Mads Refslund never thought he’d wind up in Brooklyn. The Denmark-born, Michelin-starred chef was (and most definitely still is) a sensation overseas due to his work at Noma and, the eponymous, Restaurant MR. He wound up at Manhattan’s Acme by chance and, after a four-year stint, plans to open up a new dining destination come summer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The concept is Fire and Ice and will take Mads out of his comfort zone and back to when, as he puts it, cavemen were cooking. We were lucky enough to chat with him at the location, which is still very much under construction, and be the first to take a peek inside the space.
Your most recent stint was at Acme in Noho, but you’ve since left. Why did you feel like it was time to move on?
I came from an upscale, fine dining world that felt very different from what I was experiencing in New York. I always wanted to go back to what I did before; not entirely, but to do things the way I was used to doing them. I think it’s important to note, too, that it’s very difficult to work for someone else when you’re so used to working on your own. I want the chance to tell my own story again.
Can you tell us a little bit about the yet-to-open, new restaurant you’re working on now?
It’s more like a kitchen with a restaurant inside of it. I really want to try and mix front and back of the house to make one. The cooks will be serving food and taking orders. The waiters will deal with everything that is customer service. Everyone will work together.
I want it to be as clean as possible – as simple – and hope to take it back to how people cooked and ate a long time ago. Think raw elements. I plan to have a big block of ice in the back with raw food, oysters etc., and a big bonfire. To cook like a caveman would have. Everything smoked and grilled.
Will you be borrowing at all from your past projects or will this be an entirely new venture for you?
I am not entirely sure yet –I’m trying to think about the food but it’s been difficult because I have construction on my mind. I know that once the construction is done, we’ll spend 3-4 months on the menu. I hope to have some of my signature dishes on there, though, like Falling Fruit. Dishes that are close to my heart and that I just can’t let go of. But, of course, if they don’t end up making sense I won’t include them.
Why this location, in Williamsburg?
It was just the best space I saw. I’ve been looking for three years. Trust me, it’s been difficult. I told myself, I want a square and I want tall ceilings with a lot of light. In Denmark, we have a lot of light. Initially, I had told myself to only look in Manhattan, I did not come all this way to be in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But then I found the perfect space.
You’re known for a subtle, new-Nordic style of cuisine. What does that mean to you?
The way I was taught to cook was not really Nordic, it was more French cuisine but I was born and raised in Denmark so, of course, it’s Nordic. But Nordic, to me, can only really be done in Nordic countries. If I am here and I am doing things as they are done in Denmark, smoking or very vegetable-focused, but with items found in America then, it’s more like new-American.
How do you conjure new recipes and concepts for dishes? Is it something you practice, experiment with and work on daily or something that develops slowly and organically over time?
Slowly, organically over time. I get inspired when I go out to eat, talk with people, and explore nature. I always have a lot of ideas and can’t stop writing things down.
Do you have any mentors in the industry or people you align yourself with?
Not one real mentor, no. I did have some great people train me in Denmark and there’s this British cook, Paul Cunningham, who is amazing but I look up to and am inspired by all of my good friends and colleagues in the industry.
What are some of your favorite places to eat in New York?
I love Blue Hill Stone Barns in upstate New York. I love Estela, Achilles Heel, Contra, Pok Pok, Roberta’s, and Masa. I really love Maison Premiere. I think it’s the best oyster bar in the world.