As co-founder Will Douillet, a hospitality industry veteran who has worked with a roster of acclaimed restaurants including Alinea in Chicago and Atera in New York, explains further: “In terms of the service, we are working with our culinary team, our cooks, and our chefs, to provide all aspects of the experience.” This means that the cooks preparing the food are also those interfacing with guests about what’s on their plate, with their firsthand knowledge of each ingredient bringing the dishes to vivid life. “As Mads always says, this is a restaurant built on ideas,” explains Douillet.
Behind a monumental black steel door in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, beyond a curtained foyer and a sculptural, oxidized metal host stand, the restaurant Ilis sprawls out for 4,500 square feet within a former rubber factory warehouse. Historic wooden rafters and a frosted corner skylight rise 17 feet above the floor, while faded white paint accents the exposed brick walls. In the midst of it all is the flurry of constant movement that defines this new culinary destination—which opened last week—from acclaimed chef and Noma co-founder Mads Refslund.
It all begins with the name, an amalgam of “Il” and “Is,” or fire and ice in Danish. “I am in love with this contrast—fire and ice. It’s a formula as to how we use the ingredients,” Refslund says. “I love cooking with fire. There’s something inside of me that switches on when I smell wood burning. I immediately become creative.” At the opening night dinner, the open flames imparted a smoky flavor to everything from a tender barbecued eel, served with a marigold flower still on its stem (to use as a brush to apply additional sauce), to aged wild quail with a mushroom jus (that you eat with your hands). Elsewhere, sushi-grade scallops were served with citrus pieces and anise hyssop—but at Ilis, “ice” isn’t just about the seafood. Just take Refslund’s bison tartare: partitioned in a fresh beet wrapper, and served with housemade berry vinegar, hazelnut oil, and hibiscus.
Without knowing the inner workings of every conceptual component that sets the staff into motion, Ilis could be reduced to a high-design, haute cuisine hotspot in a hip Brooklyn neighborhood. But this doesn’t quite convey what the venue intends to do for its guests—and its staff. Ilis also does not have waiters—at least in the traditional sense. “We are not just ‘front of house’ or ‘back of house,’” says Refslund. “Everyone is one house.”