Manfreds later the same year, Puglisi broke more rules by serving family-style plates and natural wines at what was ostensibly a high-level, fine dining restaurant.

Puglisi’s restaurants are less exalted than Noma on the international stage, but his approach to hyper-seasonal, organic cuisine influenced a generation of Copenhagen restaurants, and the closing of his first two restaurants signifies an end to a certain era of avant-garde defiance in the local food scene, even as it embraces other Puglisi influenced. (Puglisi’s three other restaurants — the bakery and restaurant Mirabelle; vermouth and snacks bar Rudo; and Bæst, an Italian restaurant with award-winning pizza — will remain open.) Eater spoke to Puglisi about how coronavirus factored into his decision — “of course my decision has to do with the pandemic,” he says, “but not for the evident reason that people would think” — and what the closing of Manfreds and Relæ mean for the current moment in Copenhagen, where diners are returning to fill tables, keeping some restaurants fully booked more than two weeks in advance.

Eater: Why did you decide to close Relæ and Manfreds?

Christian Puglisi: I like to see restaurant years like dog years. In this analogy, each year represents seven years in this industry — because they are very intense ones. In the first years, [the restaurant is] like a child; you really need to take care of raising it and shaping its character. But as it evolves, it grows without the need of your constant surveillance. And when your kids grow up, someday they move out. Of course, it’s sad, but it’s also the most beautiful thing.

Could I do more at the restaurants? Of course. But should I do more, do I have to? I don’t think so. Their evolution has been going on for longer than I ever expected, and I am very proud of it. Their time has come. We all have these big fears: What will I do, what are people going to think? But if you [consider] that people won’t probably give a shit in 50 years, it becomes so much easier.

Is it related to the novel coronavirus pandemic?

The first two weeks of lockdown were extremely emotional to me. I kept thinking, “Wow, tomorrow everything can be gone.” It gave me an absolutely liberating sensation that I could do things I would generally be afraid of. Closing the restaurants was one of them. I realized that I’ve been thinking about this for at least the last three years. It somehow started with the process of telling Jon [Jonathan Tam, Relæ’s cook since the restaurant’s opening] he would be head chef, so I could free myself from the day-to-day activities, focus on the farm and the idea of creating more synergies that seemed more exciting for me at the time. But still, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t had a little bit of a guilty conscience for not being there, and that’s absurd.

Because of the lockdown, I realized that I could do this. If I was going to have to rebuild my life in this industry — and we all had an opportunity to do this — I didn’t want to rebuild it 100 percent like the life that I had before.

What does closing the two restaurants mean for the restaurant group as a whole?

We will focus on Bæst, Mirabelle, and Rudo. I’m going to spend more time on them and the farm. I realized that what I didn’t enjoy doing was drawing up projects, starting the project, and overseeing them rather than having a direct influence. When you have over 120 employees, this is hard. If you want to manage a big company, you probably need to spend the whole of your time managing a big company. You’re not free to do those [other] things unless you want to work 120 hours a week, which I find hard to convince myself to do. I was tired of spending my evenings trying to understand the next day. Now it feels like I can just go to work.

In recent years, you have publicly criticized the industry, especially in relation to the awards and rankings that have come to dominate it. How has this industry upset you?

I think that the way we have defined success in this industry has been upsetting because it plays on incredibly subjective things. The output of a restaurant cannot be defined in numbers or data like a game. It is based on the interaction between the sender and the receiver. It goes both ways. When you go to a restaurant, you are as much responsible for having a good experience as the restaurant is for providing it. That’s how I see it.

It can never become mathematics, because those values aren’t fixed or established. This deadly cocktail to me consists of mixing the most complicated thing — that is, the restaurant experience — with something that is hugely defined, which is sports and competition. If you run 100 meters, it’s obvious [how everyone ranks]. The team who won the league is the team who won the final game. But restaurants are not about this. Mixing those two ideas is completely fucking lunatic, and [this is what’s done by] the Michelin stars, the 50 Best. In general, this is reviewing that wants to create a sport from it, that wants people to participate without knowing how to win. The rules are defined day by day by people with subjective points of view.

But it is good to have recognition, isn’t it? Relæ, for example, was recognized by both Michelin and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

There’s an incredible embodied narcissism in this industry that is extremely difficult to deal with. It’s extremely difficult because it’s tempting. We all have our egos, we all have an element of narcissism… We live in a world where recognition is as volatile as anything. And you have to understand that it’s not only a problem if people don’t like what you do, it’s also a problem when people really like what you do, because it fucks with you.

That’s why I’m really proud of what Relæ has always been, I said fuck everything. In the very beginning, I was extremely anti-everything. I didn’t want to have a Michelin star because I thought it was not the kind of restaurant we wanted to be. But then we did get a Michelin star. And I was crying from joy because this recognition was not based on me wanting to get a Michelin star and achieving it; it was being recognized for doing what I wanted to do.

The most important thing you can do when you’re in the 50 Best is enjoy it, because it’s not going to last. I saw many ambitious people [commit to] big investments to be on the list, only to fall 20 spots and lose everything. How can you let yourself be defined by 700, 900 people who [judge]? I think that is something this industry makes you look away from. It pulls you in with these ideas that you are a superstar because you’re cooking food.

What does the end of Relæ and Manfreds mean for this era of Copenhagen dining?

I think that, in all humility, Relæ and Manfreds will still live in the restaurants that keep coming to the city; I’ve seen the impact that they have caused on other local restaurants. Manfreds has had a significant impact compared to what people [originally thought] of food in this city: food to share, casual setting, vegetable-based dishes, the iconic tartare… they are everywhere [now], and I mean it. Two, three years ago, I would see this in restaurants, and I would be pissed off because they were my competition. But now — and I just literally realized it as I was telling the staff that we were closing — it struck me that I will go from being annoyed when I see these things, or from being in a situation where I feel that they’re taking something from us, to understanding when many say that when people copy what you do it’s a compliment. This is something that makes me proud.

On another level, I’m pleased by the many people who have worked for me and who will take these references and put their blend into it. And that’s also what I hope for the actual restaurant, since we have not decided what to do with those buildings. Either we will sell it to someone interested in buying it, or go into some business scenario where I’m just silently investing in some young talent that wants to bring it forward. That would be a good next chapter.

Rafael Tonon is a journalist and food writer living between Brazil and Portugal.


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The Eater Guide on How to Help During the Crisis



Not all that long ago it seemed like if the pandemic weren’t exactly over by now, then at least the worst of it would be. But the summer didn’t make things any simpler. Cases continued to spread, and fires and hurricanes ravaged the West and Gulf Coast. As the weather turned colder, more states began allowing indoor activities and face-to-face school. As a result, the virus appears to be surging once more. It is increasingly clear that not only will thousands more Americans likely die as a direct result of COVID-19 by the end of 2020, but the mass misery of the economic devastation it has unleashed — suffering disproportionately endured by Black and Latinx communities — will not lift anytime soon. 

Benefits like the federal $600 a week unemployment expansion ran out or contracted for more than 25 million Americans in July and the federal government has failed to agree on the terms of a new aid package. Organizations that provide food and housing assistance to low-income people across the country, already strained by the last several months of the pandemic and the government’s appallingly incompetent — and at times malevolent — response, are scrambling to meet a tidal wave of need. As roughly 40 percent of restaurants on the brink of closing forever, programs that aid people in the food industry are also seeking further support so they can continue to provide assistance to worker who remain unemployed or underemployed. Groups representing Indigenous communities, undocumented immigrants, farmworkers, and people of color are also mobilizing to get assistance to marginalized people and lay a foundation for a more resilient food system — because while it’s an extraordinary time of need, it’s also not new. 

Hunger and poverty have always been the U.S.’s most shameful open secrets. Despite being the wealthiest country in the world, as of 2018 more than 13 percent of people in the U.S. lived below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau, while a full 78 percent of U.S. workers lived paycheck to paycheck. The pandemic and its economic fallout have put those statistics into ever starker relief, as the nation’s working class and its poorest residents have faced the largest health burden from the virus. Several studies have estimated that pandemic-related job losses and increased food costs have roughly doubled food insecurity in the U.S., and No Kid Hungry estimates that one quarter of children around the country could face food insecurity in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. 

In this guide, Eater has identified a range of programs, organizations, and charities fighting hunger, developing sustainable food networks, and providing support to the roughly 31 million people who are unemployed or are working less than they’d like to be due to this global medical disaster. These are places that are stepping in to do work in their communities where governments and elected officials have left people behind. Collected here are opportunities for giving and volunteering in and around the United States and its territories, at both the national and the local level, as well as in the U.K. Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organization you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. If you’ve chosen a group and aren’t sure what’s the best way to help, it’s worth reaching out and asking.


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Trump Teases an ‘EPIC’ Election Night Party at His D.C. Hotel Despite Capacity Limits



Despite D.C.’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, President Donald Trump’s campaign has teased plans to host a party for election night on Tuesday, November 3, at the Trump International Hotel downtown. Fundraising emails from Donald Trump Jr. include details on a “sweepstakes” to fly a supporter to D.C. for a party described in all-caps as “EPIC,” “ELECTRIC,” and “INCREDIBLE.”

Under D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening restrictions, mass gatherings are capped at a maximum capacity of 50 people. Restaurants are still limited to half-capacity seating with no standing and no countertop service from bartenders. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wasn’t aware of plans for the party until Monday, October 26, Washingtonian reports.

The location of the election night party is unclear, but the opulent hotel has multiple ballrooms and event spaces. The hotel includes a location of celebrity chef David Burke’s BLT Prime steakhouse. Lobby-level bar Benjamin serves $23 glasses of sangria and $120 seafood towers. Nearby, more affordable pub Harry’s has already seen pro-Trump crowds openly flouting mask requirements and other protocols meant to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. After he survived a case, Trump told Americans, “Don’t let it dominate your life.”

On election night four years ago, the recently opened hotel was the site of an impromptu and raucous gathering for supporters watching the numbers roll in on large TVs framing its gold bar. The controversial Pennsylvania Avenue hotel near the White House has been sold out for weeks on and around Election Day at rates going for $1,200 a night, the Associated Press reports.

The fine print in the sweepstakes notes the campaign can move the date of the trip and the location of the hotel stay at its discretion. The prize also includes a photo op with Trump. The supposedly randomly chosen winner, who is subject to a background check, will be responsible for all ground transportation, meals, and all other expenses during the duration of the trip.


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Eater Staffers Pick Their Favorite Instant Pot Recipes



Now that we are over the sourdough-and-regrowing-scallions part of the pandemic, but in no way over the actual pandemic, we must prepare for The Hunkering. Every winter is a time for stews, roasts, and hearty pasta bakes, but this winter it feels extra important, both because most of us are going to be indoors way more than any previous season, and have completely lost the energy to do anything but throw a bunch of stuff in a pot. Which obviously means it’s time to break out the Instant Pots.

A few years ago it seemed like electric multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, may have just been a fad. But the fact that in one appliance you can cook anything from soup to pudding to bread makes it pretty ideal for cooking during quarantine fatigue. Eater’s staffers rounded up our favorite go-to Instant Pot recipes, perfect for the many nights when you’re in the mood for something delicious, but you know, wanting to do as little as possible to make it happen. And as Eater Dallas and Eater Houston editor Amy McCarthy noted, you could always go with “just some fucking chicken breasts,” and let the machine do the rest.

Beef barley soup: This is the first that comes to mind. It’s basically a textbook version of this classic soup, and perfect for chilly weather. It’s low-lift, reasonably quick to put together, and freezes well. — Missy Frederick, cities director

Dakbokkeumtang: I make this recipe when I’m craving a savory chicken dish with the volume turned up. All that delicious flavor comes from the sauce. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and spicy from gochujang and sugar. Doenjang and oyster sauce adds another layer of depth. Typically to make this Korean comfort dish, you would need to watch over the pot, making sure that the chicken pieces are soaking up the sauce. But everything is done in the Instant Pot, so the result is fall-off-the-bone, tender chicken with potatoes that just break apart with no effort at all. Also, who doesn’t love a dump-everything-and-press-the-button recipe?! — James Park, social media manager

Mac and cheese: I make this one once a week when I’m lazy and cooking sounds hard. I use whatever cheese is in the fridge, add a little brown mustard to the mix, and usually skip the milk or add it at the very end. Would suggest you grate the mozzarella or it becomes a blob. — Brenna Houck, editor at Eater Detroit

Chinese poached whole chicken: Basically, I get a whole chicken every week, and I got tired of roasting it. This recipe is a really easy — not entirely foolproof, but a good enough way to poach a chicken whole in about 40 to 50 minutes, with not too much work on my part. You can use it specifically as white-cut chicken over rice with, say, a ginger scallion sauce, but just as often I pull the meat off the carcass and use it for meals throughout the week. Two caveats: You really do need an instant-read thermometer to tell when it’s done, and I find it’s much better to salt the chicken 24 hours in advance (I use the method in Salt Fat Acid Heat), so it has enough taste. And after poaching the chicken and pulling off the meat, I often toss the carcass right back into its cooking liquid, cook it on manual for another 60 minutes, and end up with a bunch of chicken stock. — Meghan McCarron, special correspondent

Kosha mangsho: This is a traditional Bengali goat or lamb stew in a heavily spiced, yogurt gravy, and it’s intensely rich and comforting. This recipe uses a pressure cooker to save time, but on the offchance you landed on this page and don’t have an Instant Pot or the like, you can still just simmer it in a large pot. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer

Lemongrass coconut chicken: The sauce is unbelievably tasty for just a few ingredients and it comes together so quickly. The labor to flavor ratio makes it one of my go-tos when I get bored with cooking or can’t be bothered to put in much effort. It’s also great over rice or any other grain. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Houston and Eater Dallas associate editor

Basic chicken noodle soup: I make a basic chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot probably every week in the winter: The base recipe is two chicken breasts, a carton and a half of broth, a few cups (I eyeball it) roughly chopped diced celery, carrot, and onion, and whatever spices you want. Cook everything together on high pressure for 25 mins. You can quick-release the pressure and remove the chicken breasts, and shred them — while you’re shredding, set the pot’s saute function so the broth remains boiling and add egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, dump the shredded chicken back in and you’re done! This is perfect because frozen chicken works just as well (and at the same cook time), and you can experiment with any leafy greens at the end (throw them in when you add the noodles) and any noodle types you want. — Erin DeJesus, lead editor, Eater.com

Pork chile verde: This recipe is very good; I found it last year when I had a truckload of tomatillos from my garden. It is a great comfort food and works well as stew or tacos. — Brenna Houck, Editor at Eater Detroit


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