With his groundbreaking restaurant Relæ, chef Christian Puglisi turned fine dining on its ear, bringing accessibility and accountability to the fore.
• Founder of Relæ, Manfreds, Bæst, and Mirabelle in Copenhagen
• Led Relæ to become the first organically certified restaurant to earn a Michelin star and win The Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2015 and 2016
• Launched Rudo, an Italian eatery and bar, in Copenhagen
• Established the Farm of Ideas, an organic farm and center of learning outside of Copenhagen
• Worked at NOMA with René Redzepi, El Bulli with Ferran Adrià, and Restaurant Taillevent
• Author of “Relæ: A Book of Ideas”
• Contributor to the Danish newspaper Politiken
• Stays fit with daily CrossFit workouts.
Making culinary adventures accessible for the people
Christian Puglisi is the creator of a growing family of restaurants and dynamic concepts. Though he has clearly followed his own vision since his time in the kitchens of iconoclasts like René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià, Puglisi has joined their ranks as an internationally recognized culinary leader—not just a chef and restaurateur, but a maker of a movement.
Best known for spearheading the transformation of a crime-addled Copenhagen street with the opening of Relæ in 2010, Puglisi has continued to build platforms for furthering his ethos of respect for ingredients: their source, their character, and the experience of the people who enjoy the final product.
Puglisi was born in Messina, Italy, and moved to Denmark with his family at age 7. He began working in kitchens as a teenager and eventually had meaningful stints in some of the world’s most influential restaurants: El Bulli and NOMA. But increasingly he knew he’d need a place of his own in order to realize the laboratory of ideas he envisioned.
The mission of Relæ? Stripping down a great meal to its essence, what Puglisi calls “haute cuisine with no pretensions.” The emphasis would be on vegetables, eschewing waste, and shrugging off default luxury ingredients.
Not wanting to be limited by the demands of funders, and finding banks not forthcoming with loans, their team opened in a space on the Jægersborggade, a popular spot for drug dealers. Reducing extraneous costs—fancy paper towels, hovering servers—removed a creative barrier for the chefs. “That we choose not to base our kitchen on prime cuts as a creative restriction does not make us a cheap restaurant,” Puglisi says. “It makes us a different one. High price, to me, means higher expectations. Higher expectations mean less room for surprises.”
The restaurant brought positive traffic to the street, attracting new businesses. Relæ expanded, with Manfreds opening across the street, then a bakery, Mirabelle, and Bæst. All strive to be as sustainable as possible, constantly refining their approaches to efficiency and maintaining a commitment to sourcing the best-quality ingredients.
To that end, in 2016 Puglisi began a new venture—the Farm of Ideas, an experimental organic farm 40 minutes outside of Copenhagen that will not only grow produce and raise meat and dairy for his restaurants, but host workshops for farmers and chefs. Puglisi handed the reins of Relæ over to longtime team member chef Jonathan Tam in order to keep staff innovation flowing and free his own time to be “a sort of puppet master pulling strings of produce from here and there in between the restaurants.”
Puglisi branched out of the Jægersborggade with the opening of Rudo, an Italian eatery and wine bar located in Copenhagen’s branch of Eataly food markets, in late 2016. It’s a switch-up in atmosphere but maintains the fundamental Puglisi approach.
“I could almost define myself as a restless ‘free-range’ chef,” Puglisi says. “People have asked me the same questions for years. Are you Italian or are you Danish? Are you a chef or are you an entrepreneur? I cannot ever give a clear answer because there is no absolute truth. I can live with the fact that what I do today might not be the same tomorrow. It’s confusing for most but highly enjoyable for me.”