Tag Archives: culinary

manfreds & vin: part II of scandinavian restaurant crash course

I came across Manfreds while rolling around Copenhagen with a hangover one morning with Josie looking for food.

I generally don’t like paying to eat breakfast at a restaurant, since it’s my favorite meal of the day, and I usually really enjoy making it myself. I basically live off of fried eggs, bacon, and different varieties of cheese, and don’t know who I am without my dad’s hash browns. Everyone I’ve ever lived with has pretty much perfected the art (rewind to the morning of my 22nd birthday earlier this year, when I was awoken by scrambled eggs, pancakes, fruit, and an Irish coffee) so I’ve never had much motivation to leave the house and pay for IHOP.

But every once in a while, a crisis occurs when I’m too tired to know how to feed myself and so, on this Copen-heinous Saturday afternoon after staying out too late, we decided to try Manfreds, a much talked-about restaurant, take-away, and biodynamic wine bar, which was just a 3-4 minute bike ride from our apartment.

We walked in around 12:30, getting the last two covers for brunch before the kitchen switched gears for lunch. We both ordered a heaping plate of sausages, fried eggs, bacon, and bread with a glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice for about 119 DKK (~$20 USD). It definitely did not disappoint. It was obvious the kitchen used quality ingredients, the yolk in the eggs was runny and perfect, the bread was sourdough-y and very reminiscent of San Francisco, and (AND!) it came with bacon.

However, had we not gotten chef’s counter seating for this particular meal, and had our friend David not met us halfway through to order lunch, this experience may have been completely different. We ended up staying at Manfred’s for approximately three hours drooling over what those boys were doing in the kitchen while David let us eat his food. Watching the chefs cook was probably the most fun I’ve ever had watching food being made that was not ultimately for me to eat… a perfect definition, we realized later, of ‘foodporn.’

So, when I overheard our waiter talking to the couple next to us about how the majority of the chefs working at Noma and all associated kitchens were student volunteers, I immediately asked how I could get involved. Which is how I ended up with a position as a stagiaire. And now, I’m pretty sure Manfreds is my favorite restaurant in Copenhagen.

Manfreds, the sister restaurant of Relæ which I covered in an earlier post, combines all the quality with just enough class to create a very awesomely non-prissy atmosphere that guests love. Oliver Strand at the New York Times sums it up in a recent review much better than I can expect to:

“If Noma transforms Nordic food into high art, and if Relae renders it accessible to a wider audience, then Manfreds & Vin turns it into a party.”

It’s remarkable to me how they pull it off. At Relæ there was a consistently high level of stress to deliver food to Michelin standards. But at Manfreds, as the sous chef told me, it’s extremely important that the kitchen can relax because it carries over quickly to the guests- the staff should enjoy the experience just as much as they are.

Anyway, the menu format for all this goodness is a choice between a larger ‘daily special’ or a rapid succession of smaller courses for the table to share (like Chinese! But smaller). Ever get a dish that is presented in a way that makes you afraid to touch it and want to take pictures of it instead? This food is the opposite. It’s plated in a way that invites you to dig into it, basically ‘food on a bed of other food,’ with added treats hidden at the bottom of many of the small plates- creamy goat cheese under yellow beets, walnut emulsion under blanched broccoli, or mustard with egg cream under the tartare. The dishes change every day, based on what the kitchen has and what the chefs feel like experimenting with.

On this particular week the dish of the day was a pork leg with beans, cress, turnips, and sauce. It sounds simple… but it’s not.

Meanwhile… the set menu consisted of 8 different dishes or so, meant to be shared for 245 DKK per person (~$42 USD):

We prepared: lamp carpaccio with radicchio and onion with toasted buckwheat, poached eggs with brown butter potatoes, crispy breadcrumbs, truffle sauce, and chives, beef tartar with watercress (as the chef asserted, “It’s in between veal and actual beef, its ADOLESCENT COW!!!”), goat cheese and yellow beets with vinaigrette, creamy walnut emulsion with blanched broccoli, chicken hearts with grilled radicchio and onion again, smoked veal bone marrow (there are no words that can describe how good this smells) baked carrots with seaweed sauce, baked carrots with wood sorrel and sorrel puree, turnips in butter with olive sauce, pork legs with a ‘broken sauce’ of mustard and sherry with another ambiguous tasty brown sauce, beet tartare with smoked goat cheese, chives, and crispy bread.

(I will also take this opportunity to say that smoked chicken hearts are delicious and I ate every single one that got sent back. My cholesterol levels will soon kill me.)

So clearly, the place has a lot going for them in terms of what comes out of their kitchen. Like Relæ, everything is tasty, but also challenging (just like every beer on tap at Mikkeller); the chefs don’t want to serve you food that you’re used to. However, what I thought was really valuable about my experience at Manfreds was understanding how the staff worked to impart the feeling of hyggeligt-ness. It took working there for a few days to figure it out, but now, I have an idea what makes this restaurant feel different from many restaurants in the States.

A favorite TV show of mine, Louie, has been called a DIY comedy, in reference to the fact that its star, Louis C.K., is not only its lead character but also its director, producer, writer, and editor. And it’s a great show. It seems a little slow at first, but definitely grew on me over the years. It’s now one of the only shows I can watch without getting up to clean something or sleep. Louie is the opposite of the typical television sitcom- he just wants to provide, with much comedic effect, a simple look into his own life. It’s organic and unrefined.

It’s interesting how a show that is so raw and handcrafted can carry such an appeal. I think viewers appreciate that Louis C.K. contributes to every facet of the show’s production, rather than delegating tasks to a wide base of employees. Because of this, the experience is so much more personal.

A similar effect can be found in an experience dining out. While I’ve recognized this sort of individuality and warmth in family owned restaurants and other small businesses alike, I can now attribute that feeling to the style of operations on the inside.

At Manfreds, the chefs bring out the food (and present it lovingly as if to say ‘hey, I made this just for you’). Both the sous chefs and the underlings scrub the floor, scrape down the grill, and polish the stainless steel countertops. There’s no hostess working for minimum wage and tips at the front- instead, everyone makes sure that anyone walking through the door feels welcome. It’s reflective of Danish socialism; individual responsibilities here don’t really fall into compartments, they’re committed to helping each other out and want to help the system work as a whole. And, if anyone is faced with the slightest difficulty, everyone will help to pick up the slack, for example:

“Fuck! I need to make soup but I don’t have a bowl.”
“Come on Kris, just put all your vegetables in a bag, vacuum seal it, put it in at 68 degrees for half an hour and then thermal blend it, duh.”
“Yeah Kris what were you thinking??”

(I mean, that’s exactly what I would have suggested.)

They’re like a new breed of problem solvers. And since each of them sees every dish pretty much from when its ingredients arrive in crates to the dishes being put through the dish pit (hence the 16 hour days), it makes Manfreds about as DIY as a restaurant can get.

So… dinner anyone? Flights are less than $800 round trip from SFO right now. Seriously.

Manfreds & Vin
JÆGERSBORGGADE 40
2200 COPENHAGEN N
+ 45 3696 6593

Tips on visiting Manfreds:

  • Learn to share. There’s enough to go around.
  • The wines are not very expensive, but they are extremely rare- each bottle is natural, meaning no sulfites. Have at least a few glasses.
  • Order the tartare, as ‘it is an institution of Manfreds!!’ Check the NY Times review above for a up close and personal picture.
  • Manfreds is a total boy’s club. Like two girls work here. Enjoy the leather aprons.
  • Pay attention to the herbs- the biggest flavor is sometimes in the smallest things.
  • Also, their disco wine cave is an inspirational vision so do make sure to check it out. It makes me dream about building my own with, like, a shark tank in it, or something.

I plan on eating here as soon as my bank account isn’t in the negatives.

vi ses senere,

LC

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Filed under Cooking, Copenhagen, Restaurants, Travel

best way to experience Scandinavian restaurants- work in one.

Well, no matter where you are in the world, you should do this.

Last week, I put in some serious hours working as a stagiaire in the kitchen of one of Copenhagen’s best restaurants, Michelin-starred Restaurant Relae, run by Chef Christian Puglisi. Regardless of your amount of experience in food service/fine dining, anyone who has an interest at all in the restaurant industry is welcome to volunteer their time in fancy kitchens. You can learn the ins and outs of the business, work in the company of world-renowned chefs, prepare and serve amazing meals, and talk about delicious food all day with people who love to eat. It’s like one condensed semester of culinary school for free, snacks included.

But before launching into an full-scale highlight reel of the week, here’s some background what’s been going on in Copenhagen restaurant-wise.

This year, Noma, run by Chef Rene Redzepi, rose to the top of the international foodie radar by placing at the top of the list of world’s best restaurants by folks at Restaurant Magazine for the third year in a row. Redzepi’s menu is a drastic reinterpretation of traditional Nordic cuisine; it is extremely detail-oriented, focusing on creating innovative dishes out of simple and local ingredients readily available in Scandinavia. A table at Noma runs around $250 USD a head for a 20 course meal, with optional wine pairings (but are they really optional at that point?) for an extra $160. There’s a lengthy waiting period for any reservation- as of now, at the height of holiday season, tables are booked until January 2013.

But while an adventurous feast at Noma may be inaccessible to the average Copenhagener, the restaurant’s concept has been incredibly influential; Redzepi’s complete reinvention of Nordic cuisine has sparked a culinary movement that has changed the way people cook, the items that stock the shelves of grocery stores, and the dishes chefs incorporate into their menus, meaning that the gastronomic experience is hardly one that is reserved for those able to spare $300+ on a meal. Fortunately for the rest, plenty of inspired restaurants have cropped up all over Copenhagen, giving everyone the chance to indulge in this tasty, tasty movement.

Only eight years older than me and world renowned with two restaurants, time to get to work. However… whose idea was it for him to pose with a knife like this?

Chef Puglisi (above), who co-owns both Restaurant Relæ and Manfreds & Vin, is considered a celebrity chef. Seriously, screw half of Food Network (read: Sandra Lee and her poop meatloaf)- now that I’ve been here… these guys are where it’s at. They’re among the best, and the ones to learn from. Puglisi (just called ‘Chef’ in the kitchen) is Italian, and worked in the former ‘best restaurant in the world,’ El Bulli in Spain, before becoming the sous chef at Noma. Now, he co-owns two restaurants on my new favorite street, Jægersborggade, where I worked eight full open-to-close shifts at over the past two weeks.

Simple and unassuming. Kim Rossen, co-owner, sits at one of the back tables of Relae.

Even though I did put in ~150 hours of labor into this entire experience, which is probably more than I worked this entire summer at my joke of a job that requires me to sit on my ass (lifeguard), there were points throughout the week I couldn’t believe the experience was free. I was thrown in with both feet into one of the fanciest kitchens in Copenhagen, a considerable step up from rolling white-people burritos at the CoHo. I had literally nothing to offer these people except for extra hands to scrub carrots (and beets, and celeriac, and turnips…) but each of them patiently taught me everything I needed to know to help the restaurant operate smoothly during service hours. Something to keep in mind! A staging gig really is accessible to anyone.

Disclaimer: I’m sorry this post has no original pictures. While I REALLY REALLY wanted to take pictures of all the awesome dishes especially after we had plated them, I was there for work and not for the tourist experience. Sadly. I never wanted to keep a writing-centric blog anyway, so expect this to change for future posts.

Anyway, running around for sixteen hours straight was pretty rough on my lazy ass so all I really managed to get down when I got home exhausted every night were bullet points… but anyway, here they are:

RECAP: Restaurant Relæ

First impressions: Day 1, Tuesday

The kitchen staff comes in on Tuesday before the restaurant opens on Wednesday to get prep work out of the way, so that shit doesn’t hit the fan so hard once the service nights start. This first day was, surprisingly, just like working at the CoHo, even though the two places are literally polar opposites- swearing, snacking, lots of feisty Asians, doing repetitive tasks for many hours. The only thing that was different- no speakers. I didn’t realize I missed dubstep until this moment.

The sous chef at Relae is Lisa Lov, who I can’t believe is just a few years older than me and so good at what she does. She was incredibly patient with me, taught me how to chop stuff properly, and didn’t laugh when I had no idea what some of the vegetables were (did you know what a Jerusalem artichoke was??).

First, we prepared celeriac- 18 of them, literally as big as heads. Cut, scrub, rub with salt and then bake. They would later be sliced thinly to form tacos, for the ‘snack’ course on the menu, but that will come tomorrow…

Then, like a hundred pounds of onions. Cut, cry, peel, cry, separate inner from outer, rinse, separate small, medium, and large onion layers, box, label, put away, finally stop crying.

Pumpkins! 6 of them, half, quarter, peel, scoop, wash, rub with salt. I think these were used for the vegan dessert on the menu later in the week, but since so few vegans came into the restaurant that week, I never saw it prepared.

Parsley for what felt like an hour. Pull off the good leaves, wash, spin dry, box, put away.

TURNIPS. Like hundreds on hundreds of turnips. This is where I broke four nails. Cut, peel, slice, wash, box, put away for SHRINKAGE later and then REHYDRATION and then… don’t get it, but hopefully will tomorrow. Turnips are such a thing here. They sit all day in the drying oven, get packed into little boxes with silica gel apparently only to get rehydrated later into a texture-happy concoction… must try this to understand it before I continue trash talking, again only because I broke four nails. This is what they call inventive cooking with vegetables.

But the work was just part of the day. What really made it for me were the things I got to see- bacon wrapped meatloaf (mind.blown). Chocolate mousse and crab apple puree with malt crumble topping. Amazing, amazing bread! (Pretty much everything the pastry/dessert chef put in my mouth was exceptionally great.) Staff meals- about as much effort goes into these sit-down lunches as into the food served to the public (score). Potatoes elevated to crazy greatness, chicken wings on chicken wings on chicken wings (but seasoned to perfection), sparkling water on tap, a cooler full of duck meat (I can’t wait to find some good duck in Europe), veal stock (reduced and put into containers and the whole restaurant functions off of it), bright yellow beets, sparkling red wine (odd but great), waiters in leather aprons and plaid (like liederhosen!), a Eddie Vedder-heavy soundtrack that could use some change, merengue…. it goes on.

Day 2: Wednesday

Sleepy as shit, so here we go, in bullet point fashion-

  • That bacon-wrapped meatloaf I spotted on an oven shelf and drooled over yesterday, yeah we had that for lunch. With sauce similar to lingonberry sauce, brown gravy, and mashed potatoes. There’s always salad too- today it was romaine with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and vinaigrette. It was like Thanksgiving came early (YAAAAAY!!). The meatloaf had olives and capers in it, which I would normally find strange, but seriously, nothing bad comes out of this kitchen.
  • Holy shit- mushrooms. Cantrell mushrooms blow my mind. The pastry chef, Carol, came up with this genius idea for a mushroom dessert. Cantrell mushroom mousse, surrounded by apple granite (like fluffy frozen apple juice, and they painstakingly juice all the apples in-house), a tart berry crumble on top, a pinch of black truffle powder, and five dried cantrell mushrooms decorating the sides. Unfortunately I only got to taste each ingredient in isolation, which only means I’m just left to fantasize about how much of a party in my mouth this must be. I’m not kidding I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of those dishes that I followed to the dishroom so I could lick it.
  • At one point there were octopus legs charring in the new charcoal stove. John, the test kitchen chef (also used to work at Noma, and whose job description is basically that of a mad scientist left alone in a kitchen, what a cool job), told us, when asked what exactly his plan was, that he was thinking of doing “some… burnt squid… sauce.” Usually I would laugh immediately but I learned quickly not to be doubtful in the company of these people. They made mushroom mousse and fermented cucumber flesh taste good.
  • Snack assembly in the back wine room during peak hours of service- amazing Sicilian olive oil with chevre blended to a creamy consistency… we pulled apart a loaf of bread (their bread is so. so. good.) and wolfed it all of it down. The cheese course that comes after the four dinner courses and before dessert is the chevre with parsley pureé splattered on top of it. But for this, we vetoed the parsley and went for the olive oil. After I freaked out about how good it was, I was informed that it had won the award best olive oil in Italy for two years in a row now. NBD. I am never buying olive oil from Costco again. (I found it online, if anyone is interested.)
  • I understand the celeriac snack. They’re sliced thin into ‘tortillas’ and charred in the oven, filled with more celeriac and topped with grated egg yolk (it’s dehydrated first) watercress and… lots of other things.
  • Langostine appetizer- got to do prep, plating, and serving today which was awesome! The first course is chopped langostine with onion, reduced white wine, lobster juice (we squeezed it from the heads after pan-frying them, it was nice), and salt. Spoon a little on a plate and cover with a few dots of fennel pureé, then actual fennel, then onion layers. Then take sliced bits of onion that have been blanched and doused in salt brine and then form the strips to look like a real onion… they are so pretty. Pictures will come when I get the chance to eat here as a guest.
  • The dehydrated turnip dish is awesome!  They are cut into strips and then cooked like pasta, then tossed in a sauce of cream and really great herbs (chervil plus others).

Day 3: Thursday

We had a meeting in the morning to discuss new items for the menu. The kitchen rotates one menu item out at a time, and today Chef wanted to hear thoughts for new snacks (appetizer course). We discussed and tasted beets prepared a bunch of different ways- boiled and put into a dehydrator; boiled, peeled, and then put into a dehydrator; “Jospered”, meaning charred in the new coal-burning oven; there were some other ways I can’t remember. They decided to roll the peeled and dehydrated beets into a mixture of citric acid and sugar… how do they come up with this stuff?

What I did like about this whole process was that everyone, including myself, was included in these meetings. They make an effort to keep every staff member, regardless of rank, involved. The whole time I was there, I didn’t feel a real sense of hierarchy.

We had lasagna for lunch!! Prepared for by one of the Italian chefs. There was this huge parmesean vs. mozzarella debate… food nerds to the max.

Day 4….

It seems I never did a recap of Friday night’s service because I came home and passed out immediately for around twelve hours.

pooped

It was definitely an exhausting week, but very worth it. Essentially, I went to restaurant boot camp and it tested my patience, endurance, and ability to absorb criticism, while teaching me some very important lessons about keeping a restaurant running smoothly… or keeping any business running smoothly, for that matter.

Hopefully another post soon from an actual dinner at Relae, as well as lots and lots of rambling to come about inspirations that have come out of this experience. Even though I was working for free (#thingsItoldmyselfIwouldstopdoingaftercollege), it did help me figure out what I’d like to be doing here for my so-called gap year, while making the concept of sticking around for a certain masters program at Copenhagen Business School make all the more sense…

And another post about boot camp part II, Manfreds & Vin, soon! A restaurant, wine bar, takeaway, and total boys club with amazing steak tartare and cool beet creations.

peace,

LC

P.S. A big thank-you for putting up with way more than the Aggie would ever let me write about food.

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Filed under Cooking, Copenhagen, Restaurants