Visionary from Denmark

Man with a mission

Mikkel Karstad, visionary of Danish company catering.
Mikkel Karstad, visionary of Danish company catering.

Enjoy what nature offers. Mikkel Karstad's philosophy of original food has revolutionized Danish company catering.

Mikkel Karstad is a visionary. The top chef has a dream: of people knowing where their food comes from – from the forest, the river, the pasture – and how to prepare it. As a six-year-old he learns from his grandmother – cook on a Danish island – how to catch and fry fish, preferably over a fire on the beach. Karstad's grandmother always waited until the fishermen brought in their catch and the market showed what was on the plate. That is Karstad's ideal, his role-model.

Besides blogging and instagrams, he advises clinics and retirement homes as a culinary counselor to reduce food waste – and is reaching the limits of his powers of persuasion. "The team has been working there for ages. They lack any motivation to try something new." After half a year he has improved some processes, but has achieved at most 30 percent of the agreed upon goal. "The chefs prefer to open a bag of soup rather than just let the ingredients simmer." Slightly frustrated, the advocate of a consistent nose-to-tail food philosophy has to make it clear to the decision-makers that the goal of regional seasonal fresh cuisine cannot be achieved with this team. Bitter, because it means layoffs or giving up. It is a somewhat bitter experience, since he has specialities like a sauce made entirely from bone marrow in his repertoire.

In Denmark, the father of four is regarded as the innovator of community catering. In 2004, he realised that in communal catering he would be able to communicate his nature-loving kitchen philosophy to thousands of people. Instead of serving a few culinary works of art far removed from the original product to an exclusive few in a star restaurant, he started his first "mass" project 15 years ago in the restaurant of the Danish parliament. There, his ambitions initially culminated in a fight against old eating habits. Highly motivated, he threw himself into a nutritional, food-philosophical mission. "The great thing about the new job: no night work and free on weekends. Instead, a team of 35 highly skilled chefs and staff." An unreal work-life-balance paradise for the chef from the highly bred English and Danish Michelin-driven gastronomy. "In the star-awarded kitchen, with a small number of people under extreme conditions, you're practically under power day and night. The demands are exorbitant, the tone is borderline."

With some 1,500 discerning parliamentarians and servants as guests every day, the culinary retro researcher proves that four-week menu-strategies are superfluous. The Queen also leaves the menus for royal occasions to his talent. Even with grilled parsley root you can offer your guest stunning food experiences. Karstad is convinced: "You must not lecture guests or cooks from the top down. With one well-known ingredient per dish, I'll even take the doubters with me."

When a Copenhagen law firm wooed him away from an inbetween excursion into the mysterious culinary world of Greenland as a consultant to Noma- and TV chef Claus Meyer, he took the new challenge with zest.

Convenience and frozen products are taboo to Mikkel Karstad. His cooking principle: fresh, natural and organic at a fair price. "Meat is greatly reduced, more fish and seasonal vegetables conquer the plates." If you offer veal tongue, you can tell, it's obvious. "Nothing in my cooking is wrapped, meaning hidden, in dumplings."

The protests are massive, initially. But then, guests vote the restaurant the best canteen in Denmark in one year. And it works out well in terms of pricing, too. When you buy your ingredients according to the daily offer and measure them exactly, it saves enormous costs. More time and qualified personnel are necessary to acomplish this. "Nowadays, more and more top chefs are discovering the canteen for themselves. A lot has changed here", Karstad says. "Mission accomplished."
About Mikkel Karstad
At the age of 17 the Dane Mikkel Karstad started his apprenticeship as a chef in 1990. At the age of 20 he conquered London's award-winning cuisine, then became involved in Noma in Copenhagen and tested Italian star cuisine there. As a representative of the original Nordic cuisine, he changed the eating habits of the Danish parliamentarians and polished the image of a law firm with an excellent company restaurant. The cookbook author, blogger and influencer works as a gastronomic consultant and cooks for his own and corporate events.