Danish Football and the Nordic Culinary Revolution

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Claus Meyer_Nykøbing FC (6), photo credit Anders Knudsen_V2 (1).jpg

This article originally appeared in the September 23rd issue of our newsletter, The Raven. Subscribe HERE.  

Danish Football and New Nordic Cuisine. Both regular topics on our other Podcast, “Scando-files Today.” But in this crossover edition of Three Questions, we delve deep into both issues with the restaurateur who serves as flag bearer for the aforementioned food revolution. Like all great moguls, he owns a football club.

Foodies world over will know Claus Meyer as one of the minds behind Noma, the two-Michelin-star establishment that The World’s 50 Best Restaurants has rated the No. 1 eatery in the world four times. Recently he brought his brand of Nordic culinary swag to American shores, opening up a litany of spots here in New York City. The Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal. Agern, right next door to Grand Central. And Meyers Bageri in Brooklyn.

When he’s not overseeing his restaurant empire, Meyer is focused on second-tier Danish club Nykøbing FC, of which he is part owner. We talked food and football pairings with one of the most powerful people in the restaurant industry.

MIB: Explain to food neophytes, like us, who subsist strictly on Guinness and Pie what exactly New Nordic Cuisine is.

Claus: I grew up in what was considered the darkest period of Danish food history, the 60s and 70s. I spent one year in France as an au pair in the mid-80s and it radically changed my life. I wanted to bring the spirit and virtues of French food culture - enjoyment of food and deliciousness - back to Denmark. It felt like a calling. My parents divorced at the sound of a microwave oven. Coming from a broken family, I had the feeling that with a greater food culture people would have better and more joyful lives.

That was 1984. Fast forward, 19 years later, that’s when I decided to open Noma with the goal of reconnecting cooking to the nature that surrounds us, using 100% local ingredients and working with the principles of time and place. We formulated a manifesto, a set of guiding principles that would apply to the French concept of “terroir" in a Nordic context – unlocking the potential flavors of our land. We invited all major stakeholders on the food scene to come together in that process to create this new paradigm with us. That was the foundation for creating a new culinary language and a great cuisine in its own right with dishes the world had never seen before: Dishes like langoustine, horseradish, dill and buttermilk; beef tartare with roasted bread crumbs, wild cress, pickled lingonberries, cep mushroom mayonnaise and cep mushroom dust; and pork cheeks with bacon, apples, sunchokes and thyme.

MIB: Your role in this culinary revolution has allowed you to fulfill every football fan's dream: to own a club of their own. Tell us about football's place in your life, how you came to purchase Nykøbing FC, and a little bit about the team.

Claus: I fell in love with the team thanks to my grandfather. He was among the club’s biggest fans in the 60s and 70s, when they played under the name B1901. We were consistently top five in Denmark and regularly played in Europe. I went to the matches with my grandfather and drank it all in. The club is located on the island of Lolland, where I grew up. It’s one of the poorest parts of Denmark and, over the years, the best players kept getting scooped up by bigger clubs. As a result the club dropped to the fourth division. In 2006, they merged with B1921 to form Nykøbing FC. In 2015, I purchased part of the club.

Having a little budget, trying to get the best out of the club, and growing organically, sometimes feels likes playing a family game. But first and last: when NFC wins, I forget all problems in my life for a while. I love the club and its victories makes me much more happy than I can rationally explain.

MIB: Talk about the similarities and differences between operating a restaurant and owning a football club?

Claus: There are definitely similarities between my dream of taking Nykøbing into Champions League before 2025 and the dream I had of creating a world class restaurant like Noma in the food desert that was Denmark. When the idea has a utopian character and is executed in a way that is generous and inclusive, suddenly the restaurant and/or football club can become the epicenter of a movement of avalanche proportions. To set the agenda, you need to make sure that a lot of things are right: the ownership structure, the values, the stakeholder relations, the vision. That has been my primary role in most of the things I have been involved in. Generally speaking, it's all about making sure that everyone exposed to the restaurant or the club gets more out of it than they had expected.

MIB: You're now living in New York City. How are you following Nykøbing FC?

Claus: In three ways: Livestream on TiFoSport or ViaSat. Listening to the matches on Radio Sydhavsøerne or simply following the matches on LiveScore. It was magical to follow the final match of the last season live in Vanderbilt Hall, Grand Central, the day we opened Great Northern Food Hall. Nykøbing scored the decisive goal in the last minute of the match and I screamed so loud that four policemen came running towards me to make sure everything was okay.

MiB: What is the perfect meal and drink to accompany football?

Claus: Beer and roast pork sandwiches with crackling skin, raw apples and pickled red cabbage.