Herrings, fancy hotdogs and seaweed: A weekend in Aarhus
I now know more than is good for me about herrings, smorgasbord, seaweed and the heights of hotdog cuisine. Last week I spent a couple of fascinating days as a press guest at the Aarhus Food Fesitval in Denmark. According to the organisers, the event "gathers the best Danish and Nordic breeders, growers and chefs who aspire to create high-qualify food in balance with nature. Food Festival will fill your stomach as well as your heart and mind." Too right, I put on four pounds while sneaking around the tasting tents and sampling Denmark's finest.
I have several abiding memories, the most unusual being the waterborne lecture from Professor Seaweed, but more on that later. First came lunch at Adam Aamann's pop-up Smørrebrødsværksted. Adam, a noted Danish chef, is the reinventor of smørrebrød. Asan appetiser he gave us an introduction to the herring, a staple nordic food.
Meanwhile, Adam's pop-up workshop produced an endless selection of exotic confections for the assembled international food press. All this indulgence turned out to be a mistake because, no sooner had the last open sandwich been swallowed, herrings and all, than we were shepherded onto a vicious-looking black rubber speedboat and ferried at 60 knots into the bay. Believe me, the Special Boat Squadron has nothing on this. I and my colleagues had been expecting a yacht or something; at least we had not thought to have our smørrebrød lunch to be so comprehensively challenged.
The festival's press co-ordinators, Sigrid Gjessing and Kasper Hansen had arranged for us to swoop down on a small fishing boat in the bay where we were able to handle lobsters and, delightfully, loads of fresh seaweed. This is a tactile experience I shall savour.
On hand was Professor Ole Mouritsen, academic and lover of seaweed. Seaweed is a wonderful food, we learned while bobbing up and down in the bay, and it could be the answer to the world's famine problems. The only seaweed I had tried before is the fried, crispy stuff from the Golden Dong but I dutifully chewed a few bits straight from the ocean. Not impressed. I will stick to the Golden Dong.
After another churning, it was time for cheese and an extensive tasting of unusual artisan produce from Unika. All of these samples, we are told, conform the the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto. Impressed.
By this time, full of smørrebrød, seaweed, herring and cheese, I was ready to meet the head of the Food Festival, Anna Lund, who looked remarkably untroubled by the alarming dietary mix we had sampled.
Saturday evening and more food, this time the gourmet variety. Bocuse d'Or silver medallists Jeppe Foldager and Christoffer Brink produced a sublime meal over a bunsen burner and served it in a tent. Together with my foodie journalists, including a representative from the New China Newsagency, I sat down to a delicious candlelit dinner. After seeing the story that was broadcast throughout China, I'm not sure what was made of it. No doubt there will be several busloads of Chinese foodies at next year's festival.
Our hosts provided copious supplies of wine (not Danish wine, which was a disappointment). Come midnight and we found ourselves in a deserted showground with no way out. Good we had had a glass or two because poor Sigrid was near panic as we trooped around the barbed-wire fencing looking for a way out.
In the end food writers Mónica Franco from Portugal (who is married to one of the country's leading chefs) and Tommi Anttonen from Finland waved a few Danish flags and a kind security guard took pity on us.
The following day it was Mad Sunday. I learned that "mad" is Danish for food and this corrected several misconceptions from the previous day. The particular mad in the spotlight was the seemingly humble hotdog which, from all appearances, holds a special place in the Danish heart. There are hotdogs everywhere.
The Danish Hotdog Championship is a keenly fought annual tussle involving the country's leading chefs and hotdog specialists who managed to produce a staggering array of traditional and "modern" dogs. Sigrit had commandeered a couple of round metal tables marked "press" and the hotdogs came thick, fast and delicious. At first she was slicing them up for the journos to try in small bite-sized chunks. In the end she gave up under the onslaught and we were soon downing hotdogs of all shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. I have to say they were delicious but, coming after the previous day's excesses, I was much the worse for wear.
An outing to a food festival, especially as a journalist-who-must-sample-everything requires a robust stomach. But I suppose the rest of the foodies are used to this. Me, I'm more at home at a photographic exhibition or sampling the latest iPhones or Apple Watches with fish and chips on the side. However, I left with a deep respect for my food and travel writer companions. They truly must possess iron stomachs and robust constitutions.
Most photographs in this article were taken with the Leica M and 50mm Summilux ASPH