Come On Fry Young: Sam Herlihy & Cold Mathematics
, April 19th, 2013 08:23
In the latest edition of his food column, Sam Herlihy easyJets to a freezing cold Copenhagen for a meal containing flavours by turns fascinating, delightful and which "taste like you just fell face first into a grey briny wave"
Copenhagen in January is not hot. I was aware that suncream requirements were likely to be low. My furry pecs and rug-back were unlikely to be on tan display around the Tivoli Gardens. Margaritas no, mead or aquavit more likely. I get it. Copenhagen, Denmark, January, equals chilly. But this? The place could turn your blood into iron-rich SlushPuppy. Stood on the top of the entry steps back onboard the EasyJet home, I've never felt colder.
It was weird to fly away from England ahead of the snow. Carrying that classic British pre-snow-denial. The refusal to admit the coming of a blizzard that is instilled in everyone from childhood.
"Is it going to snow Mum?"
"No. Not here. It'll just be sleet."
Then two foot of ice dust turns the world into a crappy line drawing version of itself.
"Look Mum! Snow!"
"It won't last. Look, it's already melting."
I'm not sure what British parents need to fully commit to the very concept of snow. Unless you are actually buried under an avalanche waiting for Lassie, feeling the chill drip of impending hypothermic cardiac apocalypse, or have been entirely encased in ice, David Blaine-style, they ain't buying it.
"Look at my snowman Dad!"
"That? That's a pile of sleet."
"Snowball fight Pa!"
"Don't throw hail!"
"Papa let's go sledging!"
"'Papa'? What are you, French? You son, are a full-bore disappointment. 'Papa'? Bull-merde! And secondly, you can't sledge on a light frost."
Continuing a theme I began in another one of these food pieces (Scran-transmissions?, Tucker-dispatches? Chow-warrants?) once again, I clambered on board the EasyJet. This one filled with idiots and Danes. The English were idiots for bowling over to Denmark in such a stupid month. The Danes were Danes, because they were living there or born there. To commit fully to this regional stereotyping, quasi-racist Nordic profiling, there was a lot of blonde, a lot of Sven and a fair percentage of moon boot on board the EasyJet. I scanned the 'Deli-Cafe Treat Card'. I was expecting some EasyJet riffs on iconic Scandelicacies; Easy-Herring, Easy-Ratfisk, (putrid fish that tastes worse than you think a dead tramp, swallowed, half-digested and regurgitated by a whale, onto a fly buzzing beach under a broiling sun, would taste) or Easy-Openface. The final offering was bound to be on there surely? A classic money and time saving device is the smorrebord open-faced sandwich. Take a sandwich and nick back half the bread. Save on wheat, butter and time. Watch the weight fall from the EasyJet, like when Macauley Culkin got Home Alone 2: Lost In New York royalties and ended up with 'food-poisoning', from hard drugs.*
*That is the most mean spirited, baseless, unpleasant accusation/ inference I've made. I feel awful about it for a number of reasons. I really loved the first two Home Alone movies with the real Culkin, Macauley. I should be making cruel accusations about Fredo-Culkin; Kieran. Riding on his bro's coattails, jumping onto the Father Of The Bride franchise like a low-rent Big Mac(auley). That conniving snake Kieran Culkin was only good enough to play Fuller, the weak bladdered Pepsi drinker, in the first two Home Alone and then a few years later big bro Mac is off being all dreamy and stoned looking in Sonic Youth videos, getting married aged eleven or something to a chubby girl and then what? Sly Kieran is stepping up to the top step in sweet flicks like She's All That and classy movies like The Cider House Rules. What a scumbag.
My little brother was actually convinced he was Kevin McCallister in Home Alone for years. He would watch the flicks and point at 'himself' and his shenanigans which was was both dumb and a bit arrogant.
Also the bit in the first one when the mum is in the van with the Candyman talking about getting home and he's banging on about leaving his kid in a funeral parlour, makes me cry. Actually the bit at the end when she walks in the front door and he's tidied up and mopped up the burglar's blood and she's all smiling and he's at the top of the stairs and Jesus Christ I'm weeping onto the keyboard. I swear there is no scene more sad and happy and genuinely emotive in the entire history of cinema. Except for the bit when Raphael nearly dies and is pretty much half-dead in the bath in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
There were no Scandinavian items on the menu. A tepid plasticine take on Italian food is the culinary Esperanto of terrible British transport firms. On trains, planes or ferries, there will be unripe tomatoes, hydrogenated vegetable oil mozzarella and a strange light pink and damp version of an Italian cured meat that feels like dead greased worms in the mouth.
The cold in Copenhagen was, mathematically, not as cold as the cold in England. However, I have always been woeful at maths, so fuck maths. The cold in Copenhagen was a brutal sharp stabbing mist around you. Those desk objet d'art things made of pins that you put your hand in to leave an imprint, that was the air in Copenhagen but instead of blunted pins, they are razor sharp skewers and instead of just your hands, it's full body sized so you walk around feeling like the world's most useless Indian fakir on a bed of nails. You are being pinned to bits by all the nails but your mind over matter abilities are woeful and it hurts like a motherfucker but you don't want to let the crowd down so you just lie there, in agony, in a loincloth, grimacing and regretting ever trying to make a few rupees with this stupid painful parlour trick, but in Copenhagen instead of Hyderabad.
I wore my beanie hat that my wife says makes me look like a derelict and still my ears froze. So along with my lack of handsome Nordic genes, I threw in the tramp-hat, visible blue facial veins (from the chill) and my generally unpleasant face arrangement, which cast me in such stark relief to the attractiveness of the travelling Danes in the clean modernity of Copenhagen Kastrup Airport that I basically appeared as a slug on the screen of a Bang & Olufson television.
Driving into Copenhagen, my brother and I pointed out flats, pavements, fences, streetlights, wastegrounds and bridges that looked like scenes from a Bourne movie. Anywhere in Europe that's cold, looks like Jason Bourne just left, having run around, punched someone or mooched about in a greatcoat. Copenhagen at dusk is well Bourne.
We turn up just before eight. The taxi bounces over huge gouges in the cobbles. They are building another bridge from the old dock buildings back across the harbour. There is rubble and old snow everywhere. The restaurant is the only place with lights on. We go in and there are loads of people all saying hello and looking organized and one of them has a Kitchener 'tache. It's warm and looks candle-lit but I can't see any candles. We sit at a long wooden table and there is a woolly skin of some dead animal on the back of my brother's chair. A bloke who looks like the bassist from R.E.M. but Danish starts up with the wine talk and the plan of action, and then it starts. A cook in a spotless apron and tattoos brings out a dish. Mike Mills from R.E.M. brings in more plates for the whole table and more cooks with more tattoos bring more. For Denmark, a lot of the food seems to come from Sweden and all of the wine is from 2011.
But some of it is the nicest food I've ever eaten and all of it is some of the most interesting. There's a lot which I can't describe as nice or delicious and a couple of things that taste like you just fell face first into a grey briny wave, but it's still lush.
Mike Mills seems to think our table might be a bit raucous and that bugs me a bit, but there's this young English cook who brings the next thing out and explains it and he's got the same look on his face that I've seen somewhere before. A sort of tired peace that what he is working at is exactly what he should be doing with his time. It's just food. It's just super expensive, privileged food. Perfect, inspiring and hugely impressive but still serving little purpose beyond gluttonous pleasure. It's a Western world's smug bauble and magic-trick giggle but separate from that, beyond money and privilege and the ethics of exclusion, there's the honest, sweat misted forehead of a cook who's learning a craft at the highest of levels and loving the fact that he's there. Grateful for the chance to learn here, where everything is the best, where the ideas are some of the best and the ingredients always are. The only exclusion for a spot here, is work ethic, maybe talent, and physical space in the kitchen.
Afterwards Mike Mills from R.E.M. seems to have simmered down and he offers us a tour of the kitchens. There are cooks from fifteen different countries here. They all look the same, focused and tired. The dude leading us around shows us the grill outside, minus seven, not counting wind chill. This is where he grills the hell out of these leeks. He's grinding his teeth at the temperature but smiling from ear to ear at how good those damn leeks turn out every night.
It's just food. They say it's the best restaurant in the world. It may well be. Some of the food may stick around in the memory forever but as it often seems to, the people, the cooks, that weird look on their faces, that is what always sticks. Years ago, when I used to write music, I think I looked like that.