Christian Puglisi – chef, entrepreneur and creator of the only certified organic Michelin Star restaurant
Caro Feely met Christian Puglisi, chef, entrepreneur, dynamo and creator of the only certified organic Michelin Star restaurant, Relae in Copenhagen, at Ballymaloe’s litfest, a festival with a focus on books, food literacy and provenance of food and drink. In this article she provides a profile of this inspiring person as part of Chateau Feely’s inspiring people blog posts.
The Ballymaloe Litfest was a rich stew of inspiring chefs, authors and artisans and Christian’s talk was one of my favourites. In 2013 his restaurant, Relæ, obtained the highest Danish organic certification, making it the only certified organic Michelin starred restaurant in the world.
Christian explained his ethos, his belief that high quality ingredients must be produced naturally, that is, organically. The only way to be sure of the provenance, unless you are the farmer, or know the farmer and farm well enough that you do your own ‘certification’ visits, is with certified organic.
For the level of organic certification that Relae has, a minimum of 90% of the products and ingredients must be certified organic. I know how difficult this can be from with our wine and food pairing lunches and cheese platters that we aim to cater 100% organic, to match our organic wine and ethos. There are times when we just can’t source the organic version of the product we want.
Christian said they had to adapt the menu to the availability of organic produce. The lack of certified organic ingredients led him to starting his own organic farm in 2016. He wanted to be able to offer, for example, organic cheese, in the style of fresh mozzarella, as a starter; but couldn’t find it, so they started their own dairy herd on the farm and made the cheese themselves.
It was exciting to hear him speak about how this new adventure, of having their own farm, had brought him and his team closer to the ingredients, and their provenance, and enabled them to experiment with completely different vegetables, like heritage varieties. This was something that resonated with our Litfest hosts, Ballymaloe House Hotel and the Ballymaloe cookery school, where ingredients and their provenance have always been a focus.
It’s worth recapping Christian’s route to the first and only, at the time of writing, certified organic Michelin star restaurant. He was born in Italy and moved to Copenhagen with his parents when he was eight years old. When he started his career in food, he worked for some of the most well-known restaurants in the world, Taillevent in Paris, El Bulli in Spain, and particularly and lastly, with Noma in Denmark, rated top restaurant in the world many times and famed for their focus on vegetables and quality of ingredients.
Christian left Noma to create Relae with a partner and bootstrapped their new restaurant in a part of Copenhagen that was considered dodgy at the time. There were drug dealers on the street outside and even a shooting just metres away. The area transformed upwards, as did the restaurant, gaining a bib gourmand, and then a Michelin star.
The arrival of Christian’s son made him rethink his ingredients. He wanted to feed his son organic but as it was a small family business his girlfriend and son usually ate with the staff at the restaurant. How could he feed his son organic but not his staff? Not to mention his clients. He realised if he thought it was important for his son to eat organic, he needed to put organic on the table for everyone. It pushed them into finding new suppliers, innovating with their menu to use only organic ingredients and eventually to creating his own farm as described above.
In his book Relæ: A Book of Ideas, he says gaining organic certification in 2013 was one of his proudest moments. It was tough to meet the stringent requirements and the red tape associated, but it made him ask his non-organic suppliers hard questions that helped him see why they weren’t certified organic – and hence why he was no longer happy to support them. If you have visited chateau Feely and heard how passionate I am about organic you can imagine how much this resonated with me.
It wasn’t an easy road. It required more innovation and creativity to come up with solutions when the ingredient they wanted wasn’t available in organic certified form.
Through the organic certification journey and partly because of this journey, he expanded to create additional food and drink activities. For example they created a natural wine importer Vini Kultur to serve the organic and natural wine they wanted to serve. They created an organic bakery ‘Mirabelle’, where you can eat brunch (and a restaurant side where you can have dinner too from what I can make out on the Danish only site) after going the extra mile to create natural organic bread that was a wonder in itself – from organic locally grown grain, water and salt and their own levain. They also have a bistro famous for its beef tartare and vegetables called Manfreds that was created as a take away place to keep them going when the renovations of the restaurant Relae took a longer than planned. It is now famous in its own right. Newer to the fold are a restaurant where pizza is the main star called Bæst and a bar and cocktail joint called Rudo.
I felt truly inspired by Christian and his story of his restaurant and their journey. My gratitude to Ballymaloe for the opportunity to meet him and Christian F. Puglisi himself for his story and passion for organic. I look forward to visiting Copenhagen and see these inspirational places first-hand.
Chateau Feely is proud to celebrate 12 years certified organic. We know the commitment required to get to this milestone and how important it is for customers and ourselves.
For more details on why choose certified organic see these recent articles on Chateau Feely’s blog:
- Why certified organic is worth the paper its written on
- Latour certified organic + cost of organic certification versus the premium for being certified organic
- How to tell if a wine is organic or not
- What pesticides taste like – signature aromas and flavours in conventional wines
- What the sulfite?!? Sulfites in wine – why you should care and what it is
- Why choose organic anything but especially wine
You can read about the story of this organic farm – the series includes three books Grape Expectations; Saving our Skins and Glass Half Full by Caro Feely. Or order a case of organic wine including shipping in the EU. Join the mailing list to receive a seasonal newsletter, events, wine pairing, recipes and more info on this topic at the bottom right of this page.