Vintage SAS menus in a modern way
Rasmus Munk is the brains behind the exciting new entry to Copenhagen’s burgeoning restaurant
scene, Alchemist, where innovative dishes surprise and awe. Dinner at Alchemist is a bombardment of crunchy, crazy and fun – and everything tastes terrific.
While Munk is a forward-thinking chef who is always pushing boundaries, he is also interested in historic food too, so he was delighted to be asked to reinterpret four dishes from the SAS archive.
Long before New Nordic became fashionable, SAS was heavily marketing Scandinavian raw ingredients and dishes that were elegantly blended with international trends. In the 1970s, for example, SAS was transforming the popular scampi into a Pernod marinated jellyfish with roasted fjord prawns while the hors d’œuvre classic “angels in a blanket,” which contains oysters, was innovatively wrapped in freeze dried seawater (yes, you read that correctly), cotton candy and yuzu.
“SAS has a long and gastronomically exciting history with what to modern eyes seems almost unreal service in the 1950s and 60s,” says Gustaf Öholm, Senior Manager Onboard Concepts and Service Design at SAS. “Large serving tables, white linen tablecloths and silverware were not an unusual sight in cabins. And it’s always been important to us to promote typical Scandinavian food. This can range from clear gastronomic profiles to individual dishes and ingredients. Cultural high points such as Lucia, Midsummer and other local traditions have been celebrated over the years and appreciated by our travelers.”
The problem in the air in the first decades was simply that other than pickled herring, open-faced sandwiches, smörgåsbord and snaps, Scandinavia didn’t have much of a reputation on the international food scene. Top restaurants in the Nordic countries served French, French and French cuisine, while domestic dishes were long considered to be coarse and tasteless.
The leading Danish restaurant critic of the 1960s, who wrote under the pen name Jacques de France, summed up the situation: “If you can speak of a style for Danish cuisine, it has no gastronomic purpose. In France, meat is grilled, braised, poached, sautéed, fried or roasted. In Denmark, it is disinfected. We can only boil and fry, but both methods are used so effectively that no bacteria can survive. Nor is there any trace of succulence and taste remaining.” (From Danmarks Gastronomiske Revolution by Ole Troelsø.)
Even the father of classic Swedish cooking, Tore Wretman, did his best to copy the best of French restaurant culture when he built his restaurant empire. He was however, foresighted enough to also promote and value classic Swedish home fare such as meatballs and serve them with silver cutlery.
In the 1970s, nouvelle cuisine became big in France and with it, a greater focus on natural raw ingredients, lighter tastes and individual interpretations. The coast was now clear for chefs to develop their own interpretations and signature dishes – without necessarily basing them on traditional recipes.
This period also saw portioning and plating being done in the kitchen, which further boosted the chef’s role as the focal point of the restaurant. This paved the way for the chef revolution in the 1980s and 1990s when chefs suddenly stepped into the limelight – and onto airline menus.
“We have worked with most of the really big-name chefs in Scandinavia,” says Öholm. “For a number of years, we worked with what we called ‘Scandinavian World Cooking’ that aimed to promote the truly unique gastronomy that was represented by a number of powerful profiles in Scandinavia. What was unique about it was that we not only worked with these poster names to sign certain dishes, we also invited them to our production units around the world to educate our own chefs and enable them to create their own unique menus.”
And so how do some of these unique menus stand up today? With a little modern tweaking, Munk has reinterpreted one SAS dish from the 1940s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. “For me, taste always comes before presentation – but a genuine wow factor is also important,” says Munk. And wow does indeed seem to be the main factor!
From 1946 to 1948, SAS menus were hand written by the purser during the flight. The simple but elegant hors d’oeuvre ‘‘angels in blanket’’ – oysters wrapped in bacon and then grilled or fried – was popular in the US. In Munk’s modern version, raw oysters from Gillardeau are paired with a “broken gel” made of bacon from Danish farm Vilhelms gaard and Joselito ham from Spanish black legged pigs. A foam of freeze-dried seawater and glasswort further reinforces the oceanic feel. The dish is topped with a cotton candy puff decorated with sea purslane, which is served with a warm crème of fermented oyster and yuzu.
The main dish served to passengers flying from Copenhagen and Greenland to Los Angeles was‘‘Dindonneau rôti chipolata et pommes rissolées”. A chipolata is a normally made of pork, but in this case, turkey was used. Munk’s version decorates the turkey with fried “chicken toes” – that look like tiny nails on close inspection. Chicken feet are a delicacy in Asia and, in line with the philosophy that no material should go to waste, which is fashionable in the New Nordic food scene. Munk has arranged them on top of a salted pork confit from organic farm Grambogård. Pommes rissolés are simply fried diced potatoes, but in Munk’s hands, the potatoes have been puffed instead. The finishing touch is a sprinkling of powdered roast onion and a chipolata and chestnut sauce.
Consommé was incredibly popular on 1970s menus, but making a completely clear yet intensely flavored one is challenging and there is an infinite variety of recipes in classic French cuisine. In a classic consommé à la Royale, the stock is garnished with egg that is often shaped into fantasy figures. Egg Royale is another classic, this one garnished with black caviar. And to further confuse things a Danish-style Consommé à la Royale often includes asparagus. Munk inverts the whole concept and turns the consommé into a soft gel that tops seasonal asparagus, along with black caviar from Giaveri, pea shoots and lemon-scented roasted tree ants.
Restaurang Gourmet in Stockholm was, in 1984, one of the first Swedish restaurants to win a star in the Michelin Guide. “Scampi amoreuse” was one of their signature dishes and it spread like wildfire through Swedish homes via recipes in food magazines. In 1981, travelers flying between Stockholm and New York could also try the dish, in which tiger prawns were flambéed in cognac and served in a tomato, bell pepper and mushroom sauce flavored with Pernod. Munk has instead marinated jellyfish in Pernod and topped it with whole fjord prawns, radishes and lemon thyme - and a neon-colored distilled tomato juice.
Text: Lena Ilkjaer
Published: September 15, 2021