Mati Pichci is a Copenhagen-based chef famously known for his stints at Noma, Atelier September and Psyche Cafe. We sat down with Mati to learn about his origins in Warsaw as a political science student, where he first discovered his passion for cooking through a catering opportunity as a side-hustle to his job in advertising. We reflect on where the hospitality industry is heading in the city through casual dining, how intuition is shaping Mati’s cooking style, and round up our conversation around the importance of home and his top tips for any visiting guests to the city.
RF: Tell me a little bit about your life, your beginnings, because you're now in Copenhagen but you first started out in Warsaw, as a political science student. And you know, your first internship with Noma was in 2019 so it feels like an interesting story to dig into.
Mati: Sure. So cooking is my second career. The first one was advertising which had started when I was still at the university, I was studying political science in Warsaw. And yeah, it was just natural to get interested in marketing and advertising and all those creative jobs, and cool brands. But after some years I realised that it was just not for me. Personally, I was not really identifying with the brands that I was working for. Parallel to that I was also cooking. At the beginning of university, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to help him with some catering. It was a little guerilla style to be honest, you know, prep from home but always delicious. I kept doing these things once a while but advertising was my main focus. And then there was a moment of my life, a professional crisis and a relationship crisis together. During that time a friend of mine offered me to move to Poznan and we opened a pizza place called Przyjemność which means pleasure in Polish. It was a kind of a non-Italian pizza we call the California style pizza. There were some crazy creative types of pizza every weekend with spritz cocktails which at that time was something new, and we created a very cool place that attracted a lot of people. And after a year working there, working really hard, I also realised what I want to do is to cook. Put that energy and time into developing as a chef. So that's why I applied for an internship at Noma. Getting there, standing in that kitchen among other chefs was literally a dream come true.
M: SI learned a lot, especially during five weeks in the service kitchen. And that was a time when I thought about how to be a professional chef. Noma is a beautiful restaurant and their organisation of work is very inspiring. So seeing that perfect world of a big kitchen, how it's organised, how it's cleaned, which is a big part of cooking, gives you a benchmark you can put into any place.
RF:That must have been amazing, and what did you do after?
M: Atelier September for over 3 years. I met the owner Frederik Bille Brahe during my internship at Noma and he wanted a new manager for his place. It was a good match because I was a manager that would also cook. So I was leading a team, cooking and creating dishes, it was just perfect because I never wanted to be like a full time chef working brutal hours. And also Noma proved to me that you need to spend a lot of time in order to stay on the wave.
RF: And then COVID hit…
M: Yes and everything in hospitality was affected as you know but at some point, I realised okay, this is just not for me anymore. I need to find something new. So last year, I quit. And I started to cook independently and had a three month residency at Relae called Psyche Café, that was a beautiful ride. Also, a lot of things happened, and we learned a lot about how to run a restaurant, how not to run a restaurant. So the next step is finding a permanent location for Psyche Café.
RF: COVID attracts me through all the conversations I have because it's something I feel doesn't get spoken about enough or reflected on enough. How did that shape the way you see yourself?
M: So first of all, I agree that it's a tough topic that is extremely interesting. And people were so tired of the pandemic itself that they often don't really want to go back and reflect on it. It made me reflect on freedom as something that I want more in my life, and working for myself and putting extra effort for myself and not for someone else is important to me. Other than that, COVID affected how I arrange space. Like that whole aspect kind of became more key for your life, especially during COVID. But I think it stayed with us that we appreciate just nicely organised space. So for me coming back home, when it's organised, it's just like a nice feeling. I like to surround myself with nice objects that I can bring back from a trip abroad like Japan where I just spent three weeks across Tokyo and Kyoto.
RF: Where do you think the culinary industry is at this moment in time?
So COVID brought to light a lot of projects, especially fine dining projects. And I think it’s brought back more casual, family style places. It's a good direction and I like it. In Copenhagen we have a place called Auren’s Deli that offers the highest quality ingredients that you can get in the fine dining restaurants but they make it as a deli with lots of amazing wine that you could also only get in the best restaurants but they make first of all affordable, accessible and more democratic. So maybe that's the word - democratic, is the evolution of food that we’re going in.
RF: What do you think makes Copenhagen's food scene so unique compared to other cities around the world?
M: I think it’s pioneering in terms of quality approach. The standard is very high. Organic butter is the standard here while in other countries it is not necessarily the case. The same with flour and bread. It's either sourdough bread, rye bread with butter and cheese, you know, and that's the start. And then on the other pole, there’s places like Noma, Geranium, Alchemist that are very pioneering creatively about what they do in the kitchen. So they first of all, created a certain style of food. Secondly, they were their own educational institutions. So they trained a lot of chefs that then opened their own places in the city. So there was a movement of this high level education and approach to cooking. Thirdly, what I experienced in Copenhagen is that society is more collaborative than competitive. So I can see that on the food scene restaurants and people working for them are more collaborative towards one another in the team, and then with other restaurants, and friends from the industry, I don't see much competition going on, which is very healthy.
RF: How would you describe your expression as a chef, do you have a certain style or way of thinking that is very unique to you? I'm curious because I see you do your omelettes around the city, and I love it. It feels really fun, accessible and yummy.
M: So overall, my style is vegetarian because I also use eggs and dairy so it's not vegan rather vegetarian, which I think might come from my lack of skills so I focus on very simple things and try to make them just just as good as I can. People enjoy simple stuff that I make. I had a philosophical debate with myself about what I actually make and I called it intuitive cooking, because it's about my intuition. I'm not educated as a chef so I just follow my intuition and I match things and I follow the colours and feelings of the seasons, and it's kind of natural.
RF: Incredible, I love that - intuitive cooking feels very natural. I just want to shift a little bit towards the last segment of this interview, which is more around home, the idea of home and your relationship to it. How would you describe your relationship to home? What role does it play in your life
M: It's definitely a base. It's also changing when you travel or when you move countries it's just like you will always find this place. And it's so good when it's satisfying you the way it is. I'm also not in my dream home yet. So you know, I know what I want. I need a larger space, preferably a house with a nice garden. You know, a big kitchen, which I already have. So that's good. But I wouldn't mind a view of some nice piece of nature.
RF: What rituals do you do for yourself that are confined to the walls of your home?
M: Even though I'm cooking professionally, I love cooking at home. It calms me down and I can spend all day in the kitchen and still come back after and make food for myself or for friends. What else? I really enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and her dog. It's beautiful. So I also try to find at home this, you know, oasis of peace and cosiness. I wish I was reading more, for now I’m often not finishing the books that I’ve started. Hopefully I will find more time now to sit down and finish the good ones.