I first really got to know Matt last October. I was working alone on the boat when he brought over five gorgeous teals, hanging off his forearms. “Josh,” he said, “the Fäviken Duck Man brought these down for us specially – I really need to dress them, and we have no space over there. Can I use your counter?”
“Of course,” I said, of course, “and can I help you?”
We spent the next few hours plucking pinions and ruffles and down, tweezing out the stubborns from the skin, torching them, gutting and cleaning them, and leaving them to hang in one of our basement fridges.
The entire floor, every corner and crevice, harboured fugitive fluff. The more we worked, the futility of having proactively wrapped the central island with cling-film became more apparent and more comic.
I learned then how to dress a duck; I also learned Matt’s attitude, saw his ethic, drank in his stories – and, more than in most, I felt the searing presence of character. I was impelled to do and be my best and since that day this feeling has not left or abated when it comes to what I am able to do for Matt.
I learned late last fall that Matt would be leaving noma at the end of December. He had been there as head chef a couple years; before that, at Per Se; before that, at noma; before that, Fat Duck; before that, Le Manoir; before that, Le Bernardin; before that, Aureole… he has been honing his craft and biding his time, and now he is unleashing his unique brilliance upon the world. Finally, he has a place of his own.
In the last six months, he and his team have built a restaurant from scratch in an old industrial office space in Refshaleøen, the old shipyard (now converted) in the far northern reaches of east-harbour Copenhagen. It is housed in a building that looks directly out onto the huge field where the MAD Symposium has taken place for the past two years (and soon to be three).
500sqm of the field just outside the restaurant is now a garden of raised beds – growing all sorts of herbs and veggies to finish the plates.
The space three weeks ago had dust across the floors, holes in the ground, and barely a kitchen to speak of. Now, they are already in their first week of service.
The restaurant is called Amass.
I have been out there as much as possible, helping with the garden. A bunch of us from the extended noma family spent a Sunday in May building all the raised beds, hauling soil, and prepping them for planting. It’s been wonderful to be out there, helping the plants grow and watching the muscles of the menu take shape even before the produce touched the pan.
One weekend in June, I helped Matt prep for a dinner for a few hundred people for Inkfest, an international festival for tattoo artists in Copenhagen. Matt likes it so he wanted to make them all dinner. This is the sort of guy he is. They had no kitchen there yet so we did everything at the boat and finished it on the grill out at the space.
It was a sunny Copenhagen summer when the sun seems never to set, and a glorious meal – cod heads brined in juniper and grilled, cauliflower grilled with pine, seared summer cabbage with søl, puffed cod skin with fennel salt, roasted beets and yoghurt, more, and more. Rosio made cookies and insane brownies. We put them on the grill.
The week after, I helped Jacquie gather old branches for garden stakes. We went foraging together for beach roses, elderflowers, air onions. She showed me more plants around Refshaleøen and Christiania to add to our herbarium and wild plant database.
I love seeing this community grow. It really does feel like a culture in this city, a network, an extended family that just keeps extending and getting better.
Last weekend, they were testing the opening menu with friends and family. It felt good to be there and to see the final stages of this birth process, just before it went live and the creative process continues and becomes real.
I asked Ben to come too. We sat all together at the communal ten-top: Peter and his wife, René, Lisa, Dan and Annika, Ben and I, and Charles and Anne of Koppi Coffee in Helsingborg – doing the coffee at Bror and now also at Amass. They are such fantastic people and we spent the whole night talking and laughing and exploring the garden together.
This is what it looks like.
It’s a big space – huge two-storey ceilings, tall windows, concrete scraped bare, wide open, white-tiled kitchen. I love that they’ve brought in some of the raised beds, emphasising the permeability between the kitchen, dining room, and garden.
This was the menu on Saturday.
Oats, Cod Roe. Plated up on the tables in small, sharded sculptures. They almost look like tortilla chips, maybe a nod to Matt’s San Diego roots. Crisp, quick-thin and nicely sweet and nutty.
Peas, St. John’s Wort, Samphire. Wonderful textures, and so many greens. Crème fraîche? Some sort of alliums? It is a simple-looking pocket and I could eat a meal of them. Simple, complex, and beautiful.
As Ben would say, ‘the stodge‘. Bloody good stodge at that. The menu says ‘Yeasted Flatbread’: it is potato bread, grilled, fluffy and dense – nice complementary cookednesses. Served with a spread of beet tops. The breads were hot. Between us we devoured at least two.
Bitter Greens, Spring Onion, Salted Mackerel Vinaigrette. There is a wonderful surprise to this dish – it looks like onions and greens and then, on nudging the onion or cutting open the wrapped green, out spill tender morsels of salt-and-acid-cured mackerel. The roe too has a delightful and surprising acidity and when everything mixes on the plate it is a satisfying mess of colours, aromas, and all kinds of bold deliciousness. The onions are the real stars here – holding a gradient from charred to more raw than cooked which, when mixed with the roe that collects in the nested cups, tempers the allium and generates something new.
New Potatoes, Grass, Virgin Butter. This is the taste memory of an experience I have not had. Pulling potatoes, skimming the milk and straining the cream through grass to filter and inadvertently culture it.
The texture of the potatoes here is interesting and, I suspect, challenging for some. It is somewhere in between toothsome and outright crunchy. New potatoes, of course, don’t need to be cooked in the same way that storage ones do, but that doesn’t stop most potato eaters (which Danes definitely are) from being a little thrown off. Luckily, surprise can be a good thing, and particularly with the smaller ones, the technique is bracing, if not successful. What looks like a humble dish actually becomes a lucid moment, encountering the potato in not just an environment that when recreated in the bowl makes sense, but also one that lets the potato say something about itself different from what we want and expect, and knowing that we’ll listen. A dish one need not like in order to recognise as good. I, for one, take up both banners.
Beets, Walnut, Smoked Foie Gras, Marigold. Three types of beets (golden, purple, candy stripe), three types of berries (lingon, redcurrant, sea buckthorn), and is there also a shaving of juniper berry? Is this, perhaps, even a bit more acidity than is needed? This is the immaculate dish of the menu – both light and rich, satisfying and beckoning to what’s to come. The thing that makes it, for me, is the marigold – hot greenhouses, the thrill of intercropping, a blossom snuck here and there into the mouth and shirt pocket.
Cucumber, Ground Elder, Lamb Tongue, Yoghurt Whey. The ‘garnishes’ here are outstanding. A beautiful slab of grilled cucumber, Persian maybe, condensed and juicy and weeping with flavour. The ground elder is young, primo; and there are immature grapes, no less! How lovely. The lamb’s tongue has a remarkable texture, and cuts but once with the knife; it is also slightly under-seasoned, but that can be fixed. Overall it is delicate – perfect for earlier in the menu but perhaps too much so for ‘the main’.
Raspberry, Sweet Corn, Bronze Fennel, Cream.
This one pretty much tells itself, I think. Raspberries and corn. I love fresh corn. The cream seemed strangely absent but it didn’t need it.
After dessert, we took our wine out to the garden to catch the last sun before it sank behind the city across the harbour.
And also to taste more of that bronze fennel.
I think the kitchen team is planning some ferments with these turnips. Can’t wait.
Matt came out and lit up the fires – two huge brick pits at the closest edge.
We brought out more wood for the fire, René chatted and joked, Dan caroused with a bottle of beer. This is a space for people to be together.
We hung around outside, tasting a few of the fuller herbs, until the sun really dropped and there was nothing to soften the gusting wind. It was time to head inside for coffee.
Anne and Charles had chosen the one for tonight – a Kenyan with a just acidity and brewed to a very balanced concentration. Fantastic stuff. Matt came around serving pockets of small warm cakes and rhubarb compote with geranium. These were gems to linger over. Our table became dotted with many of them.
Rhubarb and coffee, in general, is a strange combination. Much acidity. Though fatty little cakes help balance that well enough.
The coffee was served in Erlenmeyer flasks. I’m sure it helps measure volume, but the vibe of the conical beaker didn’t quite fit for me. I wonder about this.
This part of the night was long and leisurely. The four of us shared another bottle. The wines of the whole night were great, many magnums and a few standouts. No list though; I suppose they were keeping it under wraps until the opening.
Overall it was particularly remarkable how well the team had already gelled. The food came out evenly and well-paced (never mind that extra stodge, which we took as a sign of affection) and the front-of-house was attentive and relaxed. I cannot believe they had only had the space for barely two or three days before. That’s what happens when your team is top-notch. I can’t wait to see how this develops even further.
Tables moved and mixed; we wanted to see and talk with the guys in the kitchen. Emil works here now, after returning from his time in Tokyo then Monaco. He seems to love it.
We could have stayed all night – but we needed to let them clean down and meet post service. The party moved on and we, a family of friends, talked late into the night.
Thank you Matt and Amass. I really can’t wait to see where things go from here, and I’ll be here to weed your beds all the way there.