Mia – September 17, 2018
It’s not often that my husband and I get to enjoy the delicious food of a world-famous chef, so we jumped at the chance to attend last Saturday’s Cuisine and Corks event at The Danish Home.
My mother and her friend from the Women’s Auxiliary reserved a table after experiencing Chef Stig Hansen’s wonderful New Nordic creations at last year’s Cuisine and Spirits event in honor of the home’s 125th anniversary. Although my parents have retired to Asheville, N.C., my mother takes her lineage as a descendant of one of the 12 founders of The Danish Home seriously. They try to visit each year for at least one major event.
My mom and I love to talk food, and Chef Stig’s creations have dominated many a conversation since last year, when my she and my dad feasted on his baked turbo with Norwegian lobster and other tasty creations. Familiar as we are with our traditional Danish dishes—frikadeller (meatballs), aebleskiver (donuts) and smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches)—neither of us was aware of the movement that began more than a decade ago with Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant and which features the freshest of seasonal Scandinavian ingredients and new twists on time-honored cooking methods such as smoking and pickling.
So when my mom learned Chef Stig would be returning for an encore presentation at Cuisine and Corks, she insisted my husband John and I should be her guests. Can I just say I was ridiculously excited at the prospect of enjoying this multi-course meal on a late-summer evening in the magical garden of The Danish Home?
The chef did not disappoint from the moment we found our seats under the expansive white tent. Awaiting us were dainty glasses of aquavit topped with a round of pumpernickel heaped with thinly sliced gravad laks (smoked salmon), capers and dill. To my delight, Chef Stig appeared to explain that this “first flight” was meant to be enjoyed with both hands, alternating a bite of salmon with a swig of aquavit. He called the appetizer “snapas,” which he described as the Scandinavian equivalent of tapas, the Spanish little bites that are currently very popular in the region.
From there we moved on to a mouth-watering warm chanterelle with melted sheep cheese and crisp toasts on the side, followed by a delightfully chewy cold grain salad of quinoa, lentils and bright pomegranate seeds topped with smoked cod and a sprinkle of hemp seeds.
Next came the entrees: ale-braised pork cheeks, celery root and pears over mashed parsnips and potatoes, and roast duck breast over fennel red cabbage with red-wine glaze. Both dishes managed to qualify as both fine dining and delicious comfort food.
Two intriguing desserts followed: a lovely yellow cake of alternating layers of pumpernickel and chopped pecans with a custard featuring the fruit of the buckthorn, which grows along Denmark’s coast. Chef Stig explained that the buckthorn’s thorny branches are frozen before its berries are shaken off. The fruit is known as the “lemon of Denmark,” he said, and the flavor was tart and bright.
The second dessert was a dense black rice pudding in a marbled chocolate cup—a healthy twist on the risalamande that all “true Danes” recognize as a traditional Christmas dish, Chef Stig explained.
Finally, as I was about to burst, the cheese flight appeared as a lovely still life featuring Danish fontina, blue cheese, green grapes, a sweet little fig and a slice of honey comb dripping golden sweetness accompanied by lavash crackers. I thought the marigold on each plate was a colorful relish until Chef Stig stepped up and announced, “this time I’m going to show you it’s edible,” as he popped a flower into his mouth.
It was the end of a perfectly lovely evening, made more so by Peter Orum’s moving acceptance, on behalf of his wife Irma and family, of The Danish Home Foundation’s 2018 Essence Award. As we crossed the moonlit lawn to the car, I thanked my mother and father for treating us to a memorable evening. “And mom,” I whispered in her ear, “if you need an idea for a Christmas gift, I’d love Stig Hansen’s ‘Cooking Danish’ cookbook.”
She smiled. “Just be sure to invite me to dinner.”