Star Chef Jonas Mikkelsen on His Career, Signature Dish and Advice for Aspiring Chefs
Jonas Mikkelsen is the Head Chef of Hotel Frederiksminde, a Michelin-star rated restaurant in the Danish countryside. We sat down with Jonas to talk about his career, signature dish and advice for aspiring chefs.
1. What inspired you to become a chef?
When I was in high school I got a part time job in a small café in my hometown. We only served burgers, sandwiches and that kind of stuff, but I quickly learned what working in a kitchen with all comes with it and was much more fun than sitting on a school chair.
And most importantly, I was good at it. I was a quick learner and much more creative than the trained Chefs I worked with.
2. Where did you train to cook? Do you recommend a formal training for someone who wants to become a chef (i.e. culinary school)?
I trained at Kommandanten, which is a former 2 ** Michelin restaurant in Copenhagen, which is now closed.
And yes, I would recommend a formal training if you want to become a Chef. Of course it depends on the education level of the country – in Denmark it takes 4 years where you spend 3 of them in a restaurant as an apprentice. That makes good sense, as you don’t learn how to cook in the school.
3. What are your favorite cookbooks?
I don’t have a favorite cookbook and I actually don’t read cookbooks that much. I think that too many Chefs get too inspired from reading cookbooks and they forget about themselves and how to make their own food personal and special.
4. Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
We love using vegetables at Frederiksminde. One of my favorite is a dish with dehydrated kohlrabi, preserved white currant, Gl. Knas cheese and sour cream. It’s actually a new dish, but I’m pretty sure that over the years, it will become a signature one.
5. Frederiksminde earned its first Michelin star in 2016. How did it impact your career?
We got more busy :-). And of course it was a sign of approval – that everything I/we worked for and believed in was actually the right way to do it.
Not that I would have changed anything to become a Michelin-starred restaurant; it never was the purpose. But still, when such a big influencer in gastronomy recognizes your work, you of course feel very proud.
What sets apart a top chef from the pack is dedication, personality, creativity and hard, hard work
6. What sets apart a Michelin-star chef from the pack?
Nothing I guess. I don’t believe that a Michelin star makes you a better Chef. I know many great chefs that still haven’t got a Michelin star. Maybe there will be extra focus, press and pressure when you have a Michelin star. I would rather say, “what sets apart a top chef from the pack” and it is dedication, personality, creativity and hard, hard work.
7. What is one common mistake you see other chefs or cooks making in the kitchen?
They lose their focus in very stressed situations and as a consequence they get slippy. They forget how the dish has to look, they forget to taste the food over and over again. On the highest level, there is no room for mistakes.
8. Where do you source your produce and ingredients for your restaurants? Can you please provide some specific examples?
We use a lot from our own vegetables garden such as kale, cabbage, leeks, potatoes, eatable flowers, herbs etc. We also forage a lot in the nature as we are situated in the middle of it. We pick wild herbs, onions, mushrooms and a lot more. We preserve what we can’t eat right now and pickle it for the winter menu.
9. Many chefs struggle with a healthy work and life balance? What’s your take on this?
Yes, they do. Because they work too many hours in a very stressful environments, party too much and do little exercise. I think it’s getting better and better.
The new generation of Chefs do things a bit different than earlier. I can only speak for Denmark, but things are getting better and we have more focus on good leadership and kitchen environment. You don’t need to shout and throw pans to earn your respect anymore.
10. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a chef?
I would advise them first of all, to think of what kind of Chef they want to become. What kind of food do you like? And then search for a place where you can live out your dreams.
And be ready to work hard and fight for it. Often the young trainees comes directly from school and then suddenly have a full time job where you can’t be late or miss classes if you don’t feel like it. You suddenly become an adult with no time.