Kokkeriet is an exquisite ode to Denmark’s traditions and signature Nordic flavors.
Since the early 2000s, a new wave of Danish cuisine – which has since garnered countless international accolades – has flourished from the idea of reveling in the present. Copenhagen’s gastronomic community reigns in artistic innovation from the best local produce of the moment. In season, at the height of premium quality. One could argue that thriving in the present couldn’t be achieved without efforts of tracing back to archaic roots, in the case of Kokkeriet, a path down memory lane. One that recalls heritage, one that evokes nostalgia from a grandmother’s hearty kitchen.
The unassuming luxurious restaurant is situated in the quiet part of Nyboder neighborhood, on the corner of two residential streets of hushed buildings. Behind its chestnut doors used to be lodgment for the Royal Danish Navy, comprised of military men who were considered as Christian IV’s personal property since they worked on the King’s waters that expanded throughout large parts of the Baltic Sea. Nyboder, in Central Copenhagen, is marked by rows of housing facilities painted in an iconic yellow hue – what locals now refer to as “Nyboder yellow” – is a vast contrast to Kokkeriet’s polished slate grey and gainsboro palettes. Today, the one-Michelin starred restaurant exudes the minimalism of a sleek lounge. Upscale, yet cozy. Sophisticated without arrogance.
The brain behind the scenes is Sammy Shafi, who began his love affair with the restaurant business at thirteen years old hammering away at a local fish eatery. After working for his father’s restaurant then receiving a management degree, Shafi opened Kokkeriet with his brother Mikkel. As the General Manager, Shafi wanted to create a different type of establishment in a city boasting new Nordic cuisine. Instead of emulating a movement based on the notion of this season’s clean and natural, here and now; Shafi’s vision of Danish gastronomy is one that embodies ancestry with a dash of novelty. Kokkeriet’s recapture of Danish cuisine is like listening to a newer acoustic guitar rendition of an old rock and roll tune.
Don’t be surprised if burnt ingredients arrive on a plate, since the method of cooking hay dates back to the 8th century. Dishes on today’s menu, including: potato – chicken skins – burnt hay and sirloin – cherry – burnt chives are nods to those ancient days when Vikings utilized dried birch tree leaves and grass to smoke or conserve meat. During the 11th century, the Normans began wrapping hay as a blanket around wild boar for additional aroma, then slow-cook the meat above a burning fire pit. The team behind Kokkeriet maximizes storytelling of the past centuries by creating a mature, nutty taste. Smokey, but not in the style of a barbecue. Think: bonfire.
At the turn of the Industrial Revolution, traditional Danish cooking deviated from peasant dishes originally derived from survival mode on the family farm to thriving off of dairy cooperatives. Signature Danish dish rødgrød (red porridge with cream) was a result from this shift, as did a wide array of cakes and pastries. Kokkeriet’s blackcurrant – oats – rosehip is an ode to the iconic dessert of stewed fruits. Again, it reminisces the restaurant’s theme of heritage by incorporating succulent blackcurrant – a native berry to northern Europe.
The most recent creations at Kokkeriet, such as: miso – coffee – apple and leek – nori – beurre blanc appear to be friendly salutes to the Denmark-Japan relations established in 1867 via the “Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation” which later elevated to a $2 billion trade in the late 1980s. Computers and motorcycles exponentially grew in the realm of Japanese exports in Denmark, while the Danes invested heavily in cheese, Lego and Novo Nordisk in Japan. Within the culinary institution, both cultures are widely recognized for their unwavering disciplined mannerism towards innovation and industrialization. In addition to easy access to abundant seafood off the shores of both lands, the marriage between Danish and Japanese influences is almost instinctive. Such a theory couldn’t exude more veracity in the decorum of smoked trout – lobster sauce – yuzu.
As if a general manager doesn’t wear enough hats, Shafi is also the Head Sommelier who composes an award-winning wine list that emanates inclusivity. One can explore traditional regions of Rhône (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) and Bordeaux (Margaux) to emerging and exciting contenders from Georgia (Makashvili Wine Cellars) and Canada (Henry of Pelham, Ontario.) Kokkeriet’s long list of excellent options is evermore valid by its embracement of both organic and biodynamic wines. These two progressive methods are quite similar in its common philosophy of growing grapes without toxic pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Hence both Vienna’s 2015 Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc Freyheit Heinrich Graue (organic) and Clos de la Bergerie by Nicolas Joly in Savenniéres, France (biodynamic) made the list. The latter, however, most likely goes an extra mile by creating healthier plants, healing the earth and replenishing the soil.
A wine list at a restaurant which reflects upon Denmark’s ancestry wouldn’t be complete without spotlighting Danish wines. Vejrhøj winery’s Solaris Sterling, Hvidtfeldt Gunderse Gåsefod in Fejø and Zalas Perle from Galsgaard Vin are three quaint vineyards riding on the success of cool-climate winemaking. Solaris Sterling in Vejrhøj, for example, produces single-field wines that indulge in more hours of sunshine and mild temperature especially during spring and autumn due to its proximity to Sejrø Bay – a Danish island in the Kattegat Sea. These three distinctive whites are not only listed at the top of Kokkeriet’s wine menu, they also play the perfect balance to Nordic cuisine’s sustainability factor.
So the next time you find yourself in Copenhagen, instead of hyperventilating for a seat at Noma, treat yourself to an exquisite meal at Kokkeriet. As you pass through buildings in Nyboder yellow, you’ll end up indulging in sophistication but not without a profound understanding of how the city came to be. One taste at a time.