From The Straits Times    |

When Christina Rasmussen signed on to work full-time with world-acclaimed restaurant Noma in Copenhagen in 2017, she never thought that her job as a forager would open her eyes to the ruinous impact of human activities on the environment.

“There is this forest, Rude Skov, located on the outskirts of Copenhagen, where we sourced for ingredients. It’s a breathtaking place with thin, majestic trees. The following year, it was all cut down for a mountain bike trail. The impact was devastating – the once vibrant place turned barren,” recounts the 27-year-old, who left Noma in 2021, and joined Copenhagen-based dining group Ark Collection as general manager that same year.

“My job as a forager was tied closely to seasonal changes, weather events, and human intervention. I’ve developed a deep relationship with nature, and seeing these drastic changes unfold due to human intervention or environmental alterations is truly heartbreaking,” says Christina, who grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and moved to Copenhagen in 2016 for an internship at Noma.

Sitting next to her in Fura’s cosy lounge area on the second storey of an Amoy Street shophouse is 28-year-old Sasha Wijidessa, Christina’s work and life partner. She does not mince her words about the urgency of tackling climate change today – something that she feels has fallen on the shoulders of the younger generation

Christina Rasmussen and Sasha Wijidessa, co-founders of plant-forward gastrobar Fura.

“Some people seem to have this perception that it’s not a problem for them right now, although it will become a major issue down the road. Living in Copenhagen really opened my eyes, especially coming from Singapore, where we lack a real connection to agriculture,” she says.

A Singaporean of Chinese and Sri Lankan heritage, Sasha moved to Copenhagen in 2019 to do research and development work for Danish distillery Empirical Spirits, after leaving her position as head bartender with Operation Dagger. The two crossed paths through their jobs, and bonded over their shared interests in sustainability. They became life partners in 2020.

It wasn’t long before changes in Sasha’s role with Empirical Spirits meant that she was transitioning from research and development to managing operations and market expansions in Asia – “It didn’t make sense to continue living in Copenhagen for an Asia-based job” – which led the couple to pack their bags for Singapore in February 2022.

With Sasha’s experience in drinks and Christina’s background in foraging and cooking, the duo set up Fura in September 2023, following a successful nine-month pop-up at Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay.

To minimise their carbon footprint, Fura utilises ingredients that are either locally sourced or non-native species that are available in abundance.
Fura works with local hydroponics farm Greenloopfarms, and online grocer Fresh Veggies SG.

It’s easy to dismiss Fura as just another locale riding on the sustainability wave, but Sasha and Christina are serious about minimising their carbon footprint by using ingredients that are either non-native or are available in abundance.

Insects, cell-cultured milk, coffee made of burdock root and hemp seeds, and jellyfish, are just some of the produce that the duo have experimented with using techniques ranging from lacto-fermentation to dry ageing. Fura sources its leafy greens from Greenloopfarms, a local hydroponic farm, and “ugly” produce from online grocer Fresh Veggies SG.

Says Christina: “Observing the blatant disregard for nature in some parts of the world, and the convenience-driven behaviours and selfishness [of consumerism] has been disheartening, but it has ignited in us a need for action.

“It was inspiring to have worked with establishments like Ark Collection, which genuinely upheld sustainability principles. They proved that it’s possible [to be environmentally conscious] without losing profitability as a business.”

We speak to the couple about their professional and personal journeys.

Christina Rasmussen, who worked as a forager with Noma, makes it a point to incorporate foraged ingredients in her dishes.

The culinary industry is known to be a very male-dominated one. Did you face any discrimination because of your gender?

CHRISTINA: There is a lot of misconception around what a forager does. Even though we travel through the country for work, there isn’t much time for hanging out. While we have an extensive list of all the different ingredients that are needed, we also have to work with the quantity and types of ingredients that we are permitted to forage in different areas, and a schedule that we have to follow. During the summer, we’d travel between 300 and 500 km a day.

I felt belittled by the chefs who’d comment, “Did you have a nice day at the beach?” It was degrading. Working in that role was hard; it’s incomparable to any other job in the world. To earn respect, I had to take myself seriously, since no one understood the job except the interns who assisted me, which didn’t hold weight in the restaurant’s hierarchy. After leaving that role, it took time for me to build my confidence.

I focused on educating myself, and trying to be better in my role as a leader. Sasha has a lot of self-confidence (in a good way), and I really look up to her for that. It is what it is, and I just take that experience and move on.

How would you describe your work dynamic and partnership?

Christina Rasmussen (CR): I know some people say they could never work with their partners, but for me, it’s the opposite. We’ve been through different phases before, not working together as we do now. Having a strong, platonic relationship before becoming a couple is really helpful. It means that I deeply respect and understand her, and that dynamic seamlessly fits both outside and within the workplace.

When we step into this space, it’s not about “you versus me”, but about tackling challenges together, whether it’s addressing an issue at work or resolving an argument.

Sasha Wijidessa (SW): Christina takes the lead with the food, and I do the same with the drinks, but we value each other’s opinions immensely. When she offers feedback on drinks or when I comment on dishes, it’s not about criticism; it’s about respect and understanding. We incorporate each other’s input because, ultimately, it’s one cohesive business, no matter the number of elements involved.

Sasha Wijidessa, who has worked as head bartender at Operation Dagger, and managed operations and market expansions in Asia at Empirical Spirits, takes charge of the drinks menu at Fura.

What do you hope to accomplish with Fura?

SW: I see success for Fura beyond our physical space. For starters, if the ethos of Fura sticks with our guests, and they leave our space inspired to live a little more consciously, that’s a win for me. Down the road, we would love to explore partnerships with bigger brands that have a wider reach, and can therefore make a bigger impact.

For example, we collaborate with Fresh Veggies SG, a small local vendor. We buy “ugly” fruit and vegetables from them that would otherwise be discarded, and ferment them into wine. While I’m super proud of this collaboration, imagine what we could do with a supermarket chain where food waste is a hundredfold compared to an independent grocer.

CR: There’s a negative connotation around sustainability in this business because it’s inconvenient, and there’s a lot of planning involved. Because of the extra work required, it implies that you lose money as a business owner.

I want more awareness from customers, but also, I want to create a drive and determination. I want a movement that gives our whole industry more representation in legislation to actually make a difference, both in sustainability and overall consumer consciousness.


Lead image provided by Fura