Norway holds the world’s biggest underwater restaurant, located 5.5metres below sea level. It's here that guests are given the opportunity to share their meal with the surroundings of the ocean, exposing them to the wonders of the sea.
Located in the icy waters of Lindesnes, the restaurant offers a panoramic view of the seabed which is a visual getaway for guests to connect them to the mystery of the waters. Providing an exclusively intimate and rarely seen opportunity for them to take in and dine amongst the ecosystem of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Under photographed above
We spoke to Nicolai Ellitsgaard head chef of the Michelin star restaurant, who gets his inspiration and motivation for dishes from the environment around him.
Read our interview below...
What is it like to work at such an incredible location under the sea?
Nicolai explains how he feels about working at the exclusive restaurant, he said: “I feel blessed, it’s a once in a lifetime to be able to run a restaurant under the sea.
“It’s something that I never dreamed about, before I was sitting in a meeting with the investors .
“No days are the same, we never know how and what we will see outside the big panoramic window, it’s a great source of inspiration for dishes and presentation.
“You might think that you get used to the window and the fact that you are working under the sea, but actually the truth is, that you never get used to it.”
Nicolai photographed above
When did Nicolai realise he wanted to be a chef?
Nicolai shares with us how he ended up pursuing a career in culinary, he explained: “When I was in 10th grade my teacher saw in me and my behaviour and suggested that I didn’t continue the academic way spending three to five more years in school studying. “She suggested that I look at being a chef and I tried it for a week in a programme organised by the school.
“After that week I had bandages on all of my fingers because of the knife cuts but I’d fallen in love with the craft and I wanted to go into it.
“But it was not before my second or third year as a ||""student at a restaurant. That I really understood where I wanted to go with my education.
“I remember the sous chef at a place I worked, Lars Eiskjær. He asked me once: ‘So Nicoali, what do you want to achieve with this education?’
“At this time I was stupid, young and unknowing, I replied “ ‘I just need to get a education’, when I saw the look in his face I quickly understood that this was not the correct answer to give.
“But I quickly changed my answer to ‘I want to be the best’, later I have found out that I actually always did that, every day I did what I could to be the best version of myself. This was probably where my passion really got a fire burning inside me.
“This is a memory from 15 - 16 years ago but I still remember clearly this small conversation that took place next to the ice cream machine in the corner the wooden table for making bread."
Under is the world's largest under the sea restaurant
How does the location of the restaurant benefit and inspire the seasonal dishes?
Lindesnes is known for intense weather conditions which can change from calm to stormy several times a day. The restaurant invites guests to a warm ocean inspired atmosphere with seasonally inspired dishes.
Nicolai said: “We try to use only local ingredients, so we have to work together with nature at all seasons.
“We use a lot of seaweed on the menu, so it’s a great benefit that we can jump directly from the rooftop at the restaurant and into the world of seaweed surrounding the restaurant.
“Many dishes have been brought to life, by watching out the big window or walking on the local beaches.”
Guests are immersed in a unique dining experience exposing the ocean
What does Nicolai look for when you create a menu?
Under provides a journey into the unknown, guests are given an opportunity to submerge themselves into the marine life that they cannot experience from the surface. He said: “I look for diversity, finding some unused ingredients that many others take for granted or perhaps not even know what is, since the fishermen take it for granted and just throw it back into the ocean again.
Nicolai said: “I look for new flavours, and a mixture of comfort food and something strange , where people stop to think, but then perhaps that dish then becomes a super comfort dish!”
Under allows guests to dine intimately with the mysteries of the sea
How do researchers work with UNDER to help guests see more of the fish?
Nicolai explained how the restaurant works with researchers, he said: “There's was a lot of research on fish behaviour, by coming on “command” if they hear a special sound and they connect that sound with food.
“At the moment we don’t feed the fish, but if we run into times where there is little activity, we have the ability to start doing so.”
Under takes its inspiration from the great ocean surrounding it
What does Nicolai look for in chefs wanting to work with him?
Nicolai explained what he looks for in those aspiring to work in his kitchen, he said: “Engagement and the willingness to push and learn. That they want to learn is the most important and that they understand the respect for the ingredients.
“Don’t be too cocky but be humble. Sometimes it's, of course, fun if people are a bit cocky, but they have to know the line and where to stop.”
What does Nicolai hope to achieve in the future?
Nicolai explained his dreams for improving the sustainability and bond with his team, he said: “I hope in the future we will have a more sustainable team, I mean like a more set and stable team, that wants to stay for a couple of years, to build something great together. And for them to grow in the restaurant also.
“I believe in a healthy team where people can come and be how they are, and where it’s okay to be different.
“Guest wise I hope that we can showcase even more rare and unused ingredients and talk even more about sustainability and how to take care of our oceans.”
Nicolai gains inspiration from the world around him
What ingredients does Nicolai use in his dishes?
The head chef explained that he doesn’t have a favourite dish but he loves to experiment, he said: “ I really love to cut in fish and open different molluscs.
“If I had to point out a dish it would be our Limpet serving. This was the first ever idea I had for Under, and it started about two and a half years ago before opening.
“I wanted to create an edible shell that looked like a real limpet, which was challenging because I had to find the right technique and recipe.
“The idea of plating was from the beginning of my thoughts already there, and the “filling” a kind of pate out of limpets was also an “easy” task.
“This idea started on a cold day in January 2018 when me and my girlfriend were foraging for seaweed. We saw a lot of limpets and she actually gave me the idea to work on them, I had seen them many times before, but never really thought about what it was, and when she told me they used to call them “titty shells” it caught my interest right away, after a couple of rounds with a marine biology on the phone and he didn’t know what a “titty shell” was, I send him a picture and he could tell me that it was a limpet.
“She inspired me to jump into the unknown, and that was also the start of one of my passions, to find unused ingredients or ingredients people most take for granted and make it into something mind-blowing or a taste to make people stop up and think and reflect about how delicious it can be.”
Under has a range of sea inspired dishes for guests to try
What technique does Nicolai like to use in the kitchen?
Nicolai explained what he likes to do in preparation for dishes, he said: “I like to work with seaweeds, and use seaweeds places where you normally would have done something else of puff pastry or filo for example. “Cutting fish ‘perfectly’ is also something I really enjoy. Despite my philosophy that nothing is perfect, I believe that if you think that you have achieved perfection, you have given up or are simply an idiot.”
How does Nicolai find balance between life and working as a chef at a Michelin star restaurant?
Chefs are renowned to work long hours, especially those working at such prestigious restaurants, Nicolai said: “It’s a difficult question, for what is balance working as a chef?
“For me this Chef life and Under is a lifestyle, I enjoy working, I like to always be in it, discovering the ocean in one or another way, so in some ways I'm actually never off.
“It’s a passion, and a will to learn more and more, that drives me. It is not necessary to learn more and more new techniques of cooking, but more to learn more about how we actually should treat our world and especially our oceans. I'm starting to enjoy it more through education to our guests, people visiting the restaurant, my chefs and other team members.
“I teach them that size does matter about a langoustine (Norway Lobster), but perhaps not in the way many people think.
“I’m a bit tired of seeing huge langoustine on instagram and people referring to it as something positive that it's so big, of course it's cool when it's as long as your arm, and I also brag about it. But to be honest, for me the texture and taste is not as good as on the smaller ones. Not too small either, but at Under I've spent a lot of hours and days testing out to find the “perfect” size. And now with our own fishing boat, it's actually possible to get the size I want with a difference of 2- 4 centimeters difference.
“I like to teach the guys and girls in the kitchen about the respect for the ingredients and the quality of fish and seafood, especially seaweeds.
“I just hate when I see people having a beautiful piece of fillet from a fish or meat and people just slap it down on the cutting board to look cool, or why the hell they do it.
“I don’t understand why people want to treat a beautiful piece of protein like that. It's so disrespectful.”
Under's presentation of each dish is inspired by the ocean
What advice would Nicolai give to his younger self?
Finally, we asked Nicolai the question of if he could go back and speak to himself as a child when he was back in school, he answered with humour and said: “I would say don’t forget the true beauty of cooking and perhaps you should have spent more serious time in math class!”
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All images used copyright of Under