Danish chef Bo Bech stands out from the pack in a capital city with a reputation for some of the biggest names in the global dining.
His first Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen, Paustian, inspired Noma’s Rene Redzepi – a future No. 1 on the world’s 50 best – who declared it “the most interesting place in Europe to eat”.
Sydney Opera House architect Jorn Utzon was a regular diner – Paustian was a former furniture store designed by Uzton and Bech repaid his admiration by creating a ravioli dish, inspired by the opera house, for the architect’s final meal there. In a bittersweet irony, Utzon was blinded following an operation and like the Opera House itself, he never saw the actual dish before his death.
But then Bech shut down Paustian six years later amid discontent with the direction fine dining was taking and opened Geist in 2011.
“I was tired of being the guy wielding a scalpel at an ego-driven gastronomic operation,” he explains in his latest cookbook, In My Blood.
Gesit once again redefined dining in a food-centric city at a time when Noma led the charge on Copenhagen being of the best places to eat in the world.
While everyone else served degustation and lovacore, Bech presented an a la carte menu and sourced produce from around the world, simply wanting to give diners the best possible experience.
Five years later, at the height of his culinary powers, he sacked himself, stepping out of Geist, declaring he was a “bottleneck” to its ongoing success, leaving his team to manage the restaurant while he moved temporarily to New York.
Bech self-published two books. The first, What does Memory Taste Like?, is an homage to his Paustian days. The latest, In My Blood, released this week as he tours Australia, explores the Geist era and his philosophy on life. It’s available online here.
As he explains, his least favourite word is “Plan B”, because “It means you gave up on Plan A.”
Bech is touring Australia next week and will be cooking a special dinner at Sydney’s Firedoor with Lennox Hastie.
Fireside, presented by Citi, is on Monday, September 24 at Firedoor. Book online here.
Meanwhile, we asked Bo Bech to share six things everyone should know about eating in one of the world’s best food cities.
1. Just because a restaurant is new doesn’t make it better.
People tend to focus on what’s new, what’s alive, what’s grabbing the attention. It’s closely connected to FOMO.
A restaurant is successful if it manages to live for longer than five years. This means it also has a tendency to disappear from the media.
From my opinion, every city has some of the best secret restaurants. They are not secret they are just successful restaurants that have survived. Look beyond the latest media articles to discover them.
2. We love our dairy.
We are a milk generation. I apologise if I offend anyone, but I haven’t had better dairy anywhere else on the planet than Denmark. It’s within our DNA from childhood and we love it. Olive oil or butter? It’s always butter!
It’s incorporated in how we cook. Look out for salads with a dash of double cream and acid for the dressing, it’s called grandma’s dressing and it is the best sauce for a salad or quite frankly, anything you are eating.
3. Rent a bike
You can move around faster and there will be room for more food. But remember the bike lane is for bike only.
4. Geist is located at Kongens Nytorv 8
For me, the challenge with us chefs is that we are all on the same journey.
How long we stay in each country is individual, for most of us, we will be born in a kitchen and we will strive to create our own restaurant where we want to be the best? It’s a little ego-driven. You have agenda. Then later in in life you loosen up a bit – if you survive that long. You start to relax and realise this is life.
Geist is an expression of where I am in my life. It’s full of energy. It’s not about jumping up and down saying all this stuff about the dish, it should be logical and obvious for the diner. We source the best possible produce with a single voice and a clear taste.
For any restaurant the most important thing is to remember that people are eating around table. They are there to have fun, chat, cry. I have tried to communicate the spirit of that in my new book ‘In My Blood’.
5. After a lovely classical lunch with smørrebrød your actually allowed to jump in the harbor for a swim.
Lunch is the most beautiful meal you can have all day. It’s a forgotten meal. Head to a smørrebrød [an open-faced sandwich] place and have a laid-back lunch. You are relaxed, you are chilled. Oh you are just so chilled.
You leave the restaurant happy, unchallenged. I’ve lived in Copenhagen by the water for 46 years and until this year I’ve never jumped in the harbour. It took a stranger outside of Copenhagen to say that Denmark has some of the cleanest harbours to swim in so this year, I’ve made it a ritual to have a relaxed lunch, dive into the harbour and let the sun dry me.
Water is all around us in Copenhagen, don’t forget to jump in the harbour.
6. Be prepared to enjoy a wide range of vegetables.
We are not a grandmother’s nation in the sense like the Italians, French, Spanish.
If you are born in Italy, or any of those mama countries, your mama looks at you and says, “Son don’t change a single thing”.
When you are born in Denmark, your mum looks at you and says, “you need to learn a language if you want to be something”.
We are a small country, from the beginning we know that if we want to understand our horizons, you have to open your minds. We have been taught that from the beginning.
If you go back to the ’60s, ’70s that when French cooking was really introduced to the Danish food scene – if you could call it a food scene.
It took over and then all of sudden, chefs started to travel. Chefs started to go abroad and work at these restaurants and learn. And all of a sudden, chefs like me we started to come home and open our own restaurant, but they weren’t lavish restaurants as we didn’t have the money, but we had open minds.
We started to look at a meal not as typical 3-course meal but how we could stretch the menu to become longer. We realised that instead of mixing the vegetables with other dishes, why not let them stand alone. Why not celebrate the ingredient?
The simplicity is a very Danish thing. Essentially what I mean is that we have been very successful in giving back the simple ingredients their identities. That’s the beauty.
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