We’re pleased to present our first film – a profile of the Copenhagen eaterie Paté Paté, filmed over the course of an evening last month. We’ll be doing more film work in the future – we’ve been working on different ways to complement our events and film feels like the best medium. Hope you enjoy it.
Our next event (details imminently) will be our first working with young Swedish chef Emil Glaser. Still only 21, Emil has already racked up well over two years in Noma’s kitchen. We met up with him last week to finalise plans for the evening and to learn what drove him to don the whites.
Growing up, Emil’s parents would take him to visit his grandparents on their farm outside Warsaw in Poland. He didn’t know it at the time, but the trips were instrumental in his decision to become a chef.
Recalling the feeling of picking and eating a carrot grown by his grandparents, Emil hints at a pure sense of connection with nature and its bounty: “As a kid I saw the whole process on the farm – something being planted, growing, and then dried, maybe pickled. They are special memories and for me food is one of the biggest sources of experience we can have. It’s one of the truest ways we experience life – tasting something new is one of the most memorable things I think.”
That sense of connectivity with land and produce was rekindled at Noma, where Emil landed almost immediately after catering college. The restaurant’s approach to sourcing, preparing and serving ingredients – particularly vegetables – is what sets it apart in his eyes.
He explains: “Foraging has always been important at Noma. I’ve picked probably every herb that grows on Sjælland. And if we don’t pick it ourselves then we know where it comes from. Often the farmers bring it in themselves, still with the earth on it. It’s the way it should be.”
Tucked away in a cosy Vesterbro sidestreet, Din Baghave is an Aladdin’s Cave of fresh, delicious produce – all of it grown by some of Denmark’s most innovative and environmentally conscientious farmers. We met with owner Mette Marie Mølgaard Helbæk to find out more.
What is the inspiration behind Din Baghave?
My husband and I had a restaurant (Hansens Køkken & Bar in Frb Allé) and I was used to getting fresh ingredients straight from the farmers. When we sold the restaurant, I was forced to do my grocery shopping at the supermarkets and I wasn’t able to find the same kind of excellent vegetables. I hate supermarkets! They make people consume without reflecting.
At the same time, I was working as a food writer (I was the editor of Spiseliv.dk) and I noticed that there was a lot of focus on vegetables and local terroir in many top restaurants (l’Arpege in Paris, Dragsholm Slot, Noma and Geranium here in Denmark and Joia in Milan etc.). That, coupled with the upsurge of interest in Nordic cuisine, made me think that this would be the perfect time to open up a gourmet vegetable shop. I still think I’m right. I mean, we have the best climate in the world for growing specific things like apples, strawberries, root vegetables, cabbage etc. When we have all these things outside the door, why can we only get the less good things from Holland and so on in the supermarkets?
With Din Baghave I want to revolutionize the way people look at vegetables. From a cheap, boring, healthy necessity to an amazing luxury full of stories, colours, variety and flavours.
What kind of customers are you getting?
My customers are anyone and everyone. Old people, families with children, students. But of course also a lot of gourmets. People who come to pick up havtorn and herbs from the forest and the things from Søren Wiuff that they’ve read about in the magazines.
A lot of food writers come to my shop to find special things for a photo shoot or a TV appearance. And some old people come to find the sorts of potatoes, apples or strawberries they remember from their childhood but are not able to find anywhere else.
I also have a lot of health-conscious customers who like that I have a lot of organic and biodynamic things. They are more than welcome but I have to stress here that my mission is not to bring health to the people, I want to show them how excellent vegetables can be and how good they taste. Then it’s just a nice side effect that they’re healthy too!
What are your plans for the future?
In May I’m opening up full-time stalls in Østerbro and one more place (maybe in Ørestad). In August my plan is to open up a stall in the new Torvehaller in Israels Plads. I want good vegetables to be accessible for anyone. I want them to be the natural choice instead of the dull Dutch and Spanish vegetables that everyone’s buying today.
Can you tell us a little about your suppliers?
I’m only using suppliers who want to do things better and different to all the other farmers. I constantly encourage my farmers to go new ways and they have to be ready for that. My main suppliers are Søren Wiuff in Lammefjorden and Kiselgården in Ugerløse and for the new season I have made some excellent (meaning interesting, not cheap) deals with a guy called Carsten Søgård in Glænø, Ventegodtgård near Køge and Bakkegården near Ringsted. They are all very passionate people. They care. That’s so important. Caring is everything, it’s the only way you can make extraordinary things.
A little off the beaten track but more than a little special, Café Benedict is the venue for our second ‘big’ event, taking place later today. Much-valued friends of this project, husband and wife team Ben and Anne Hamilton have created a lovely eatery, combining some of the best cooking to be found in Copenhagen with a cosy, unassuming atmosphere. Chris and I paid a visit last week and asked them to share their story.
A chef for 20 years, including stints at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants around Europe, Ben long held reservations about opening his own place: “When I’ve worked for other people, I’ve seen first-hand what’s involved. You’re not just a chef, you’re an accountant, you’re taking the rubbish out – you’re basically doing everything.”
Despite the doubts, Ben had a vision he was determined to realise and he found a willing foil in his wife: “I couldn’t wait to get away from the stuffy, poncy tablecloth environment and Anne agreed that we should do something together in the industry.
“I wanted to bring my cooking to people who might not normally try it. I wanted to make something friendly and accessible. The amount of places I’ve worked in over the past 20 years, I’ve picked up things from really good vegetarian restaurants to baking in Paris and so on and I’ve basically combined all of that into what I do today.
“I try and keep it seasonal and I try and keep it regional. I concentrate on flavours. Because I’m on my own, I can’t do 15 elements on one plate because it’ll kill me. The risotto that you’ve had tonight for instance, I’ve taken three elements – rice, butternut squash and egg – and just tried to make as tasty a dish as I can.”
The couple work hard at what they do and employ next to no outside help. That means a typical day can involve managing reservations, deciding the menu, choosing ingredients, dealing with the building owners and various suppliers – all before beginning the prep.
This relentless schedule can take its toll but the rewards outweigh the stress. Ben elaborates: “When I have the good nights – and the good nights far outnumber the bad – and we’re full and the guests are leaning across the bar and calling into the kitchen to tell me how good it was, those are the nights I get a buzz from and it makes me remember why I’m doing this.”
But perhaps the main attraction is the feeling of liberation they get from being their own bosses. Ben explains: “The beauty of what we do is that we decide. It’s our menu. When we’re at home Sunday night trying to work out what to put on then it might be that Anne suggests something, or I might be looking through a book or magazine or an old menu from Le Sommelier and get inspired. Or I might be walking in Valbyparken and see some beautiful plums that find their way into a dish. That’s what we like.”
- Try the 3-course menu for 295kr.
- Open Tuesday to Saturday from 16:00 until 22:00
- Check their website for the monthly Sunday lunches during the winter
The approach at Café Benedict is perhaps best summed up by a story Ben recounts of Anne’s time at business school: “She took an evening class before we opened just to brush up on a few things. At the start they asked everyone to describe their concept. Anne stood up and said we’re going to open a small café, it’s going to be cosy, clean and tidy, and we’re going to serve good food and give good service.
“Everyone basically laughed and said ‘is that it?’. But for us that’s enough.”
On Tuesday morning, at the chefly hour of 7.30am, Aaron and I joined CPH Meal #2 Chef Ben Hamilton for a peek into the food professional’s cash and carry, Inco.
Although most of the ingredients for Sunday’s menu are being sourced from specialist suppliers or foraged from the beaches and forests around Copenhagen, some high quality ingredients are just as readily found at Inco. You do have to know what to look for, however: “This stuff’s for if you want to be lazy”, says Ben gesturing at rows of bags of pre–cut vegetables. “But then over here you have these lovely things”, and he picks up and inspects some plump, organic apples from Lilleø.
It seems as if it’s possible to buy any kind of meat, fruit or veg from Inco, but it’s up to the buyer to assess what presents good value, quality and flavour – something that often requires rethinking conventional wisdom: “Years ago freezing food was seen as miraculous technology that would preserve any flavour, but since then it’s acquired a stigma and everyone tries to buy fresh, which is great”, explains Ben, “but in the case of foie gras, cryogenic freezing can produce a product which is actually better than many vacuum-packed or ‘fresh’ versions”. Quick freezing at very low temperatures prevents enzymes from attacking the meat, which often causes an undesirable grainy texture.
I’d long held a vague notion that Inco, or any other professional supplier for that matter, presents an Aladdin’s cave of epicurean delights that simply aren’t available to us mere food mortals, and all one need do is fill one’s basket to assure superior results.
But after listening to Ben and having seen such a wide gamut of price and quality, I’m reminded once more of the importance of the skill and experience of the chefs selecting the products. A fact that’s illustrated by one of Ben’s many illuminating anecdotes: “At one restaurant I worked at, they’d cook dozens of duck breasts every night and throw away the fat. Then they’d spend a fortune on tubs of goose fat from Inco.
“So, I said let’s just take all this great fat from the duck and render it down each night – we ended up with four litres of free fat every day.”
It’s less about merely going where the chefs go, but more about learning to think like one – to be mindful about the trade-off between price and quality without cutting corners or compromising on the end result.
We were impressed with Mother even before they opened. They were busy on their Facebook page, posting pics and videos of the refit of their place in Kødbyen, and updating regularly on the opening date. But it was the pictures of their enormous wood-fired oven that really piqued our interest.
On Facebook and in their first press interviews, the guys at Mother sounded humble and came across as genuinely excited about getting down to business, despite the stresses of trying to get everything ready in time. When they did open, a week later than hoped, scores of hungry Copenhageners flooded in for free slices and a glass of bubbly.
Their philosophy is disarmingly down to earth – authentic Italian food prepared freshly and served at affordable prices. What that means in practise is turning tables. David, a warm, vivacious character equally at home front of house as he is in the kitchen, hopes diners will sympathise with his restaurant’s pragmatic approach: “We need people to be understanding because we need to do this to survive! This is not a place where you pay 500DKK and feel like you are entitled to hang around. Our food is cheaper and we want as many people to enjoy it as would like to.”
At the heart of Mother’s operation is its wood-fired oven. Taking pride of place in the centre of the restaurant, it’s where all the hot dishes are prepared, not just the pizzas. It’s operated by Biagio and Luca Citro, two brothers from Campania who seem to have a telepathic understanding. Watching these expert pizzaioli knead, toss, and dress is a hypnotic theatre, and a rather wonderful distraction for those still queuing for a table.
As for the food itself, we loved it. Chanterelles confited in olive oil and served cold were zesty and delicious, complementing the earthy flavours we expected to dominate. The bruschetta, made from manitoba flour and adorned with the classic pairing of Gorgonzola and acacia honey, had the lightly charred crust that really allows you to taste the oven.
The pizza, however, is why we came. AOK recently gave Mother a glowing review, describing the pizza as in ‘class of its own’ and we don’t disagree. The killer ingredient is undoubtedly the sourdough, its deep, earthy flavour counterbalancing the rich tomato sauce and the tangy fattiness of the cheese.
A dough such as this requires a leaven, or ‘mother’, which begins life solely as flour and water – using the natural yeast present in the air and on the grains to begin the spontaneous fermentation which, after months or even years of feeding and developing flavour, will provide the raising agent for the dough.
Mothers are commonly passed down as an heirloom, gathering depth and character through the generations. The one in use at Mother is seven years old and was begun by a friend of David’s who has a farm in Sweden.
- Be sure to try the award-winning Menabrea beer
- A rarity in CPH, Mother is open on Sundays until 23:00
- Try Mother’s buffet brunch on Sundays from 11:00 until 14:30
Listening to David, it’s obvious that his reverence for authenticity and good ingredients – ingrained into his fabric from an early age – acts as Mother’s culinary compass. His childhood memories serve as a reference point for each dish on the menu: “Nothing will ever taste quite like the tomatoes I ate as a seven-year-old in Tuscany, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to recreate those feelings.”
David describes Mother as ‘just a regular pizzeria’. That may be the case if it was in Rome, but in Copenhagen it’s something a lot more special.
One of the chief reasons we’re so excited about Saturday is the chance to work with Rob Martin once again. Since helping to make our first two events successes, Rob has enjoyed stints at a.o.c (Copenhagen’s newest Michelin-starred restaurant), Fiskebaren, and will shortly join the team at Sorte Hest. We caught up with him earlier this week to hear his plans for Saturday and to talk food in general.
Whenever we meet Rob, Chris and I come away feeling inspired. His passion for food is so tangible it rubs off on you. It’s a passion that was inculcated at an early age, in a family that loved food and encouraged him to cook.
But while he continued to enjoy cooking as he grew up, it wasn’t until his early twenties that he considered it as a profession: “I got to university and I didn’t really feel it. I decided to try culinary school and that was the lightbulb moment for me.
“I stopped living the good life. I spent all my spare cash on cookbooks, I stopped going to gigs, I stopped seeing a lot of friends. I got serious.”
While his tutors at culinary school were keen for him to stay a while longer, after 16 months Rob’s feet were getting itchy and he travelled west to San Francisco to begin his career, landing a job at Rubicon where he worked under the legendary Drew Nierepont.
Restlessness, and a continuing hunger for new influences and inspiration, would become the hallmarks of Rob’s career, as he ventured first to London and Paris and then to New York where he spent time in the kitchens of Restaurant Danube and Daniel. San Francisco called again and it was while working at Frisson that Rob met the woman who would become his wife and lead him to Copenhagen, and the kitchens of both Noma and MR.
His wanderlust has given Rob an enviable set of influences, but he reserves special praise for Noma’s Rene Redzepi: “I have so much respect for his drive and enthusiasm. There’ve been people before him who’ve strived to only use seasonal, regional produce but nobody had ever done it in the Nordic region and nobody has done it with his flair.
“He’s put this region on the map pretty much single-handedly. I remember the first time going out foraging for Noma and it brought it all back to me why I had decided to be a chef.”
Describing his own style, the words Rob uses again and again are honesty and taste: “For me presentation is important, but it’s not everything. I want my food to look alive and inviting but there doesn’t need to be smears, gels and oils. Sometimes things get muted. I want people to be able taste the individual ingredients. Food should be tasty!”
To mark the fact that our next event will take place there (more on that soon!), we’re profiling CPH Meal’s favourite wine bar/emporium – Ved Stranden 10.
Christian Nedegaard, Ved Stranden 10’s co-owner and a former Danish Army officer who once transported champagne glasses in his ammunition box, has been appreciating wine ‘since he was allowed to drink it’. Growing up in a food-loving family (he was enrolled in a summer-long cooking school at the age of 10) instilled in him a passion for conviviality that would later influence his attitude to wine and inform his approach with Ved Stranden.
A year in Normandy at the age of 19 cemented a belief that life’s simple pleasures are the most rewarding: “I remember sitting in a local market with a friend and enjoying a bottle of wine and some oysters. By most standards the wine was probably terrible, but the simplicity of it, the sharing of the experience, really brought it home for me that it wasn’t about how much you pay, but how much you enjoy the moment.”
One of Christian’s goals with Ved Stranden 10 is to show Danes that wine can be enjoyed in moderation and that stopping off for a glass or two on one’s way home from work is not only viable, it’s also hugely enjoyable: “Meeting with friends doesn’t always have to be an arranged event, meticulously planned. Life doesn’t get richer than a last-minute catch-up, a glass of wine and some tapas.
“Many Danes use all their money getting shitfaced on Friday and Saturday nights drinking crappy wine. Why not meet up for half an hour after work and enjoy a glass of something more interesting? It doesn’t have to be so formal!”
A jolly presence behind the bar, Christian greatly enjoys sharing his knowledge and encourages his patrons to further their interest in wine, no matter their level: “I think the average price of a bottle of red wine in Denmark is 29DKK and that says everything. I know that my shop is probably only of interest to a tiny proportion of the population but if I can pass on a few tips and stimulate a few people’s appreciation for wine then that’s great.”
As for the wine itself, Christian’s focus is on cool climate varieties, predominantly European: “For me it’s about the minerality, and a sense of place. I really dislike over-intellectualizing wines – these types of wine simply speak to me most. We describe them as natural, living wines instead of organic or biodynamic. There should be a feeling that you’re drinking something alive, and which reveals something of the earth it comes from.”
Ved Stranden 10 offers weekly informal tastings and is also available for corporate functions. Visit their website for more information.