What does it take to get a star?

By Lucía Camblor and María José Villanueva, photos by Siân Kavanagh

Anonymous, mysterious and strict: these are the adjectives that describe the inspectors of the most famous food guide of the world. Each year they try new dishes and select the best restaurants in 23 countries to create the Michelin Guide.

The Michelin inspectors can give from one to three stars based on these five criteria: product quality; preparation and flavours; personality of the chef revealed on his or her cuisine; value for money and consistency across the entire menu.

Copenhagen may still be the Danish city with the highest number of Michelin stars, but since 2015, Aarhus has been recognised as the gastronomic capital of Jutland with restaurants appearing on the French publication.

Aarhus debuts on the Michelin Guide

The first time towns outside the Nordic capitals were included on the prestigious list was three years ago, when the Michelin Nordic Cities Guide was first introduced. Aarhus debuted with three restaurants receiving one star: Subastans, Frederikshøj and Gastromé.

These along with Domestic, which received its star in 2017, are featured on the prestigious guide this year.

“We have some of Denmark’s best chefs in Aarhus who really deserve the recognition. It will have a huge impact on tourism that the city’s gastronomic level has now been given the stamp of approval from the ultimate food bible”, said the head of the tourist organization Visit Aarhus, Peer Kristensen, according to the newspaper The Local.

Natural light, wooden tables, white tablecloths and plants create a cozy atmosphere in Substans, located in the centre of Aarhus (photo: Siân Kavanagh)

Chef René Mammen, 37, has been running Substans with his wife for 13 years. In 2015, he received a visit that changed the course of the discreet restaurant located in Frederiksgade 74.

That year, after the Michelin inspector tried the food at Substans, he talked with René. “We sat down and had a nice friendly talk and he said he liked the food but no more than that”, recalls the chef. He is laid-back sitting in a chair, swinging his tattooed arms and intertwining his fingers from time to time. “I wasn’t counting on a star or anything; we worked our asses off and I just said to the guys in the kitchen: ‘if the guy is going to come to Aarhus and we don’t get a star then it’s the goal for the next year’”.

When the Michelin Guide was presented the restaurant crew was not even at Substans, they had gone to a bistro to have breakfast and watch the announcements. “We didn’t bring any phone and we had like 13 unanswered calls from England; we actually found out on Facebook, the Danish food critics published it and I was like ‘that’s not right’. So it was a good day” says René while laughing about the story.

Since then, the bookings at Substans have been steadily growing, their menu has evolved and the place has attracted people from all over the world.

Nordic cuisine and the organic boom

For René Mammen, natural and local products have always been important. Organic products are cleaner, fresher and have more flavour; they require less seasoning, which makes it a big challenge for them. “We like to buy as much local as we can, sometimes we get stuff from Germany and Norway and Sweden. It’s just a matter of quality and specially the Danish vegetables and organic products are way better than non-organic”, explains.

The next goal of Chef René Mammen is to get a second Michelin star: “It’s not a secret. Everybody wants it” (photo: Siân Kavanagh)

When asked whether the food at Substans is an example of Nordic cuisine, he has a different approach. “Some people have this feeling that Nordic kitchen is completely clean, without any butter and cream; and I was trained French so we use a lot of butter” says René laughing, “so of course we are Nordic in the sense that we use the product that surrounds us and that is the Nordic touch but the style and cooking methods are not actually that connected to that cuisine”.

The small crew consists of four people on the kitchen and four people on the floor who cater for 35 guests. “In order to keep the quality as high as possible for us it has been necessary to have one menu”, explains René, and adds that they constantly experiment with the dishes and ingredients to change some items on the 12-course menu every few weeks.

Substans, Frederikshøj, Gastromé and Domestic have something else in common aside from one Michelin star: they use organic and Nordic products of the highest quality to create gourmet dishes. Their food has been recognised as the best and has proudly put Aarhus on the gastronomic map.

For more information about Aarhus awarded restaurants and the Michelin Guide, consult the links below:

Substans: restaurantsubstans.dk

Frederikshøj: frederikshoj.com

Gastromé: gastrome.dk

Domestic: restaurantdomestic.dk

The Michelin Nordic Cities guide 2018

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