Words Anastasia Bernhardt
Photography Jan-Peter Westermann
Since the early 2000s, New Nordic Cuisine has gripped the imaginations of food lovers globally, with restaurants such as Noma, Relae and Geranium regularly topping ‘world’s best restaurants’ lists. The ethos is simple: focus on local, seasonal ingredients and revive old techniques (such as curing, fermenting and pickling) in a way that’s both fresh and modern.
But there’s a new wave of Scandinavian chefs evolving a style that goes beyond New Nordic, adapting to influences from further afield. Among them is Jakob Mielcke, the executive chef of Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, an ethereal restaurant in the gardens of the Royal Danish Horticultural Society in Copenhagen.
Here, he delivers a 360-degree vision that merges the dining room with its historic botanical surroundings, immersing diners in a multisensory garden of Eden that starts with the smell of herbs, freshly picked from the kitchen garden, and ends with a soundscape that mimics the noise of forest creatures.
Having started his career in Holstebro in Denmark, Mielcke went on to train at Pierre Gagnaire’s in Paris and Sketch in London. All of these restaurants have honed his style but it was under Gagnaire’s famously iconoclastic guidance that he learnt to put his own personality on the plate, which Mielcke says was the ‘biggest gift’ the French chef gave to him. He then returned to his home country to work with Jan Hurtigkarl as executive chef at Hurtigkarl & Co, where his own creativity began to unfold.
Mielcke’s food is anchored by a powerful sense of place. Reflecting the historic botanical gardens that surround the restaurant, he’s nurtured an extensive kitchen garden, which forms the basis for many of his dishes. Although around 80 per cent of Mielcke & Hurtigkarl’s food is sourced from nearby, he does not pursue local produce doggedly, supplementing ingredients he’s discovered on his extensive travels, whether that’s miso made by a family in Kyoto or delicate seaweed harvested on Vancouver Island.
In 2007 he entered into a new partnership, and Mielcke & Hurtigkarl has since caught the imagination of personalities in the restaurant world. Among them is René Redzepi of Noma, who describes the restaurant in the preface to Mielcke’s book Metamorphosis: ‘I dine at Jakob’s to get my own dogmas shaken up and my imagination stimulated. To be reminded that the world is far more than chickweed and wild garlic from a soggy forest floor. A treat for all the senses.’
Mielcke & Hurtigkarl’s menu relies heavily on wild fish and game but it’s paired with out-of-theordinary flavours – for instance witch flounder, a fish found in the Atlantic and usually treated simply with lemon and butter, might be given an eastern reinvention with the addition of kombu and crispy chicken skin.
What is particularly exceptional is that, for at least half of the year, most of the restaurant’s produce is hunted by either Mielcke himself or one of his friends. Although hunting and flyfishing is an important way of sustaining the restaurant, to Mielcke it’s ‘become an important way to clear my head’.
If chefs are indeed the new rock stars, often with egos to match, it’s gratifying to hear Mielcke speak humbly about his team: ‘Twenty years ago, the head chef would’ve been the number one but today we don’t have such hierarchy.’ Stepping back from such a traditional and strict pecking order has resulted in the highly creative and unpredictable food for which the restaurant has become famous for, winning numerous accolades along the way, most recently ranking sixth in the White Guide Nordic 2018.
Although Mielcke is committed to growing the restaurant, he’s determined to maintain a good work/life balance. ‘I would rather focus on what I have and enjoy it,’ he says. ‘It’s very rewarding to know that people like us and write about us, but I’m very aware that’s not what it’s all about. I’m happy to have a full restaurant every day and give my guests an unforgettable experience that touches them emotionally.’ And what could be a worthier intention than that? The best food always comes straight from the heart.