The taste of New York
Opdateret: 25. maj 2018
In fact, to put it quite simply: It should taste good. These are Ronny Emborg’s words on the question of what a good meal is for him. In a slightly more extended version he elaborates:
“It should be something harmonising. It doesn’t have to be just a show. It should have a good temperature. It should have a good mouth feel. It should smell divine. It should be appetising.” All in all, the things that make food taste good.
QUALITY COMES FIRST
Ronny Emborg lives with his family in New York for their second year and presently has no plans to return to #Denmark. Things are going well. The family has settled in and on top of that, he has more family time. The occupancy rate at Atera has increased from 30% to 90% after Emborg took over. What’s not to like? Not very much, according to Emborg: “The only limitations are those you make yourself.”
He thinks that Danish doughnuts with crab salad taste nice, or a combination of truffle and cheese could be a good bet for tastiness. This is also the type of food served at the two-star Michelin restaurant Atera, where Emborg runs the kitchen. “It may sound very simple, but it’s not, which is why I taste new ingredients every day and put together something new. There has to be harmony in the dish itself and good presentation, but there must also be harmony in the whole menu,” he explains. A menu that contains no less than 18 dishes and is served twice a day.
For Emborg good taste is linked to his working philosophy, which results in quality:
“There has to be good ingredients, not just exclusive ones. Quality comes first – even before local produce, although I would like to support it, if the local produce isn’t good, then I won’t use it.”
STARS AND GUESTS
#Atera is a Basque word for ‘to go out’ – which is just what New Yorkers like to do. In New York you often eat out in the city rather than at home. At Atera, the guests sit as if they are in a bar and eat looking towards the chefs, who cook on the other side of the counter.
You can find Ronny Emborg out on the floor, aware that people want to have a glimpse of the man behind the execution. 5,000 wines are on the list you can choose from if you don’t want to stick to the wine menu. A big hit is a selection of teas, where the tea is steeped in front of the guests, just like an espresso coffee essence is extracted and brewed at the counter.
“We want to create a unique dining experience. It’s a counter restaurant, which we don’t have many of in Denmark. There’s nothing you keep secret or don’t show the guests. Guests can see everything that’s going from start to finish,” says Emborg.
There are 36 guests every day. Half at 6.00 p.m. and the other half at 9.30 p.m. Ronny Emborg measures his success by the guests and not on the Michelin stars, although he says he dreams of a third.
“If you only have a third of your restaurant filled every day, but you have three stars in the #Michelin Guide, then it’s not a success. It’s only if your guests keep coming back and we have some who return five to ten times a year. But of course, if you can get three stars and have a healthy business, then you’ve really come far,” explains the 33-year-old Emborg, who at a young age may be said to be well on the way to the stars already.
And he does his part to create a healthy business. He spends time with the guests: “I talk with most of the guests and there’s time to offer a cup of coffee and a glass of champagne when people arrive.” The setting is an essential part of the experience and one of the advantages of not offering more sittings every day is that he has time to play a daily role himself, for the guests, but also for the staff.
“On Saturday everyone has to come up with a dish with butternut squash, and I invite out whoever comes up with the best dish. It’s not because it should be a competition, but it’s the reason why they’re cooking food, and it’s also for the day they have their own restaurant, so they cook something that tastes good and they can be successful. It was something I really missed when I was a young chef – being allowed to be creative,” he says.
The staff are mainly younger employees, with a few exceptions. Amongst others, there is the 50+ year-old doorman who greets the guests every evening. “I think that when you arrive and are greeted at the door by an older person, it shows that we’re serious about what we’re doing,” he says. He has several people on the floor who are slightly up in years, and as he says, they bring knowledge and experience to the place.
Americans may not be as crazy about liquorice as Danes, in any case, Emborg tones down the extreme use of the distinctive liquorice flavour in the dishes. On the other hand, they are open to new flavours and this fact has had a knock-on effect on Emborg:
“I’ve probably become more exotic since I moved over here. The dishes I make aren’t something I’ve made before. Over here there are other favours and the products are a little bit different.”
And although on a personal level #Emborg likes the light Nordic cuisine, which is popular around the world, it is not the cuisine he unfolds behind the counter at Atera. “Yes, I have Scandinavian roots, but it’s my cuisine, and mine alone,” he says about his style, which defies categorisation.
He meets another culture with his own and does away with anything not to his taste, such as the somewhat fattier food he sees served in many places in the city. The same is true of the kitchen he took over: “I ate at the restaurant before I took it over. I didn’t think the food tasted very good. Visually it was amazing and they made some incredibly exciting things, but I didn’t think it was a good meal per se,” he says with the reasoning that he saw it being more about being experimental and looking good rather than tasting good, which is what he repeatedly stresses is what’s important to him.
A GARDEN IN THE CELLAR
”In about a month or so I’ll have New York’s largest indoor garden. Right next to the production kitchen down in the cellar. I’ve met someone who makes things like that, they know about artificial light to grow herbs, salads and small vegetables. They rent some of my space and make a garden and supply us with herbs and salads. It means we can have fresh herbs every day and don’t have to have them sent by FedEx from Ohio,” he says. And the garden might balance out the fact that the first time around he couldn’t really imagine living in New York because of its size, and because the city doesn’t offer the same green natural environment as his home in Denmark. Now he gets it from down the cellar stairs, albeit in a slightly different version.
Ronny Emborg has found New York and New York seems to have found him. As Executive Chef, on the whole he is on the floor with the guests, in the kitchen, all over the place:
“I clean the windows if it’s needed, I wash the dishes if it’s needed. It’s me who makes all the new dishes. It’s me who tastes everything. I’m in the service #kitchen every day. At 4:30 p.m. I taste all the sauces, all the purées and ice cream. There’s nothing I don’t do,” he says.
And it seems to be paying off:
#Renzell has just given Atera a new rating in New York as the restaurant with the best level of service and the highest level of food.
Published by HOUNÖ
Text: Journalist Lousin Hartmann
Photography: Rasmus Bluhme, Moment Studio and Signe Birck