Words by Olivia Beba Lennox
Photos courtesy of Reboot
The 23rd of February saw the webinar Reboot Copenhagen, the first in a series of events hosted by Mad about Denmark in collaboration with the Danish Agriculture & Food Council. It has become the norm to shine a light on Copenhagen for its cuisine, and rightly so. Not only is it the home of restaurants Noma, Amass, Sanchez and (the no longer with us) Relæ, to list but a few. It is also the capital of a country that collectively purchases the most organic produce globally and has chefs like David Zilber partnering with bioscience company, Chr. Hansen to develop solutions for a climate-friendly food system. Copenhagen glows with an idealistic haze, one which it had certainly earned in the fifteen years it has been progressing to gastronomic superstar status.
Andrea Petrini acts as moderator, and opens by suggesting Copenhagen serves somewhat as a culinary lighthouse, a beacon guiding the lifeboats of the restaurant industry into harbour.
Lisa Abend, panellist, affirms this, but remains grounded with the reminder that Denmark was in the mildly privileged position of lockdown having been minimal for the first part of last year, that mortality rates were comparatively low with the rest of Europe and governmental compensations were generous. This nordic stretch were relatively lucky – as much as that can mean in consideration of a global pandemic. She suggests that this has allowed Copenhagen to be in an arguably better position to engage with inspiration.
Second panellist Renee Redzepi, who already holds a reputation for addressing issues in kitchen culture (see his critical 2015 essay), leads the conversation in the undercurrent of problems that the pandemic closures brought to light. Not only were the restrictions introducing constant issues, but they revealed the existing ones in a system that has been working to fit a pre-modern model which is well past its sell-by-date. He affirms that the culture of working gruelling hours cannot be returned to, and the aim for the future of Noma at least will be to be one of the best places to work, not only the best to dine at.
When asked if ratings and guides will always be relevant however, his answer is a quick and clear “Yes. There’s no question.” Perhaps that would be anyone’s answer who’s restaurant has been ranked Best in the World four times in the last decade and has a list of accolades as long as a Noma recipe. This is of course why the esteemed chef more than anyone is equipped to make a sound judgment on the way the system works. But this comes from him with a contingency that the considerations need to reflect the changing times, with sustainability at the forefront of restaurant trends in the coming year – and not as a token buzzword, but an inherent driving force. He states that the fundamentals are “Getting through to people that food is never cheap. That every time we expect food to be cheap, something or someone is paying a price – a person, a worker, a mountain being chipped away at.)”
Matt Orlando, the third panellist to join, confirms with certainty that the rating system will always remain relevant. With concise certitude he elaborates that what is of importance is that sustainability remains the focus of the future of rankings and awards, and that they adjust to the way in which restaurants work now and not the other way around – a considerably justified statement. Maestro Petrini probes on the subject of sustainability addressed in the rating system with dry criticism – “A shift beyond the greenwashing?” – an imperative question, the answer to which only time will tell.
Orlando’s project born of last year was Bowline, a collaborative group of hospitality industry professionals leading the way in discussion around all things food. This key project is a self supporting collaboration, an essential movement to re-harmonisation and a return to Copenhagen’s roots and values as he notes that a sour competitiveness that exists in other food cities had been creeping into the scene in recent years. There is undoubtedly no longer the luxury of selfishness in an industry that needs collaboration to survive.
It is said necessity is the mother of innovation, and here the necessity came screaming into the European world in March 2020. Noma was quick to launch Popl, their neighbourhood burger restaurant, and Amass began serving up AFM (Amass Fried Chicken). Other Chefs too have adjusted to the changing climate and transformed completely their valuable identities on which their restaurants survive. And take-away may not be groundbreaking, but the ability to adapt from Michelin starred service so readily can be. This is the democratisation of dining, allowing locals the opportunity to experience the restaurants their city is so well known for. Orlando remembers Redzepi’s words, that as chefs they have a responsibility in uplifting their community and their city. And this community focused shift is exactly why to pay attention.
Denmark may not have seen the worst of the restrictions and have adapted well to the continuous hardships. Yet this means that now they can provide inspiration for when restrictions can finally and permanently ease – the likelihood of a swift return to ‘normal’ being low. The city of Copenhagen is mapping out a model that can translate to a safer and more secure European future food scene.