Michelin-Starred Alchemist Restaurant Isn't Afraid To Make Diners Uncomfortable

Fine dining is in the midst of a cultural upheaval and reckoning: the horror film "The Menu" takes the nature of upscale restaurants and pushes it to an extreme parody (though it was based on an actual dining menu), and Noma — arguably one of the best restaurants in the world — announced that it's shuttering its doors after more than two decades leading the industry.

Despite the usual deferential treatment towards clients and exorbitant price tags that usually go hand in hand with tasting menus at Michelin-starred restaurants, there is a real problem with abuse towards workers behind the scenes in the kitchens (see The Bear show as a too-close-to-home fictionalized example) and even unpaid labor practices. Copenhagen Michelin-starred restaurant Alchemist turns this model on its head: serving up wildly inventive dishes that often make diners feel discomfort while boasting some of the best working conditions for fine dining employees in the world.

Burnout chicken you need to set free

"Holistic dining" is the philosophy that dictates how everything is done at the Alchemist, which is a sort of immersive dream experience directed by head chef Rasmus Munk. The dining location is located in a remote and industrial area of Copenhagen, and even entering the space is intimidating: the bronze doors literally weigh two tons.

Plastic bags posing as jellyfish float above diners' heads, which serve as a harsh reminder of the waste humans create in the oceans. Instead of eating a perfectly roasted chicken thigh that's cleanly presented without any context to how the chicken lived and died, Alchemist serves a dish called "Burnout Chicken," according to Lena Ilkjaer, Alchemist's Communications Manager. The chicken leg is made with organic free-range chicken from the farm Hopballe Mølle in Vejle and served in a cage "with proportionally the same diameter as the floor space a whole cage farmed chicken has to its disposal." Before diners can eat the chicken, they must metaphorically set it free from its cage and meditate upon the industrial chicken industry.

A dining experience that strives to change the world

Though it may be awkward to have to eat a chicken when confronted with its prison-like quality of life, Alchemist doesn't just strive to make diners balk at their meals. The team wants to use the restaurant as a platform to talk about issues that impact the world, and on the side, Munk also runs a charity JunkFood, which feeds 350 homeless individuals in Copenhagen every day. The head chef is also pioneering a new menu and holistic environment for hospitalized children and their families that'll launch with a new children's hospital in Copenhagen, opening in 2025.

The positive impact of dining at Alchemist doesn't just radiate outwards, it also ensures that the good practices are upheld within the walls of the restaurant itself, namely for the staff working: employees there have weekends off, reasonable hours, a pension plan, and healthcare. Ilkjaer says that there's a "zero tolerance policy towards bullying, sexual harassment, and drugs, as well as hard language and shouting," as well as an anonymous whistleblower system in place.

If the idea of eating a paper-thin slice of rabbit meat atop its own ribcage makes you squirm (if you can afford or even snag a seat), then take comfort in the fact that your dollars and meal are all striving towards a greater good. Munk won't rest comfortably on his discomfort impressions either, as new dishes are always underway: "We always have new impressions in the pipeline, but we don't disclose them in advance," states Ilkjaer. If you dine at Alchemist, expect some food for thought.