Round Circles and Sharp Corners

(no pictures yet, still way too afraid.)

Cooks: have you ever prepped in absolute silence?

Yeah, neither had I until my first day at AOC.

At In de Wulf, we had the occasional radio, a small amount of kitchen banter, though most of the time there was just work to do.

But here, there’s pretty much nothing. Why? Well, most of the prep you do here requires your full, undivided attention otherwise you’re just wasting their time, and your time. The smallest, most inane tasks have a very specific way being done, from picking herbs to the specific size (and by specific, we mean something around three leaflets on the dill for garnish), to punching out little circles from each leaf of parsley, to cutting sharp as a razor, 90 degree edges on the squid. In previous kitchens that I’ve worked in, you had a small range of doneness when you fry things on their shade of color.

Not here.

Every piece has to be a certain color. A certain doneness. There’s not a range, there’s not a zone, they don’t care if you stand and stare at the product till it’s done. Multitasking is possible, but what they really want is the most consistent product humanly possible.

Chefs Emborg and Munk have very finite specifications (and the stencils and molds to prove it) to everything. Blanching, which is even the most basic of basic tasks now has a certain weight of water and salt ratio to specific vegetables. It has to be done one. single. way.

At times it feels like I’m working the pastry station.

Oh wait. I am. (or well I was, I moved to the hot line today)

But even so, the innate movements, feelings, touches, smells of cooking savory food that I’ve done time and time again have never felt so calculated and rigid. I’ve never been one to punch out circles or use stencils or little molds. Here, most of the time my brain second-guesses itself as I’m doing something that I’ve done thousands of times. My muscles pause at things that they’ve repetitively done for years. But the demand is high, and they aren’t afraid to let you know what they want.

It’s probably the hardest kitchen I’ve ever been in, with the level of food that goes out.

But the food is amazing. The mixture of pure flavor, extreme attention to texture, and an interesting (and very apparent attention to) aesthetic, from my viewpoint, probably makes for a worthwhile dining experience for the guests.

Cooking like this is a new feeling, and its one that not only makes me appreciate consistent food that’s reaching for a certain point of excellence in every plate, but also the food that AOC isn’t. The food that’s poked and gauged by an experienced (or I guess sometimes not so experienced) cook, plated with certain individual artistic expression, and almost always changes depending on who’s cooking, slicing, and tasting your food. But in the end, that may be what separates the good from the legends. The ability to ingrain it in your head the deepest specific details of every plate. I know that here, every piece of every plate has had multiple sets of eyes inspect it in every stage of its preparation. Its here that the chef is behind every single plate. It’s a mentally exhausting way to work, and a style that doesn’t really fit my own.

So why am I here?

AOC and probably Geranium are two types of kitchens I’ll probably never have the skill to move up and run. But their level of finiteness and my (hopefully) ability to keep up and thrive gives me a better idea of how far I want to take this little thing called cooking. What is it that makes their food so good, and how much should that line of OCD-ness do you want to push it to make your food shine with both technique and personality?

Who knows. Maybe I’ll end up being the cook that has to buy a whole bunch of ring cutters and rulers.


About Justin

We cook, and bake at Oxheart Restaurant in Houston, TX.
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7 Responses to Round Circles and Sharp Corners

  1. Vilhjálmur says:

    Well, I believe we had this talk but I will repeat my point anyway. In the cooking scene in denmark and in fact the whole of scandinavia, the way to make one self noticed isn’t so much the michelin guide and their stars but just as much or even more competitive cooking. Cooking like you see in Bocuse d’or and national culinary competitions. A lot of the work ethics and rules from these competitions have followed the chefs to the restaurants were they work. I bet you anything that if you ask the guys who work there then more then half of them have some experience in competitions.

    anyway, take care…


  2. John Sconzo says:

    The meal I had at AOC in August was simply stunning. The level of effort that goes into each dish shows. As for competition, I believe that Geranium’s Rasmus Kofoed will be representing Denmark in the Bocuse D’Or in January and is considered by many the favorite to win the event.

  3. Justin says:

    Willy: Yeah, Chef Emborg was Kofoed’s commis during his first Bocuse finals trip. Chef Munk is really good friends with him as well. We found out where That Royal Plate Shop thing is, btw. Heading there soon. Karen got a second stage at Relae bc Kiin Kiin was overloaded on stages.

    Docsconz: I believe he is. I’ll be staging at Geranium in January, so we’ll see how this compares. I feel as if it might be similar, if not moreso along the lines of what I’m seeing here. We did 70 people tonight and still Chef Emborg looked at every single garnish of dill to make sure it was standing up perfectly straight. I love it, but it’s very intimidating at the same time.

    • Sven says:

      Justin and Karen, it’s great. the things you see and do.
      Your words on the blog made me speechless.
      But at the same time i was thinking, yeah this is hardcore.
      Keep it up man!

  4. Lisa says:

    Nice post Justin 🙂
    As the cold station chef at AOC, I think you have highlighted most of the main reasons I like working there… and some of the distinct “oddities” that a lot of stagieres find when they come haha!

    For more on AOC and cooking in Denmark visit:

  5. Lisa says:

    Nice post Justin 🙂
    As the cold station chef at AOC, I think you highlighted most of the main reasons I like working there… and some of the apparent “oddities” that a lot of stagiers find when they come haha!

    For more on AOC and cooking in denmark, visit

  6. Diane says:

    I think it’s great that you’re putting yourself in the position to be challenged, even if it’s not for you. Right now is the perfect time for us to stick our necks out a little farther than we’re comfortable with just to see how much we can grow. At our age, we can either continue on the journey of self-discovery or fold our arms and say, “That’s it; this is who I am”. The former may be harder, but it’s more interesting–and makes for a more riveting blog ;).

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