Born in the UK in 1969, Paul Cunningham says he was a chubby baby with a “rather healthy appetite for almost everything edible”. He had no gastronomic background and, though originally interested in graphic design, he chose instead the artistry of a “universe of foods, textures and flavors”. His culinary career began in a country pub, progressing through various restaurants and country house hotels, including Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter under its then head chef, Clive Dixon, until he followed his girlfriend back home to Denmark in 1994.
In Denmark he started as a fish cook before taking on his first head chef position at Søllerød Kro in Copenhagen, which acquired one of the country’s first Michelin stars while he was there. He also worked at Formel B, Coquus and Plaza before opening the Paul, a glass pavilion restaurant set in Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens, in 2003. There, he received a Michelin star within nine months of opening, became a celebrity chef and cooked for royalty, politicians and VIPs. He closed the restaurant after almost 10 years due to the financial crisis and stressrelated health issues.
In 2012 he took over as head chef of the 200-year-old Henne Kirkeby Kro, poised on Denmark’s west coast and renovated by the Skouboe family. It has 12 bedrooms and just 12 tables with an elegant but relaxed vibe. In addition to an extensive kitchen garden (and a private forest), it raises its own lamb, pigs, chickens and rabbits, and produces honey within its fruit orchard. It also has access to Denmark’s largest, privately owned island, a veritable treasure chest of herbs, mushrooms, fruits and game. Almost everything at Henne is made in house: meats are cured, butter churned & cheese made. The restaurant received its first Michelin star in February 2016, and its second in February 2017 to the complete shock of Chef Paul Cunningham who said that gaining the second star made him go weak at the knees,
I’d like to think I cook lovely food and I like my sauces and flavors, but I don’t break boundaries, I don’t use fermentation techniques and I don’t use water baths. I just cook with a pan, a block of butter and a piece of fish or some vegetables.
According to Cunningham, Michelin is about being consistent, being honest and giving people value for money. Value for money is very important to him, “Growing up we never went to Michelin-starred restaurants, we could never afford to, but we always went to a good fish and chip restaurant.” Now fish and chips are a regular feature on the Friday menu.
Paul Cunningham is the restaurant’s creative mind, working alongside general manager Garrey Dawson, a former 3-star chef himself, and the Flemming family’s sons, Martin and Simon. Cunningham says his relationship with Dawson has been critical to his success. Their working relationship is based on mutual understanding and creative freedom. Paul is a wizard in the restaurant with a commanding, warm welcome who serves wholesome earthy food that demonstrates simplicity in its cleverness. He also has a great sense of humor and has won the Danish hot-dog championship three times. In 2015 he and his team dressed as storm troopers to present a red light saber hot-dog with eggplant mustard, reflecting his love of everything Star Wars which also explains the Han Solo sourdough bread served at Henne. Cunningham says, “In fine dining, breads are never the thing that anyone really raves about. Truth is – a lot of work goes into bettering breads. And the crunch and crumbling of the crust is the first tell-tale sign of a whether you’re in a good place. Or in a great place.”
Typical dishes on Henne’s menu include garden potatoes and leek with crispy Gillardeau oyster, cannelloni of scallop and lobster with smoked butter sauce, Fænø fallow deer pie, roast turbot with oxtail and baby onions in red wine sauce, dark chocolate delice and cherry sorbet, passionfruit and verbena pâte de fruits and Friis Holm chocolate cream, olive oil and sea salt paired, of course, with a selection of excellent wines.
Cunningham, who says he is unable to work without music, also admits to being a great chocolate lover with a rather naughty addiction to Cadbury’s Creme eggs. To him chocolate perfectly represents the motto of his career ‘tradition over trend’. Paul’s passion, apart from Star Wars, is customers who leave his restaurant happy and with a plan to come back.
Check out the Anglo-Danish wizardry of Chef Paul Cunningham as he dazzles with the freshness of the best seasonal food available at Restaurant Ikarus in June 2019.
ServusTV: Culinary Heights at Ikarus on ServusTV
Each month at Salzburg’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Ikarus, a different top international chef creates the menu. For this globally unique concept, Hangar-7 executive chef Martin Klein visits the cream of the crop, takes a look behind the scenes of haute cuisine, and is let in on some exciting culinary secrets. “Culinary Heights at Ikarus” offers a unique glimpse into the world of high-end cuisine and provides an interesting portrait of each guest chef, their culinary philosophy, and the food culture of their country.