Away from the fast food and the homogenization of industrialized products, Danes recreate their own cuisine focus on a conscious and more local perspective.
by Péricles Carvalho
At 11 AM on a friday, the Malling and Schmidt restaurant in Aarhus is in preparation for the night – in the kitchen, chefs are preparing some of the local dishes that made Denmark come back to the world-class cuisine. Residing in a Villa close to the Risskov forest in the North of Aarhus the restaurant fits pretty well in the concept of coziness worshiped by the Danes: Creating a different environment where the costumers can be in touch with the philosophical approach behind the cuisine in a place full of Scandinavian references, from the furniture design to the selection of the ingredients of the dishes.
All the vegetables, meat and spices are from the region, explains restaurant chef Torsten Schmidt. Pointing out the directions with his fingers, he describes Risskov forest, the National Park around Aarhus where the meat comes from as well as the fish from the harbour behind. Everything is from around the area. What cannot be found in Aarhus comes from other locations in Scandinavia.
Coming from the kitchen, Schmidt takes a break from work to talk about this Nordic Wave in the gourmet world and explains the concept that drove him and other chefs such as René Redzepi from Noma (considered the best restaurant in the world in 2010) to work on a new approach of enjoying food in Scandinavia.
This movement called the “New Nordic Cuisine” has been spread around the world and became an attraction for food enthusiasts around the world. The idea of creating a local gastronomy has been shared in Scandinavia for 10 years now, and it created a ‘fashion wave’ influencing not only the restaurants, but also young people who are exploring local ingredients and cooking Nordic food.
According to Schmidt, nowadays the New Nordic Cuisine can be seen all around Denmark. If the restaurants are not purely local, they have some influences of it. In Aarhus, Malling and Schmidt can be considered the embassy of the movement in Aarhus.
Healing “a pain in the stomach”
The chefs involved in the movement didn’t have on their minds that it would become so international, Schmidt remembers: “About 10 years ago we didn’t have an idea of what it will turn out to be.” The hype, the success, it all evolved naturally. “I was in Noma with Renè and we clicked pretty well because it was something we felt in the stomach.” Their craving for a regional taste was also influenced by the Danish landscape. “At that time we knew that all the components: nature, the forest and sea and also our products. It was all here and we wanted to explore it”, he explains.
This “pain in the stomach” , as he recalls it, is related to a darkness period of Danish cuisine in the 1970s and the 1980s, when most of the products were exported and Denmark became a non-authentic gastronomic country. By then all they used to eat was influenced by the French and the south European kitchens – this was the time that the combination of potatoes, gravy and meat became so popular in the country.
“Denmark has been exporting food, exporting knowledge, but not producing for ourselves”, Schmidt says. After his education as a cook, passing by Bremen in Germany, he traveled many times around France trying to understand what makes their cuisine so special, and what he could do to improve the Danish dishes.
After more than a year of coming and going to France he found out how aware and proud the French are of their regional products as well as their different approach to eat food. Noticing how the local elements were strong in the French gastronomy opened his eyes and this discovery became important for him to start a “Scandinavian thought of cooking”.
Though food is the main factor, it is impossible to understand the Nordic Cuisine only as eating and cooking. There’s a whole philosophy behind this Scandinavian food renaissance. It started small, however there’s a very impressive ambition with a revolutionary vibe to it. Since they started the project and defined the concepts, those chefs wanted to change the whole dynamics of food: keeping awareness on the production, education, science and other aspects of cooking and eating.
It is the last point of what they called ‘the manifesto’ for this new Nordic cuisine: “(…) to join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, the fishing, food, retail and wholesale industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.”
Cooking is the new trend
With the repercussion of the New Nordic Cuisine many Danes were inspired to cook local dishes instead of eating south European or even American food. Food in Denmark is pretty expensive and it is the main reason why people used to prepare food at home – although, from the habit of cooking came also a conscious culture of consuming local products and also preparing food in what can be call a “more Scandinavian way”.
It’s easy to prove how food became so important for Danes: just make a visit to any bookstore around the country and you will find a large number of cookbooks occupy a large amount of shelves. The Danish student Anne-Marie Hojland Worm seems to be one of those addicted to cookbooks. Just in her room at Vilhelm Kiers Kollegium she has about 30 different books – including detailed Scandinavian gastronomy, pastries and so on.
Cooking became a hobby, points Schmidt out, who is very happy with the new wave of interest for gastronomy. For him, it is a sign that the new generation will keep thinking about the issue and they will also be responsible for more discoveries and the establishment of an identity.
“We have a style of cooking and people became more interested in regional food” he confirms. “Kids are cooking – they making their own ice cream, for example. It became a hobby in the country and it is also promoting a new generation of chefs and people who is creating a national identity again.”
The kitchen in Malling and Schmidt is not only a traditional room where you prepare food – part of the time it is also a laboratory for new explorations. This is part of one of the biggest aspects which differs the New Nordic Cuisine from the traditional way of cooking, especially with the introduction of scientific methods such as molecular gastronomy.
“I’ve always been interested in how things work and I brought it to gastronomy”, Schmidt says about his work methods. “I like to know about everything, how I can make an investigation about temperature, texture, smell. This is my tool box, when I’m doing a dish and I figure out that there’s something missing, I go to my tool box and come up with something new.”
From the New Nordic Cuisine, the recipe of an ice cream shared by Torsten Schmidt:
“One of our original dishes that has been on our menu since 2005. The dish is served in a vacuum packed bag filled with fresh shaved oak tree and a glass bowl with salted shavings and creamy ice cream served on oak tree. Each guest must cut up the bag with a scalpel. When the bag is opened the aroma from the wood strikes you and makes you feel you are back to the woodwork classes in primary school. This creates a very special atmosphere.”
Wood shaved oak tree as ice cream with salted shavings
60 g fresh shaved oak tree
200 g cream
300 g whole milk
120 g sugar
2 g gelatine
90 g yolks
1 – All ingredients are mixed in a vacuum bag and put in a bain marie at 72 degrees C for 48 hours.
2 – Bolt the milk and thicken it with the yolks at 72 degrees C.
3 – Cool down the milk over ice cooled water.