This is guest post by Tom Madrecki based on his experience interning at Noma and Le Chateaubriand.
I was asked to write a post about the four months I spent last year cooking across Europe, in two of the world’s top 10 restaurants – Noma in Copenhagen and Le Chateaubriand in Paris.
This isn’t (exactly) that post.
For one, tragic as it is, the result of cooking in Europe isn’t what you might think. It is hardly a ticket to extensive travel and sightseeing, or to day-tripping across the French and Danish landscape in pursuit of long forgotten castles and extravagant estates. Rather, it is a ticket to long and laborious hours in a hot and uncomfortable kitchen, slaving for no money. I also assume that leaving each day burnt and smelling of fish guts hardly incentivized going out on the town to explore; I typically just wanted to collapse in bed and catch what small amount of sleep was allowable.
This, of course, presents quite the quandary. How to write a travel post when you can’t really say that you’ve travelled through a country – only that you’ve worked in it?
By a stroke of luck and genius, it dawned on me that I had one option, which was to write not about travelling, but about drinking. If there is one thing a cook always has time for, it’s self-medicating, and if there is one thing every traveler need do should they find themselves in Europe, it’s the same thing.
Besides, I knew Liz would be proud to feature a story about her favorite pastime.
To be sure, I am not necessarily saying that alcoholism is a good thing. Instead, consider this your map to a wild and raucous European adventure, filled with fine spirits, fine food and even finer women. Honestly, I don’t know why you’d ever consider taking a different trip. At four days, it’s a boozy long-weekend whirlwind escape from the ordinary:
Before even boarding your plane to Copenhagen, you nurse an out-of-balance and poorly made mojito at the airport bar. Aboard the aircraft, to tide you over on your long Atlantic journey, you opt for vodka and a bit of soda water. It’s enough to dull the pain of sitting so long, and (more beneficially) gets you the sleep you need to avoid the ill effects of traveling across so many time zones.
In Copenhagen, you head for the Inn Under the Bridge, the name given to a trendy, off-beat outdoor wine bar that is literally tucked underneath one of city’s busiest bridges. A few blocks from Noma and the lingering cannabis smell of anarchic Christiania, the Inn is only open during the month of August and features a lineup of biodynamic and natural wines chosen by Sune Rosforth.
There are dozens of incredible restaurants in Copenhagen, including many (like Noma and Relae) that earn well-deserved praise in international press circles. There is no place I’d rather sit, however, than on one of the Inn’s wood benches, staring across the water, completely enamored with the magic of the place, which would be impossible to capture anywhere else.
Sune, in his green linen cap and busted leather apron, is a lovely drinking companion, and will gladly serve you until you are less than sober. During Copenhagen’s leisurely summer (most residents take an extended holiday in July or August), the Inn is full of young bobos and vaguely snobbish artsy hipsters, which provide endless amusement as they lapse into drunkenness and toss broken wine glasses into the river. Likewise, a number of famous chefs have been known to hold impromptu dance-offs atop the Inn’s tables, but only on the most special of occasions.
When the Inn closes, head first to the aforementioned Christiania, or a dive just up the street called Eiffel Bar. Having already acquired much in the way of socializing skill via Sune’s wondrous selections, you should manage to befriend the chefs at Noma, who usually meet for an after-hours beer before heading elsewhere.
Elsewhere, of course, means none other than Sam’s Bar, perhaps the worst – and therefore the best – karaoke bar in Europe. It is cheap, it is loud and it will make you fall in love with the “best restaurant in the world” in a whole new way. Thousands of people eat at Noma every year – only a few get to say that they sloppily sang the chorus of Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight” with the cooks responsible for that lofty Restaurant Magazine rating.
Hungover, you miss the first train to Charles De Gaulle and instead have to pay 50 Euros on a taxi, then barely catch the plane to Paris. By the time you land, you’ve already enjoyed a delicious pint of Germany’s finest export during a layover in Frankfurt (the airport earns high marks for its diverse selection of beer).
Knowing you have only one day in Paris, you stop at Le Verre Vole, the wine store known as the epicenter of natural and biodynamic bottlings (notice a trend here? ). With frequent tastings and events during the day, it’s the perfect way to kill time before Le Chateaubriand’s second seating, which does not require reservations but practically requires a willingness to drink. Nibbling on a buttery croissant to cure
your pounding headache, you happily meet both of those qualifications.
Hungover again the next morning, you pick up a rental car from the Gare du Nord train station and drive south. Speeding through the countryside, you quickly ditch the suggested highway route in favor of winding paths flanked with trees and vineyards. Before you can even get out of fifth gear, you find yourself in Sancerre, part of the Loire Valley near northwest Burgundy. A small town inhabited by few English-speakers, it’s also home to Sebastien Riffault, a darling of the Parisian wine scene and the producer behind some of the most passionate and thrilling wines you’ll ever taste.
With an invitation and advance planning, you’ll visit Sebastien’s fields and sample his latest wines. His white grapes grow on the side of a gently sloping hill a few minutes from his home. Like the Inn Under the Bridge, there is perfection here, simply standing idle and letting the French breeze kiss your cheeks. Biting into an overripe grape bursting with noble rot, you are reminded that the best things are often the most simple and unadulterated.
At night, you feast with Sebastien and friends. He has a basket of local vegetables, none the same, all full of flavor. With these you help him and his guests prepare a dinner spread.
It’s clear, though, that the real star always will be his wines … and so nothing else matters, only the endless flow of fermented grape juice that startlingly reminds you of Sancerre itself – the wine, as it were, is the land, and vice versa.
You drive north again, to Charles De Gaulle, and there is no room for another airport drink. By now, en route home, you know you could never eat and drink so poorly.
To be happy, only the best will now do.