Paul Cunningham, The Paul, Copenhagen

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th March 2011
Paul Cunningham runs The Paul, a Michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, located in the Tivoli gardens and amusement park. In 2003 he opened the Paul and the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star just nine months later. Paul started his career in Britain in a small pub, the Fleur de Lys in Widdington, Essex, owned by a family friend. In the 1990s he moved to Denmark after marrying a Danish girl; before this he was working at the Lords of the Manor hotel with head chef Clive Dixon. In Denmark he worked his way up to be the head chef at the Søllerød Kro restaurant in Holte and later at formel B and Coquus, both in Copenhagen. The Paul is only open in summer and on special holidays, meaning in the winter Paul travels the world sourcing inspiration for his ever changing menu, which uses local ingredients. Prior to The Paul’s arrival, prices at the Tivoli were high, putting people off as they would leave the park to eat outside and return afterwards. The success of Paul Cunningham's restaurant has been a game changer, encouraging famous chefs like Thomas Herman to join him in opening further upmarket restaurants in the park.   Paul first and foremost thank you very, very much, a huge opportunistic moment for us for you being here with Simon (Rogan), let's start by talking about Copenhagen. Give us a little bit of a run down of your restaurant Paul's in Copenhagen, number of covers, how long you've been there, the style of food you're doing. I moved into Copenhagen in 94. I was working at Lords of the Manor with Clive Dixon, I'd met a Dane, as you do, ((laughs)) fell in love, blonde hair, blue eyes, and I ended up going to Copenhagen. We live an hour away from Copenhagen, Copenhagen is actually situated on an island it's closest neighbour is Sweden, which is only 20 minutes by car from Sweden. We live an hour the other way though. I live on the other side of the island in a harbour town which sounds much more idyllic than it is. It used to be an industrial harbour town which was really, cool and it's nice. We live a five minute bicycle ride from a, massive forest and I'm blessed that nobody in my area of the island knows what any of the wild items that are growing are, so you can be walking through a field, which at the moment the ramsens are coming up and have them all to yourself. It's an idyllic life that I've fallen into in Copenhagen with great quality free time, which I spend with my family as much as I can. I've got two boys, a lovely wife and we live 50 metres from the beach. Although I work in the centre of Copenhagen, instead of going into a city centre restaurant, where I was previously employed , The Paul's is situated in the garden and Tivoli Garden's, which has been there for almost 170 years I think, and it's a privately owned garden and beautiful surrounding to work in. So Paul do you own the restaurant The Paul's, or rent it, lease it? No I did own it, until the crisis hit and my previous partner, who was rather Icelandic in his investment methods, and basically he fucked off with a load of money and it broke the back of the restaurant. What was really lucky for me, is that I've got a really, really good working relationship with the Garden Lars Liebst , who's the CEO of Tivoli, he's a wonderful eccentric ex-theatre person that runs this antique funfair and it works really well. He came in, scooped up the economy, cancelled everything out we owed, and now I own the name, the brand, the day to day running, financially it's run by Tivoli, which is absolutely fantastic and works so well. Tell us about the food style you're doing at The Paul. Obviously we use local ingredients and this is something that everybody's done for many, many years here in Denmark, but I travel far too much to put myself into this box of new Nordic cuisine. Obviously it's elements of new Nordic cuisine because we cook modern food, and we use local ingredients but I mean I love foie gras too much not to use foie gras What about the Danes do they like foie gras? They love it, absolutely love it. I mean everyone obviously now is on the, Noma bandwagon and piggybacking on René's success, which is really unbelievable what he and Noma have done. The way they've marketed the whole Noma thing is very clever, obviously Nordic food has always existed, in fact  Nordic food is actually very similar to the core of British food where it's built up around onions, cabbage, potatoes, pork, beef, lard and that sort of thing, it's exactly the same. We're all now thinking about what we put in our mouths and what we put in our kids mouths' I guess we've just become tired of crap food. I think everyone is getting tired of it. Of course the fast food movement is still chomping on through our lives and sadly it is getting more and more popular, but there is a segment of society now that are really thinking, about what they and their children eat, What effect this has on the land and everything around them. Hats off, to this Jamie Oliver lifestyle, where,  it's "Oh all right mate," you're friends are coming round, you go out into the garden and you pick all these new leeks and new cabbages, you throw them into a pan with a little bit of butter, little bit of salt, it's beautiful it tastes amazing, and I really feel that's where we're going now, maybe half of Britain or half of society now can afford it, If you take organic produce if it tastes better, then we'll use it. Biodynamic produce if it tastes better, then again we'll use it. We don't do it just for the fact of doing something that is good or trendy, it's got to taste good also. We've got a system in Denmark, if we take dairy products for example, they create so much organic dairy products that I'd estimate that 50% of the time when you buy a carton of normal milk in Denmark, that it will be filled with organic milk. It tastes better and I think that's nice to see that a litre of organic milk in Denmark will cost just under a quid and a litre of absolutely normal milk costs a quid as well, It would be great if this happened with our vegetables. You went to Copenhagen in 1994 now obviously at the moment Copenhagen is one of the culinary hotspots of the world you mentioned the Noma effect, is that a positive effect because it's raised the profile of what's going on? Absolutely the actual term, "˜the Noma effect' is used in Danish government"¦ Right as high up as that. "¦the use it in Danish government"¦ But the government are marketing Denmark"¦ The government are funding and marketing Denmark through Noma now, and obviously nine out of ten times the funding goes into one of Noma's projects. It was Noma that created the Nordic food lab which is fantastic. There's going to be a Nordic festival at the end of August, it will be a two day Nordic festival, and this is going to be amazing. The government are funding that heavily they're funding a Nordic diet where people are cutting down on their meat consumption, and they're boosting their fish consumption, boosting their vegetable consumption which is fantastic, this is something that I believe that we all need do. If we could cut out 50% of our meat intake it would do wonders for the system, we do seriously need to look at what we put in our mouths. Paul you're here in the UK now, Simon Rogan, Sat (Bains), you've done Dinner by Heston, how much has the UK moved on in those 19 years that you've been away. Massively there's such a pride involved now in the UK. You've always had a pride since the early days of Keith Floyd down in Totnes when Simon was working with him, there was a great pride there, they were using local ingredients, there were local cheeses. He was a champion of butter that was made two minutes from the establishment and it was always going to be"¦everything was very sort of"¦ well all about gastronomy when I was here, and it makes m feel incredibly old now, but it was all very Francophile back then and on a much smaller scale. Yes it was. Even my biggest hero Marco, that was always very Francophile, if you look in some of the very, very classic cookbooks and do an amalgamation of that he was a hybrid of, it's the big names"¦ Of the Roux's, Koffman, Blanc etc. Yeah, of the big French boys of the time, and then all of a sudden he found himself which is so nice and I'm sort of like that myself. And what's the perception of UK food in Denmark? What do the Danes think about that? British food, is seen as we see our food when abroad. If you go to Marbella and the burger"¦ And the chicken in the basket. "¦burger bars, chicken in a basket and that sort of thing. So it's pretty dismal perception but obviously the foodies in the population, they know what they're talking about "¦and again the segment of society that are interested in what they're doing understand there is a great food scene in the UK now. I saw one of these fat programmes the other day where they'd change people's diet, they took a really big fat person, and made them eat a skinny person's diet and vice versa. There was this woman who really stuck in my mind, she had a really big weight problem, but it wasn't because she was eating bad food it was because she was eating really, really good food but in incredible amounts so what struck me, was that this women, was eating herself to death with good food which was quite understandable it's not a bad way to end your life!!! After all we are all searching for this idyllic thing, something in harmony with nature, our surrounds, there's currently term "˜back to basics' that's hit Scandinavia at the moment its fantastic concept. For me the climate's great in Denmark, and it's part of that lifestyle thing. I've never been a hot climate person, with the whole beaches and that sort of thing........ People tend to call Greenpeace when I'm lying on the beach and they try pushing me back in the water or keeping me wet... ((laughs)) ((laughs)) and I like Scandinavia and I like the temperament up there. But I get the blues. Would you come back? To this yes. So somewhere like Cartmel A heartbeat, a heartbeat, boom, this here I mean like L'Enclume yes"¦ So not the city? It would have to be a rural"¦ Oh absolutely it would, out in the countryside but then again it could be the Essex countryside. I think I'm a southern person at heart. I think that would be quite difficult to set the transition. Any plans to come back? No. We've got new plans with the new restaurant and taking The Paul to a 12 month a year business, because obviously we're closed three months a year at the moment. Why is that because of the climate? No, no it's because of the garden, I mean it's a private garden that the restaurant is housed in, January, February and March is very dismal time and there's only a certain amount of plants there during that period. Do you retain your staff during that period of time? I retain my key staff and they actually asked me that here at L'Enclume last night how do you keep hold of your staff and the answer is I'm not one of these shouting, screaming bastards of bosses and I mean it's a real open project, an open kitchen and again it's just white walls, wooden floors and glass and it's an old glass pavilion"¦ How many covers do you do? "¦we do 40 odd covers in the evening, 45, you can push it to 48. You've got the star in about seven months or something didn't you? After seven months yeah, when we first opened we were actually only open for seven months not nine in 2003, five and a half for the summer and one and  a half in the winter time, and we got the Star  after the first year Was that part of the agenda Paul? I imagine so I mean it's the second time I've got a star in two different restaurants and if you're in that niche they always look at your CV and they know you. Yeah of course they do. Michelin aren't stupid and what they do, and how they do it, it tends to work. I've great respect for Restaurant Magazine and the top 50 awards but I mean that is a clique, it does tend to be a cliquey in-crowd thing and if you're in there you're in there. Many of the people that are in there are in fact really good, interesting and exciting people but it is a clique. So for me Michelin is much more mainstream thing that will follow you for the rest of your life. We cook fantastic seasonal food at the restaurant; I think I'm going to change the menu every month this year. Before it was usually every three weeks that we'd rip everything out and we'd start again, but I think I'm just going to do it every four weeks now. We're taking the main dishes that we do"¦I've only got two menus, we do six, seven, eight sort of appetisers to start with and there's usually a seven course menu and then the petit fours and the coffee. I think we're going to take that to a ten course menu this year so you're going to have, to work out about 26, 27, servings, which go very, very well together I've decided that I'm going to come away from the wine pairing, and just maybe serve six, seven really nice glasses of wine instead of matching to the food, that's the whole problem, instead of one dish one wine, you're bumbling after four or five dishes and there's no point doing the deserts. I've got a wonderful sommelier starting, Denis, and Christian and I, Christian is my head chef we've been together for, well this will be our ninth year this year. He was there from day one and I mean we are like two peas in a pod. The restaurant manager's been with me for six years and it just works superb, to answer your question we treat our staff so well so nine out of ten staff they take January, February, March off, have a bit of a holiday and get some time with the families and come back again 1st April. So it works really, really well and we don't really have a great turnover of staff. Fantastic well listen it sounds like a wonderful lifestyle, wonderful to meet you and thank you very, very much indeed. I appreciate it. No you're so welcome bloody hell I'm proud.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th March 2011

Paul Cunningham, The Paul, Copenhagen