It seemed like a good place to learn. Copenhagen’s culinary scene has evolved rapidly over the past two decades. René Redzepi and his team at Noma (Noma, or Nordisk Mad, which literally means Nordic food) played a large part in that process. Everything served at Noma has to be simple and locally sourced from the sea and land.
Can you give us an example?
Instead of using lemons that don’t grow in Denmark, chefs at Noma use locally grown and pickled sea buckthorn. Simple fish prepared with sea buckthorn is transformed into an original, exquisite dish. At first, I thought I’d want to stay at Noma and carry on working there as a cook. I learned a lot, but I also felt too old to stay there permanently – it was a lot of pressure and competition. But thankfully, Copenhagen is much more than just Noma. Danish and Nordic aesthetics, including when it comes to food, rely on simplicity and minimalism. All you need is good quality bread, butter, cheese and maybe a soft-boiled egg. Excellent quality elevates a simple sandwich to an amazing meal, a great experience. It’s not just a cheese sandwich, it’s a proper cheese sandwich.
So, where did you go after Noma?
My future boss – the founder of Atelier September and Apollo Bar, Frederik Bille Brahe – and I met socially. He offered me a job at Atelier September, a small place where I could prove myself as both a chef and manager. It’s a beautiful place that serves kind of romantic, art-inspired breakfasts and lunches. I was lucky to meet the right person, but then I had to work hard to return the favour. I trusted my gut, and it turned out that I genuinely like working with food.
You’ve created a strong personal brand. How satisfied professionally are you, on a scale of one to ten?
I think I’m somewhere between two and three. Mati Pichci was initially just an alter ego of Mateusz Sarnowski, who worked in an advertising agency and occasionally cooked something for himself. The food I prepared back then was – and still is – quite simple, uncomplicated. In the end, cooking became my path in life, not just my alter ego. I’m grateful for Instagram, which makes it so much easier to communicate and spread the brand. At the same time, of course, I spend way too much time on there. But these are the rules of the game.
Can the Danes pronounce your name?
They say “Mati Picci” and generally think I’m Italian. But as an Italophile – I speak Italian, love Italian food and aesthetics – I’m not really offended.
Are you happy and content doing what you love for a living? Or is it tiring?
I prefer to cook for a living. I haven’t burned out yet, and I also like to make food outside of work. I still want to invite friends for dinner. But that’s probably because I found the right niche – I don’t work in the kitchen Tuesday to Saturday, twelve hours a day, so I’m not really that tired. But if I had to prepare meat every day, it would probably be too exhausting and intense. I try to steer my professional life in directions that bring me joy. And I do enjoy working with vegetables and certified food from eco farms. I admire simple but extraordinary ingredients. Recently I was in Porto and when I cut through a local tomato my jaw dropped – it was so fleshy, beautiful and aromatic. I want to work with food to enjoy these moments.