Karlos Ponte has worked in some of the most highly regarded kitchens of Europe: El Bulli Hotel in Spain, Denis Martin in Switzerland and Denmark’s own Noma.
Ponte is now running his own Copenhagen restaurant, Taller, bringing the flavours of his home country Venezuela to the Danes. The Local spoke with Ponte about Taller, his Venezuelan TV show and misconceptions about Danish food.
What made you want to become a chef?
I have always had a very close relationship with traditional cooking at home. Our family holidays were even scheduled around gastronomical experiences. Then I started to meet professional chefs and that seed began to grow in me. But I’d say that I started cooking for real when I first came to Denmark in a high school exchange 12 years ago and began making Venezuelan food for my friends. I found a way to make people happy and then I started to get myself into the gastronomic world.
You have worked in a lot of countries (Switzerland, Spain, France), why did you decide to come to Denmark?
After my exchange in Denmark, I came back to Venezuela and studied to be a chef there. I then went to Spain to work in El Bulli in Sevilla. Then I went to a little classic restaurant in France, where I continued my formation. After that came Noma here in Denmark, Denis Martin in Switzerland and then back to Denmark to work alongside the prestigious restaurateur Claus Meyer and did the opening as head chef of Namnam. But the decision to stay in Denmark was really based on my exchange year because I made so many friends here.
Why have you now opened a Venezuelan restaurant in Denmark?
I always knew I wanted to have my own business. My partner chef Luis Moreno and I started Taller and took care of everything, even remodeling the building! We wanted to do the whole process by hand.
Why the name Taller?
Taller is Spanish for workshop. We chose that name because we regard cooking as a craft. I know that cooking has artistic and scientific elements, but mostly it’s a craft. Being a chef is like any other job, but with some creative moments. That’s why we decided to call the restaurant Taller, because for us it’s really a workshop.
Karlos Ponte in his 'workshop'. Photo: Agustin Millan.
Can you tell us about the Taller team?
We have people from Venezuela, Spain, US, Denmark, Japan and Ireland on our team. In high level gastronomy, it is quite common to meet a lot of international people. Gourmet gastronomy is really hard and all of us are kind of nomads. It’s necessary to travel and experience, that’s the way we learn from different people and cultures.
What did you learn from your experience at El Bulli and Noma?
There’s a philosophy I link to El Bulli: 'The good non-conformist'. It’s based on never feeling that something is complete and always remaining on a quest to develop knowledge. It’s about doing things in a different way. That's how you learn to be genuine and let your own philosophy flourish.
How would you define your approach to food?
I’ve never defined it. It’s a constant quest to figure out who you are. Our basis is Venezuelan cooking, but we learn from other cultures of the world. Our team is also like a family, which is very in line with cooking traditions. And I have to say that is very different to cook in a good or bad mood. That can change the whole experience because the client can feel that.
And what about your TV show DesCubiertos?
My father and I filmed the show with the goal of training Venezuelan people about their own cooking traditions and helping the country nurture a gastronomical culture. We aim for a social transformation and to allow young cooks to do new things. We will be back for a second season in 2016.
What is your opinion about Danish gastronomic culture?
I love it. I just don’t get why people call Danish food ‘simple’. Sometimes it’s more difficult to work with only two ingredients!
What is your favorite Danish food?
I love skipperlabskovs, a traditional sailor stew. And Danish Christmas food is absolutely terrific. There are a lot of different dishes and I love all of them.
You speak English, French, Spanish and Danish. Is it important to learn Danish to work here?
I came here for the very first time almost twelve years ago, then after travelling around, I came back six years ago and married a Danish woman in 2013. I started learning Danish from the very beginning. There’s no point in coming to another culture and not learning the language. It’s good for integrating with the local people and for getting to know the traditional food.