Lets all be truthful here. Of all the truffles gloriously showered over your food, green herbs plucked from the ground hours before your arrival, the most carefully raised, butchered, and cooked animals, the table-side sauces artfully presented by a hush-toned, white-gloved waiter, and the carts of champagne, bread, cheese, and lollipops, almost every single restaurant in the world would kill to give their customers an experience where, “… like my (grand)mother used to do it…” followed the description of their establishment.
So while late in January, we luckily have secured a reservation to noma, Pellengrino’s choice for World’s Best Restaurant, years from now when I think about this trip, I don’t know if I will remember live fjord shrimp, musk ox tartare, and bone marrow chocolates. However, I am sure I will remember a lively, quirky Danish man whose love for the Far East is unparalleled, his deeply caring wife, their fantastic, welcoming family, and Christmas traditions that I’ll probably carry deep into my own life. An experience that no restaurant could ever recreate.
One day, whether I’m young or old, I want to go to many of these places where the locale is defined by their restaurants. Most of the time, these places are dual inn/restaurants that breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the sleep in between are carefully thought out by the chefs. Maisons de Bricourt, Michel Bras, Marc Veyrat, Dal Pescetore, da Vittorio, Manor aux Quat Saisons, and even In de Wulf are like this. But here in Denmark in the midst of an area called Jutland, we got our first taste this. For four short days this Christmas, we were treated to overflowing plates, cups, and generosity for breakfast, lunch, and dinners that would rival any place with stars, diamonds, plaques, and distinctions.
Christmas in Denmark
We spent Christmas in the town Hvolbæk, (near Skanderborg) in Jutland, the Danish countryside, about 3 1/2 hours by train from Copenhagen by invitation of Iris Nordenkjær, one of Karen’s co-workers from her stage. It could have been just Christmas cheer, but from being at her parent’s house, I can tell she’s just a generous person. Maybe it’s just this area, or maybe it’s because there may be nothing else to do but celebrate (it is a farming community), but here there is a great importance placed on family during the Christmas holiday. In the restaurant industry where we are notorious for working odd-hours, holidays, “weekends” and days where “normal” people usually take time off; here in Denmark, everyone is given time off. As such, most everything is closed for three days – the 24th, 25th and 26th. (You have one less day to do your Christmas shopping than in America.)
We arrived at Le Maison de Nordenkjær with the intimidation like a three-star would have. Who knew what this place hand in store for us. As it turns out, it served us a lot of perspective. And a lot of food. And some beer, snaps and mead.
Every meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a must. Failure to partake would result in constant reminders of how skinny you are.
In the morning, there were croissants and various danishes served with coffee. (Maybe a little yogurt and granola as well.) We learned of a Danish tradition that included spreading the surface of a plain danish with butter and placing chocolate plaquettes on top.
Lunches consisted of vol au vents, cold cuts, frikadeller (meatballs, which has become my staple meat intake during this trip), different spreads and patés, and of course the rye bread and pickled herring that we’ve come to associate this country with. The ideals of smørrebrød, this country’s patriotic open-faced sandwich rung true to every meal. Beer and wine with the order to, “DRINK!” came as a side.
But it may be the night of Christmas Eve (which is celebrated more than Christmas Day) and the experience and dinner that took place that we’ll forever hold in our hearts. There may be bistro-nomy, molecular gastronomy, new naturalism, nouveau-ism, progressive food-ism, pan-asian, one pan, one pot, rustic, refined rustic, new refined cuisine, new american cuisine, farm to table cuisine, and cuisine that has no cuisine. But, there is only one way to have the feeling of a home-cooked meal. Cooking with love might be the world’s most overused term, but some days you just can’t deny it. The whole night is a blur to me, but I’m sure there was roast duck, roast pork with crackling skin, potatoes in three different forms (boiled, caramelized, and chips), braised red cabbage, stewed prune sauce, lots of gravy (we were reminded to put more on our plates), and lots of pours of wine, beer, snaps (an after dinner drink that reminded me of vodka… except with character) and scotch. Dessert was ris a la mande, complete with a warm cherry sauce, and a fun game where whoever gets the hidden whole almond in their serving gets a gift. Along the way there was a holding of hands while singing and dancing around the candle-lit tree, gift-opening, and fantastic conversation.
It was one of those nights that could only end with you lazily sitting there, chatting, holding your full belly, and trying not to doze off.
Day-after Christmas breakfast
Maybe the other thing we’ll remember is Santa Claus. Have you ever seen Santa (aka Julemand) come hiking to your home in the snow? We did, and it was pretty awesome. The children’s excitement was quite contagious. We found ourselves calling, “Julemand, Julemand!” too.
So often I hear people collecting restaurants as their lifelong dream experiences. Myself included.
But I suppose there is only so much that restaurants can give you.
Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Nordenkjær, Iris, Mai-Britt and the two little ones, for the incredible experience (of a lifetime).