‘I don’t get why people call Danish food simple’

In the latest instalment of My Danish Career, The Local met with chef Karlos Ponte at his new restaurant, Taller. Ponte’s new venture comes after working for some of the world’s best restaurants.

'I don't get why people call Danish food simple'
Chef Karlos Ponte is in a new venture. Photo: Submitted.
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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark’s seasons’

Stuart Eve moved to Denmark with his family after his wife, an archaeologist, was offered a job at Aarhus University. Nearly four years later, he is the co-founder of a fair trade chocolate business in the Scandinavian city.

'We wanted to make chocolate to reflect Denmark's seasons'
A chance meeting at their children's daycare resulted in the Ørbæk and Eve families starting their Danish business. Photo: Stuart Eve

Eve still works full time at his day job, also in archaeology. But the sweet-toothed entrepreneur told The Local that Denmark provided him with inspiration to try something out of his comfort zone – starting his own business in a foreign country.

After meeting business partner Anders Ørbæk at the daycare centre attended by their children, the two began the project, initially producing the chocolate out of their own kitchens.

“That has now moved to the renting of a professional space, so that we can scale up production and also get all the relevant food hygiene certificates and so on,” Eve said.

The archaeologist said having Danish partners had been beneficial in the course of setting up a business in the Scandinavian country, even though the process itself was straightforward.

“Actually starting the business was a matter of filling in a few forms online and showing we had 100 kroner [13 euros] in the bank. However, I think without our Danish partners, it would have been quite hard – mainly because of the technical Danish required. My Danish is pretty awful – and there are a lot of financial terms that are difficult to translate,” Eve said.

READ ALSO: Danish: Is it really so hard to learn?

“So I think for us it was essential to have Danish partners. Also, the food hygiene rules and health and safety, while similar to the UK, are quite onerous – and again very technical.

“I run my own archaeology business in the UK, so that has set me in great stead for the financial and business side,” he added.

The startup currently sources some of its supplies from Eve’s native UK – one aspect that may be complicated by Brexit, he said.

“My secret dream is that the chocolate business will enable us to beat Brexit and stay in Denmark for a lot longer — but we'll have to see how it pans out,” he said.


Packaged up and ready to go #somerferie #chokolade #beantobar #chocolate

A post shared by Ørbæk & Eve (@oerbaekandeve) on Jul 3, 2017 at 2:40pm PDT

It was not just the administrative side that Eve had to learn on the hoof for his Danish-based business, though – the process of producing the chocolate itself is also new.

“I was eating some Ritter Sport one evening and wondered to myself how chocolate was made, thinking it must be some incredibly complicated industrial process. So I checked out a few YouTube videos and it turns out you can make chocolate in a coffee grinder – it tastes awful because it is so crunchy, but it shows the process. From there it was a matter of buying a bigger grinder and starting to experiment. We have so much to learn still, but people seem to like what we are producing so far,” he said.

The chocolate produced by the startup – which is both fairtrade and organic – is heavily influenced by Denmark’s nature and seasonal variations, including a quarterly subscription service which can be signed up for via a crowdfunding campaign.

“We have been trying to find a way to really represent the beauty and abundance of the Danish countryside and combine it with something that Danes really love – chocolate,” he said.

“Strawberries from Samsø for summer, hazelnuts foraged from the woods for autumn, etc. Between us we have six kids so the family always come in and help during the production days,” he added.

A longer term aim is to consolidate the new company – named Ørbæk & Eve after its co-founders – as a well-known ‘bean to bar’ company in Aarhus.

“Our main reasons for doing this are two-fold. First, we eat a lot of chocolate and have become increasingly concerned by the human and environmental costs of industrialised chocolate production – there are new reports about destruction of rainforest for cocoa plantations and slave labour in West Africa, for example. In order to not be complicit with this, I wanted to figure out how it was made – and to do it myself.

“Second, we have really noticed the differences in the seasons since we moved to Denmark, so we wanted to make chocolate that reflected and celebrated the different qualities of the changing seasons,” he said.

Eve, Ørbæk and their partners are currently spending evenings and weekends on the chocolate production runs.

“As things pick up, I suspect I will move to one dedicated day a week, but we have four of us working on it, so we can usually juggle the time,” he said.

READ MORE: The Local's 'My Danish Career' series