Klaus Wittrup

Klaus Wittrup

My first clear memory of food is a piece of freshly baked rye bread with cold butter and a hand cut slice of ham on top. It was at my grandfather's home, I was maybe 5-6 years old, and I sat there with the bread, which was still hot and baked in a way that had given it an almost caramelized crust. The butter was cold and slowly softened on the warm bread, and the ham was perfectly salty. I remember thinking, "This tastes really good!" As a kid, my mind was always occupied with thoughts of food, and already at an early age I dreamt of becoming a chef. I knew no one with that profession, but I truly loved my Donald Duck cookbook and I always sat at the kitchen table watching my mom as she cooked and prepared our meals. I was very curious and open to new tastes, and I used to walk around in our vegetable garden and make small "hot dogs"—consisting of herbs wrapped around some kind of berry with an edible flower on top. It didn’t always taste good, but I loved the experiment of it and to examine the different taste impressions, and what it felt like to eat it. I thought about meals, ingredients, and cooking all the time. Only one thing could compete with food, and that was fishing. After school, my friends and I would ride our bikes to the stream about 4 miles from home where we caught trout and perch. Perch is still one of my favourite fish to eat. After elementary school, I went to the USA as an exchange student. I was 16 years old, and I can almost set the exact time and date that became a turning point in my life: that was when I tasted my first American burger at a diner somewhere on the highway between Chicago O'hare International Airport and the farm outside Lowell, Indiana. I had never tasted anything like it! I was tired from all the impressions and totally jet lagged, but when my taste buds got introduced to that burger, everything else seemed indifferent. I didn’t know at that time that I would be chasing that taste and sensation for more than 20 years. Right there it just tasted amazing. My taste buds became an important working tool for me in my career. At the age of thirty I worked for the Danish company Aarstiderne that is a pioneer in Denmark in the fields of organic foods—especially vegetables. Aarstiderne’s approach to quality was uncompromising and my nearest colleague used to be a chef at the Michelin starred restaurant Kommandanten. He taught me to really taste things and to explore the difference in nuance. My next job was right down that alley of high quality and standards, as I had the opportunity to work with Claus Meyer as his business developer. It was a great time, not two days were alike and I followed Claus closely to seize all the ideas that he endlessly tossed at me, trying to make them real and give them wings. Crazy hobby projects became business projects and it was enormously inspiring to see how ideas that most people considered to be pure craziness turned out to be commercial successes. When I got headhunted for a top position in Total Produce Nordic, I accepted as I wanted to try what it was like working in a large, global group. After a year I felt that I had a pretty good impression of it and I felt reassured that this was not how I wanted to work the rest of my life. Claus Meyer and I often talked about opening a grill bar together but at this point he had just started up his business in New York City and he invited me to come join on his American adventure. But I had my own American dream puzzling me, so I quit my job at Total Produce Nordic, and went down to the small gas station at Landgreven in central Copenhagen to talk to the guys in the doughnut shop that was there at that time with an offer they couldn’t refuse, or so I thought. At first, they did refuse, but soon we started talking about how I could take possession of the old gas station and soon the small place was mine. At this time, it was no longer talk of the town making a good quality burger. Copenhagen was full of them. But I wanted to make a world-class burger in my opinion, and I wouldn’t compromise with anything. All ingredients should be organic, the operation sustainable and the design stylish. All simple but really, really good. I tested all kinds of different blends for the patty to find the right flavor. The bun had to be a potato roll: light and airy, yet able to soak up the juices from the meat and thus retain the taste in the burger. No baker in Copenhagen had ever heard of the potato roll, so I developed the recipe myself and asked a pro to test it afterwards. I wasn’t happy with the pickles I could get so I asked a producer to make some especially for Gasoline Grill, instead of American cheese, that isn’t real cheese, we use real organic cheddar—and so on. All small details in my picture of the perfect burger. It might sound easy making a simple and clean burger, but because I had so many dogmas, it was quite complicated. I can reassure you that everything in that burger is there for a reason and what seems simple is actually rather complex. On the opening day, we sold each and every one of the burgers and it’s been like that ever since. For that reason, we don’t have opening hours—only an opening time. We put up the sold-out sign when there are no more burgers to sell. Then we’re closed. We were always really busy, but when Bloomberg visited Gasoline Grill in 2017 and put us on the list of the 27 best burgers in the world it all exploded, and I’ve never been this busy before. Or proud, for that matter. When I take a look at my journey, I recognize that the road looks quite winding but I know that all the turns are there for a reason. In the end they led to Landgreven in Copenhagen City where I had the opportunity to live out my dream in the world’s smallest burger place. I know I didn’t become a chef in the traditional way as I dreamt of, but I do serve what is the perfect burger for me for our guests. A burger that never compromises with the list of ingredients, the process or the setting that it’s served in. It’s all about being 100 % organic, about environmental considerations - and of course taste! When I eat a Gasoline Grill burger and close my eyes, the burger sends me right back to that caramelized crust on my Grandad’s rye bread, the soft, salty butter, the first American burger and all the great organic veggies I tasted at Aarstiderne, the culinary experiments I made with Claus Meyer and all the other places the food has taken me. And that makes me happy. If by any chance my burger should give our guests a sensuous flashback to a meal, a taste or a place that meant something to them, it would make me even happier. Maybe the visit to Gasoline Grill will be the starting point of their journey into the nooks and crannies of tasting that I went on myself…

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