Changing the world is possible, and doing it through food is even more appetising. The goal is ambitious, but when we talk about Rasmus Munk, the chef of Alchemist, the holistic restaurant in Copenhagen that ranked fifth in the world in the 2023 edition of the 50 Best, it shouldn't be taken lightly. Munk is ready to unveil Spora, the global research centre supported by an initial investment of 10 million Danish kroner (1.34 million euros) from bioscience pioneers Claus and Bente Christiansen.
The Evolution of Alchemist
“Spora represents the natural evolution of Alchemist,” says Munk. "It enables us to create scalable and holistic solutions with the potential to impact millions of lives." According to the chef who has put Refshaleøen, a suburb of Copenhagen, at the centre of the gastronomy world, "by allowing the pursuit of goodness to lead technology, rather than the other way around, we can play a fundamental role in developing nutritious and sustainable products that people want to eat over and over again, and this will drive global change. I firmly believe that we can harness the vibrancy and inventiveness of the restaurant and bring it to the public.”
Munk is known for his decidedly unconventional gastronomic choices, such as the use of typically considered inedible products, from farmed butterflies to jellyfish, from lamb brains to pig trachea. These may seem like mere eccentricities, but they are steps in a rigorous and coherent path that has transformed Alchemist, opened only in 2019, into a multisensory experience that blends gastronomy, art, science, storytelling, and activism. The restaurant is no stranger to research collaborations with important universities and commercial partners capable of enriching the chef's gastronomic and scientific know-how, thereby fueling his creativity.
But now the leap in quality is evident, as also highlighted by the Christiansens: “We are scientists, entrepreneurs, and businessmen, and we recognize the same driving factors behind this project. We strongly believe in the business model and that Rasmus Munk is the right person to carry it forward. We hope that our experience in the field of research and business can contribute to the success of the project.”
3D design studio
Spora will also be situated on Refshaleøen, inside an avant-garde facility spanning a thousand square metres, equipped with purpose-built research kitchens, cutting-edge microbiology labs, and a fully equipped 3D design and sound studio. Initially, Spora will focus on two main areas: recycling secondary food industry streams, and developing delicious and diverse protein sources. Ongoing projects include research on the culinary potential of fermentation with mushrooms in collaboration with UC Berkeley, the development of protein-rich and tasty foods based on rapeseed in collaboration with KU, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (University of Copenhagen), and the development of new alternatives to meat and seafood using filamentous fungi and seaweed in a project with DTU BioSustain.
The Spora team will be truly multidisciplinary, encompassing industry leaders in gastronomy, science, design, art, engineering, and business. Although Spora will operate independently from Alchemist, the restaurant will be a committed gastronomic partner, holding a stake in the company. “I am delighted to deepen my collaboration with Rasmus to innovate and revolutionise the food industry in collaboration with key industry players and scientific partners. Inventing new sources of nourishment and creating new ways to feed the world is of utmost urgency, and I am excited to see where we can go with Spora,” says Lars Seier Christensen, Alchemist's majority owner. “The restaurant's ability to quickly turn ideas into innovative products is unique, and I am convinced that this culinary approach to innovation can accelerate the journey towards a more sustainable food system,” promises Mette Johnsen, CEO of Alchemist.
“Spora will allow us to pursue our wildest dreams in scientific and gastronomic research, from designing soundscapes for the restaurant to using ultrasound to extract flavours. We will explore the potential of 3D food printing, analyse sensory experiences, and explore the impact of the latest gastronomic technology. Over the past two years, we have worked intensively on developing the vision and business plan for Spora, and I am looking forward to using my skills and ambition to have a broader impact on the world,” concludes Munk. The new world is coming, prepare your napkins.
by Andrea Cuomo