Published on 27. February 2020
Chasing Incredibly High Quality Fish with Mathias Silberbauer
Mathias Silberbauer’s story from being a student at Relæ Community to his first Michelin star.
“It’s only afterward you reflect on what you gained from being trained in a place like Relæ Community.
I worked as a student at both Manfreds and Relæ. I was mostly standing by the sink cleaning leeks and celeriac because I was told to do so. The leeks came in covered in dirt, we received the full beast when we got pork delivered, and of course, everything was organic. This became the natural approach for me, that this is how you work in a professional kitchen. It just became part of my DNA – and I transferred this approach to fish and seafood.
200 fresh scallops in London
Fish is very demanding to cook, and that’s why I like it. To me, fish is harder to prepare than meat as the window of cooking is shorter. The time of which it’s either undercooked or overcooked is just 10-15 seconds where meat can rest for a longer time. Fish is delicate and requires precision, also when it comes to freshness. This is why fish is interesting to me and something I want to perfect.
The passion for fish and seafood came when I worked in a restaurant in London. At the restaurant, we got some of the craziest things from the daily boats from Cornwall. Sea bass, pollack, and something as simple as a mackerel, which is one of my favorite fish. The way they cooked and handled the fish made it the best I had ever tried.
Before going to London I worked at a fish focused restaurant in Copenhagen. We had scallops on the menu which came to the restaurant in big, frozen bags. In London, the scallops arrived two times a week in their shells – 200 at a time which we opened and cleaned just after lunch. When you cut a slice for the guests they would still move. The scallops in Copenhagen tasted fine, but the ones in London were a whole different level. It’s the same if you’ve only eaten cheap pork from the supermarket, and then taste the organic meat from a Hindsholm pig for the first time. The taste difference is enormous.
Cut and sliced frozen apples in Copenhagen
After London, I got my first position as a head chef at the restaurant Bastards in Copenhagen in 2017. The first thing I did was to remove almost everything from the freezer. Not because it was inedible, we used some as staff food to reduce food waste, but because the freezer was filled with readymade products.
You can use those readymade solutions at home, but no one should go to a restaurant and pay money for it.
In one of the bags, I found frozen apples, bought already peeled and sliced. They were used for an apple compote. For me, you can use those readymade solutions at home, but no one should go to a restaurant and pay money for it. It was a huge contrast to what I’ve done before where everything was made from scratch. It made me think about the former chefs. Maybe they lacked staff, maybe they were lazy, or maybe they just didn’t know better. They might not have considered the option to peel and cut their own apples. Maybe they weren’t as lucky with their training as I’ve been.
When you initially get the foundation, I got from Relæ Community, you cannot go back to buying pork from a slave pig. This philosophy towards food and produce is what I’m most happy about gaining from working with Christian F. Puglisi. Also the importance of having a good relationship with the people you buy produce from to ensure the quality. This approach is very important to me as well.
Turbot and cod from Hvide Sande
The weeks before opening Bastards in Copenhagen, I spend a lot of time visiting producers to find those who would provide us with meat, vegetables, and fish. Fish was definitely the hardest. I wanted to avoid the big fishing companies in Copenhagen as the quality wasn’t that good. The reason is that chefs normally would call up the companies and ask for 10 kg of cod for the next day. The companies can’t just catch it the next day therefore they need to have enough in stock. So the companies buy at the auctions to ensure a large selection in their warehouses. But if they’ve bought 100 kg of cod and the next day is calm with only 40 kg sold, they still need to sell the last 60 kg at some point. So the fish can easily lie several days in the warehouses.
Finding someone for the fish happened when a guy who delivered wine to us knew someone from Hvide Sande, who knew someone, who had an uncle, or something like that. It was a lot of work to make the logistics work, but the first time I received fish from him it was just incredibly high quality. I ended up calling him daily to ask what fish I should buy for the next day instead of just demanding 10 kg of cod.
The great and the difficult thing about working with him was that the days where the weather had been bad and the fishermen hadn’t caught anything prober, he didn’t buy anything. Those days I simply couldn’t get any fish. But at the restaurant, we changed the menu every day, so we could just put something else on the menu. I prefer my producers to tell me what I should buy. They have the products in their hands and know that today there’s these incredible beautiful turbot, who don’t cost anything. Then I would buy a lot of turbot. Or today the cods are spectacular. Or today there’s nothing. And that is also fine.
Wriggly fish and yellow tomatoes in Nice
I received a call in February 2018. It was from a former colleague from Relæ Community. She had an opportunity to open a restaurant in France almost in the Mediterranean Sea. I visited in March. It was 16 degrees, the sun was out, and you could already get these big asparaguses at the market. We went to the fisherman who we would be working with. He arrived on his boat which was full of fresh, wriggling fish. I was just: Okay, where do I sign? I moved to Nice in May, and Pure & V opened three days later.
I was in Nice in 1,5 years, where we got… It was insane. I lived by the airport in Nice, and every day I biked to the harbor Port Nice Carras which is nearby. It’s a small marina with space for three boats. At the harbor, I had my espresso, and around 9.30 am Tony arrived in his small fishing boat. He had been out since 6 in the morning. I just looked at all the fish he had caught, pointed at a few, and put them on the weight he had with him. I always brought a small drawer from a fridge to put the fish in with some ice, and then I biked to work. Those fish would be on the menu that day. It was really nice. I biked along the promenade every day, and the sun was always shining. Or that’s how I remember it. At work, I cleaned the fish immediately, so it was extremely fresh. Directly from the sea.
70-years-old Jean Louis provided us with vegetables, which we bought at the market. His vegetables were great. You could text him the day before with what you wanted for the next day, but when you came to the market he might not have the oregano, simply because he couldn’t care to pick it that day. Those days we just had to change the menu.
We also visited Jean Louis. His lands were completely chaotic. You would walk through a thicket, and suddenly there would be a lot of corn cubs and tomatoes. But the yellow plum tomato, which we took directly from the stalk, is the best tomato I’ve eaten in my life.
Working in Nice was also quite hard. I was alone in the kitchen and worked 5 days a week from morning to evening. I was completely exhausted on my days off. But it still wasn’t hard to get up in the morning even though I had 18 hours of work in front of me. The prospect of biking to Tony, choosing the fish to cook on the same day, was a great feeling that kept me going.
A Michelin star and a brunch
After 1,5 years I returned to Denmark in 2019. It was Friday and I worked part-time at a restaurant called Friheden. I was preparing the brunch for the next day, thinking about scrambled eggs, when my former boss from France texted me that Pure & V would receive a Michelin Star. It was such a strange contrast, quite surreal.
During the brunch the next day I thought a bit about it, but I didn’t really believe it until I received the link to the ceremony from Paris. ‘Pure & V, Mathias Silberbauer’ they announced with a great, french accent. The star matters a lot for the restaurant, and for me, it’s just a great recognition after 1,5 years of work.
Fish with bones in Denmark
I left Pure & V in Nice because I missed Denmark. But also because I had many ideas about a place I wanted to open myself. Of course, you can develop ideas from a distance, but it’s much easier to be in the place where you want it to happen. My ideas about the place change all the time, but for now, the idea is a low-key bistro with a focus on fish and seafood.
When someone asks me where to eat fish and seafood in Copenhagen, I don’t know what to recommend. If they ask me about pizza, ramen, steak, I know. But with fish and seafood, I don’t know what to answer, so I want to create that place.
My approach is to spend time finding the best, fresh fish, cook it on the bone, and serve it without overpricing.
I want it bistro-style because I like the arrogance of the French bistros. When you arrive you’ll get a blackboard, and only if you’re lucky the waiter says hi. Especially at the bistro I ate at every Monday in Nice called Le Canon. The waiter was alone on the floor, and there were only two chefs in the kitchen. When you arrived, you just waited. But when the waiter finally came to you, he’d tell you all these stories, and when the food arrived it was simply great. Walking into that sort of restaurant immediately relaxes me. I feel no pressure to purchase or to eat something specific. I can do just what I want. I’d like to introduce this French mentality in Copenhagen. A place where I don’t have to spend too much money on the service, which will make the food cheaper, so people can afford to visit again and again. It’ll be a place where you’ll be willing to wait because you know that the food you’ll get in the end is very good.
I don’t understand why there aren’t any good fish restaurants in Copenhagen. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to get good, fresh fish and seafood. It does require a lot of work to get the high-quality stuff, and I spend a lot of time on it right now working on a fish focused pop-up at Spisehuset. But spending a lot of time finding high-quality fish makes it easier for myself afterward. I simply cook the fish on the bone. We then serve the whole fish for the guests, who pick off the meat themselves. It’s less work for me during service. Chefs generally tend to cook fish too fancy, serving it on ice, and other similar things. My approach is to spend time finding the best, fresh fish, cook it on the bone, and serve it without overpricing. The atmosphere also becomes more low-key, like eating at a friend’s place. Except the fish is higher quality and better cooked.
That is how I want it to be.”
Based on an interview with Mathias Silberbauer