Christian Puglisi’s Farm of Ideas

Innovation, agriculture, community: interview with the chef from Relæ and Bæst about his Farm, a 45-minute drive from Copenhagen

05-06-2018

Christian Puglisi, born in Messina in 1982, in Copenhagen since 1989. Here he runs four restaurants (photo Farm of Ideas)

To get to the Farm Of Ideas leave Copenhagen and drive west for some 45 minutes, until you reach an unexpectedly hilly area, in a country that is otherwise mostly flat. The farm was created in February 2016 by Christian Puglisi, the chef of Sicilian origins who, after leaving Noma where he was sous chef, opened four restaurants: RelæManfreds & VinMirabelle and Bæst

The issue is simply one: understanding when you have arrived. We were following the indications given by the Italian-Danish chef, so we knew we were not mistaken. But once in the right place, as we soon learnt, it was hard to realise we were there. 

When looking around, there’s no sign of buildings that could host a “Farm of Ideas”, at least not the way we had imagined. But after a call and a few more indications, we realised that the Farm doesn’t include buildings, barns or brickwork: it’s basically a large field, partly cultivated with vegetables, partly destined to cattle. There’s a large canopy, a couple of tunnel-shaped green-houses, and a hayloft and a house on the other side of the road. 

Sara Møhlenberg and Lasse Linding, Puglisi’s partners at the Farm of Ideas

Sara Møhlenberg and Lasse LindingPuglisi’s partners at the Farm of Ideas

The chef at Relæ walks towards us, with a smile, and after greeting us, he explains their choice: «Right from the start, we wanted to build as little as possible. Perhaps this year, due to regulations, we will be forced to build a new barn to keep the cows during the winter. Until now, we’ve managed without it».

How did you come up with the idea of the Farm of Ideas?
After opening the 4th restaurant in Copenhagen, we started discussing how we could become more independent in terms of raw materials, especially vegetables. A few years ago we thought of an urban vegetable garden, right in the city, but then we put the plan aside because of some bureaucratic issues. This time we looked for a plot that would suit our needs, though it was hardly easy.

Why?
Here in Denmark most plots are run by large owners who bought out all the small ones. This until we arrived in Lejre: it’s a very interesting place because they want to become the first organic town in Denmark. The Mayor of Lejre was thrilled that we would settle here, she took us around and introduced us to both the person who gave us the land, and to Lasse and Sara, a couple who were working on a similar project. We’ve started to work together to co-run the 30 hectares we bought. This is how our project started, and we realised that we had to change a few aspects compared to what we had in mind.

What did you change?
At first, we wanted to open a restaurant here too, counting on the vegetable garden and the animals we breed here: but then we realised that in order to renovate the barn we were to use for the restaurant, we would need around 5 million euros. We had no intention to get into such heavy debt. So we put this aside and focused on working as much as possible to supply the existing restaurants. Today, during the warmer months we manage to cover 70-80% of our needs. Of course, during the winter, this amount drops dramatically to 20%.

How have you organised the farming?
We follow strictly organic rules, even though not all our products are certified as yet, due to the farming activity before we arrived. But we’ll get there. Plus I must confess that this experience has changed my point of view greatly: before, for instance, I’d see a cucumber, and I’d think “here’s a cucumber”. Now I know there’s much more, it’s a much more complex concept, in terms of varieties. For a chef, and for all the people who work here, it’s an opportunity to grow.

How do you organise the supply of the four kitchens that depend on the Farm?
For this season there’s Estelle, who’s a chef, but she’s at work here in the Farm. Every day she gets orders from the restaurants, comes here in the morning with her collaborators, prepares the products and starts to make some of the processing here. But we’re working so that most of the work can be done here at the Farm, and send back products that are basically ready to be used, thus helping the kitchens, that are always too small for all the daily tasks. When our milk is ready too, at around lunchtime, Estelle leaves and drives to the restaurants.

Why did you decide to make your own milk?
At Bæst we’ve been making mozzarella and other cheese since 2014, but we bought the milk from other suppliers. It’s like what I’ve mentioned about farming: in Denmark there are no small cheese producers or breeders, like in Italy. Everything is huge. So the milk came from different places, not from a specific area. Now we can use our milk. We started off with 8 Jersey cows, then we added some more from other breeds. We’re now studying a breed of our own, so as to have cattle that can serve both to produce milk, and be used for its meat. A law that passed two years ago here in Denmark was of great help: it allows us to use our raw milk, if the pasteurisation takes place during the processing. For instance, for mozzarella, the milk is warmed up during the production, so with a few changes we’ve managed to use our raw milk. This has had a great impact on the quality of the cheese.

Do you have other animals too?
Of course: we have the first organic rabbit farm in Denmark, we have 4 pigs of the Mangalitza breed, a cross between a Hungarian pig and a European wild boar - they make some 28 piglets each year. We have 200 hens of the Isa Browns breed, which make around 180 eggs per day.

In the distance, cattle from the Farm of Ideas

In the distance, cattle from the Farm of Ideas

What other projects do you have in mind?
Basically, at the Farm of Ideas we want to make a creative use of agriculture, and this is where we have our organic production. But we also like the idea of leaving space to others, to welcome other projects too. For instance Sara Møhlenberg – the wife of Lasse Linding, one of the partners from the very beginning – launched here her small business producing organic flowers: something nobody else does! All the flowers we buy are full of chemicals. It’s already hard to convince people to eat organic food, let’s not mention organic flowers. But this is only one example: we give opportunity to those who want to rent a small plot, we support them and try to buy what we can for our restaurants. This also applies to the rabbits, for instance: a guy told us he wanted to create an organic farm for rabbits, hens, ducks. We gave him some land and decided together what and how to produce. For now we buy all the production.

The first organic rabbits in Denmark 

The first organic rabbits in Denmark 

If you want to visit Christian Puglisi’s Farm of Ideas, in August there’s a very interesting opportunity with the second edition of Seed Exchange: a free-entrance Festival that will take place on August 25th, during which you can participate with your seeds and exchange them with other enthusiasts. But the programme is very rich, with discussions, fine dining cuisine, music and other activities. Last year there were speakers such as Carlo Petrini, American and Copenhagen-based chef Matt Orlando, Australian chef Jock Zonfrillo and many more. The 2018 programme is soon to be online on https://farmofideas.dk/seedexchange/

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


Sections

Dal Mondo

Reviews, recommendations and trends from the four corners of the planet, signed by all the authors of Identità Golose