It’s only been three days, but I can honestly tell why there is so much hype about Copenhagen. You have parks filled with boulders and trees to climb, cobbled streets and red brick architecture, boat busses and docklands, and it is home to the new Nordic food scene.
|Breakfast at Snabel B, Valby.|
The one thing I have yet to appreciate is the drizzly weather. There is a Scandinavian saying that “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. Well, either way it looks like Copenhagen’s summer is out to test people. I set out for my walk wearing a light jumper and jeans; the sun and cloudless sky gave a false sense of security and by the time the rain had hit, it was too late, I was too far from home.
Thankfully there were three solutions.
First, I hid under large trees to shelter, but these just sporadically dumped vast quantities of precipitation off their leafy canopy. Second, there was an outdoors clothing shop which sold anoraks for 20DKK. They were essentially just large plastic bags with a hole for your head. I looked so sexy, like a drowned rat in a cornershop bag. Third, I looked for little coffee shops and restaurants to get warm and dry in. This worked a charm.
|My ‘anorak’ in all its glory|
As I was walking down Vesterbrogade, a main street leading from Frederiksberg into Copenhagen’s cosmopolitan centre, I spotted a restaurant on the other side of the street. The restaurant had huge windows, urging people to see the ‘rustic chic’ interior and the bold white words:
“LOCAL. SEASONAL. ORGANIC”
My initial thought was “Uh huh, here’s another restaurant using greenwashing [link] and growing ethical consumerism…all talk and no substance”. I kept on walking. But, the restaurant kept on popping back into my head. Goddamn that rustic chic look, it’s just too inviting. I turned round, crossed the road, and stepped inside MadMad Mad Bodega.
Okay, when I say step inside what I really mean is a) see that the restaurant is shut, b) try the door anyway, c) realise its unlocked, d) step around a large chair that is clearly barricading people from entering and e) say “HIII!” to an unsuspecting restaurant owner who is half way through a professional chat with two bearded men.
A friend once told me that I “have no appreciation of social boundaries, but in a totally adorable way”. All I can say is that it wouldn’t have been adorable if I had still been wearing my damp rat anorak.
Once the bearded men had gone, I asked the owner, whose name emerged as Heather, if I could check out the restaurant. In a flurry of enthusiasm and efficiency, Heather gave me a brief run-through of MadMad:
Originally from New York, Heather moved to Copenhagen to do a MBA at Copenhagen Business School after giving up an arts career in London. During the MBA she met Marian, her future business partner, who had a background in computational linguistics. Both had a passion for food, cooking and sustainability, and together they conceived the idea of MadMad Mad Bodega in September 2015. The restaurant opened only two months ago, in May 2015.
Their aim is to serve local, seasonal and organic food but in an accessible and creative way, styling the restaurant as a ‘gastro pub’ and hosting food sustainability workshops on themes such as meat-free meals, preserving foods, seasonality, food waste and climate. For example, perched on top of the wooden bar are small blackboards, revealing compelling statistics and definitions related to sustainable food. Around the restaurant, larger chalkboards hang on the walls, scrawled with information on seasonal foods and upcoming events.
|The names etched into the wood are the individuals who backed the Kickstarter campaign|
These offered the perfect platform for communication, never treading over the thin line between raising awareness and appreciation of ethics, provenance and sustainability and shoving it down consumers’ throats.
I was in sustainable food nerd heaven. I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did.
Wait, let me breathe.
Heather invited me to continue exploring the restaurant, but sadly she was in a rush trying to finalise the ‘soft launch’ for a food sustainability event series that night.
I definitely didn’t get this subtle ‘do not disturb me’ message. The whole “think before you speak” thing went out the window; the sheer level of adrenaline and endorphins rushing round my body caused me to splurge “OH, CAN I COME?!”
Thankfully, Heather seemed to appreciate ‘my hustle’ (as she fondly put it). Alas, the launch party was full, maybe next time. I cut my losses and proceeded to tell her a bit about what I do, starting with the fact I’d just moved to Copenhagen to work with the Nordic Food Lab on edible insects and diversity and ending with some brief glimpse into the chaotic world that is my freelance food journalist/taste education workshop/consultancy life back in the UK…
She cut me off:
“Okay, you’ve gotta come tonight. I think you’ll love it, it’s a bunch of food bloggers, writers and events coordinators from Copenhagen. The event starts at 6pm, you’ll get a meal and there will be some fun interactive activities. Cool? Now I gotta finish everything. See you then!”
You know how I said I was in sustainable food nerd heaven before? I lied. This was it.
With a few hours to kill, I went and sat by a lake (you know, as Copenhagen’s city centre just has beautiful swan-filled lakes in it). Here, I whipped out my trusty notepad and pen. For the next half an hour, I created hand-made business cards, fit with a little wheat crop and my newfound ‘personal brand’ as a ‘Food Geographer’.
|My business card…|
At 6pm, I arrived back at MadMad. Once everyone arrived, we made a total of around 12 people. I sat at a table, nestled between a bunch of exceptionally talented foodies.
On my left were the co-founders of Scandinavia Standard, an online forum for English-speaking ex pats and general Scandiphiles in Denmark and beyond. Opposite me was Lin, the founder of Guide to Copenhagen, and Hazel, the woman behind the internationally recognised blog Mad about Copenhagen. To my right was Fredrikke, the coordinator of Copenhagen Cooking festival which hosts over 150 food events in Copenhagen, and Ditte, a food writer at The FoodClub and Instagram extraordinaire.
And then there was me. With my little homemade business cards, just lapping up everything like an excited puppy.
|My trusty notebook…|
Heather and Marian opened the evening with a talk on the reason behind the events series. As the sustainable food movement becomes more prolific, we all know what organic, local and seasonal mean in terms of abstract labels on food products. However, do we really know why they are important, and how we can access and incorporate them in our everyday lives? To answer these, we need to go a bit deeper, providing the ‘ideas, tastes and skills’ surrounding food and sustainability.
These three fundamental concepts paved the way for an exceptional evening. As guests, we acted as guinea pigs to test out the various creative ideas Heather and Marian had concocted for their upcoming workshop series. Rather than simply listing all the things we did, I thought I should focus on the take home messages.
First, we have the choice to make sustainable food decisions three times a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Despite this, there is a lazy tendency to rely on binaries such as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, and increasingly, ‘sustainable’ and ‘unsustainable’ food. While these are good points of reference to help guide eating habits, they paint a pretty simplistic picture of our food system and how we should act in it.
Much of this binary is based on general principle (i.e. morals, ethics, sustainability, health) rather than the specific practice. Let’s take meat as an example. While we should all reduce our intake of red meat for ethical, health and sustainability principles, there is a stark distinction between the practice of eating beef from a feedlot in which cows are fed on corn and kept in inhumane conditions and eating beef from a cow in an organic, pasture-fedlivestock system. While this does not fully address the complexity of the ‘meat dilemma’, it exemplifies that we do not have to reject all meat as ‘unsustainable’, but can make an active choice to solely eat meat that aligns good principle and practice together.
The evening at MadMad encouraged this active choice. For example, to whet our appetites, we did a sustainable cocktail making class.
|The start of our cocktail: strawberry puree.|
While we drank our Absolut vodka and strawberry aperitifs, Heather used the beloved blackboards to inscribe five simple rules when it comes to choosing a ‘green’ cocktail:
- Try clear
- Try seasonal
- Go waste and energy efficient
- Say yes to fruit based
- Run away from rum
Take the G&T and Mojito as two examples. Gin is a clear spirit, comprised mainly of water. The production of a G&T uses the energy equivalent of switching on the kettle. Rum on the other hand is a dark liquor, reliant on sugarcane and molasses, and is one of the most energy and resourceintensive alcohols out there.
Overall, by putting a bit of legwork in to learn the practice or process behind your food and drink, you realise that there is much more potency in informed choice than choosing according to abstract binaries when it comes to influencing our food system.
Moving away from cocktails and onto cockerel.
The second take-home message of the night was that it is not just about availability or access, but also utilisation of our food.
And, as a side point, you can make an extraordinary number of meals from just one chicken.
The World Health Organisation defines food security as: “When all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. This relates not only to availability (i.e. sheer amount) but also access to and utilisation of the food. Utilisation essentially means the use of our food, not only in terms of how our body digests it and its nutritional profile, but also how to make it last longer and waste less of it.
So, we have the idea, what about the skills to help maximise use of our food?
One skill is preservation. Through pickling, smoking, salting, burying, and canning foods, preservation is a fundamental and historic way in which to maximise the longevity and uses of our food.
We were given the humble tomato to experiment with preservation techniques. I want to make this sound much more gastronomically complex (as we are foodies, yah) than it actually was, but literally all we did was pop some raw cloves of garlic and a handful of herbs (marjoram, basil and coriander) into a glass pot with some chilled, blanched (skin-removed) tomatoes. It was SO SIMPLE. And from this simplicity comes deliciousness in a diversity of forms: you can preserve it and make a bruschetta topping, tomato jam, sauce, herby puree…
|Our ‘pimped up’ tomatoes|
A second essential skill is knowing how to use the whole animal or plant.
This ‘head to toe’ movement is ever-growing, but is by no means novel. Particularly when it comes to meat and a rejuvenated desire for offal and offcuts, much of our knowledge stems from older generations and how to eat wisely in times of rationing and adversity.
MadMad went to town with this, inviting Thomas from I Will Cook For Food as chef for the night. A self-taught chef, Thomas learned to cook with the experts – your grandmothers and mothers. He set up the Facebook group ‘I Will Cook For Food‘ in which people could invite him to come and learn how to cook authentic, home-cooked meals in their own kitchens. Now, he has transferred their passion onto our plates, and damn it was tasty.
|Chicken ballotines, offered by Thomas|
Food included crisp bread spread with chicken liver pate, fruit jelly and tarragon; minced chicken stuffed inside salted and spiced chicken skin; chicken fricassee with crème fraiche, sage and dill, stuffed inside a molasses and fermented garlic-based puff pastry*.
*Thomas and MadMad Mad Bodega are also doing a Meat-Free Monday series, building on the idea of creating delicious, nutritious meals from seasonal vegetables rather than relying on meat for a ‘protein fix’.
|Chicken fricasee in a garlic and mollases puff pastry|
We also had a chance to try our hand as culinary maestros. Using only five ingredients and two ‘wild cards’ (we chose chicken – obviously – and honey), we had five minutes to come up with as many meals as possible. Our ingredients included red onions, butter, oats, cabbage and eggs. From just these staple foods, we ended up with fifteen different meals ranging from oat koji and porridge to steamed cabbage wraps filled with chicken, egg and onions.
|Our ‘Ready Steady Cook’ task: 5 ingredients, 2 wild cards…make a meal!|
From all of the above, there is one final take home message:
There is an important distinction between diversity and choice when it comes to our global food and agricultural systems.
To make my point, imagine walking into a supermarket. We enter and are confronted with a limitless choice of food products. However, if we take a closer look, how much diversity is there in this? Many of the food products will include corn, soy or rice in their various forms, and through the use of additives and marketing tweaks, food manufacturers can sell pretty much the same product as an ‘original’, ‘low fat’, ‘extra chunky’, ‘low salt’ alternative. In other words, while we may have choice, we have very limited diversity of crop and animal species ending up in our supermarkets. It is a ‘diversity-sameness’ paradox.
What is very clear from the MadMad event is that, as eaters, we can help to incorporate (or at least appreciate) diversity into our food systems. Ironically, this often means actively limiting our ‘choice’: selecting foods in season rather than assuming its available all year round; opting for only pasture-fed beef or free-range chicken; cutting out meat all together and exploring the diverse world of vegetarian cooking; buying locally grown or heritage produce; or trying underutilised species and traditional foods.
Hopefully these take-home ideas educate and inspire, but you’ll just have to visit Mad Mad in Copenhagen to let the tastes invigorate and satiate, and the skills equip you with the ability to continue utilising and passing on this knowledge and diversity…