What do you get when the chefs of a one Michelin starred restaurant meets the chefs of a three-starred restaurant? It must be something equivalent to a four Michelin-starred restaurant. At least that’s what it felt like when Esben Holmboe Bang of Maaemo joined Torsten Vildgaard at Studio for a four hands dinner. A collaboration between two of the biggest names in the new Nordic cuisine, in an experience unlike anything you can normally enjoy at either of their respective restaurants. Obviously, the dining room was filled with excitement from foodies and chefs alike.
Worth a Special Journey
The Michelin guide’s description of a three-star restaurant is an “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” An event like this is nothing less. I had no immediate plans of going to Copenhagen but decided to cross Skagerrak and Kattegat once more – just so I wouldn’t miss this unique get-together of two of my favorite chefs. I booked my ticket with DFDS and secured what must have been the last hotel room in Copenhagen (due to some major conference in the city these days) at hotel Absalon (ad: affiliate link). I actually find the boat ride over to be quite a pleasant experience – especially in the Commodore de Luxe cabins. Hotel Absalon has almost become a home away from home for me in Copenhagen, ever since Visit Denmark introduced me to this value-for-money design hotel located right next to the train station.
Studio & Friends Volume 2
This was the second round of Studio & Friends – a series of dinner events, where head chef Torsten Vildgaard of Studio invites other chefs that have inspired him throughout the years. I also attended the previous event, when head chef Gert de Mangeleer of three Michelin starred restaurant Hertog Jan in Belgium visited. That was a fun evening, where you could experience two very distinct and different cooking styles in one night. Studio and Maaemo are more similar kitchens as they’re both part of the new Nordic cooking scene, which makes for a more consistent meal in a way.
New Nordic Meets New Nordic
When I arrived at the Standard I was welcomed at the door by the always pleasant and professional Martin Wulffeld, who showed me to my seat. The kitchen area was already buzzing. I could see that Esben had brought parts of his team to Copenhagen. Among them the Irish sous chef Halaigh Whelan-McManus, which is quite recognizable with his undercut combined with long hair tucked in a man bun. Torsten had his usual team present, of course, including a new talented head sommelier – Lau Christian Thorn, with experience from D’Angleterre and Formel B.
“I look up to you, Esben. Three stars in six years!” – Torsten Vildgaard, Studio
Soon, Torsten asked for the attention and explained the concept of Studio & Friends. “I’m so honored this time,” he said. “I look up to you, Esben. Three stars in six years! Give him a hand, ladies and gentlemen.” Esben thanked him and added: “I’m the one that is honored. You were part of the new Nordic movement from the beginning. Big applause, people.” Nothing more needed to be said, and the dinner show could commence.
Foodies and Chefs Among the Audience
I had the front seat, so to speak, at the chef’s table with a few other food writers. We were seated in the bar with a view to the kitchen. Next to me was Martin from Rigeligt Smør, who represented Gastromand for the occasion, Rasmus from Feinschmeckeren (read his report here) and Ole Troelsø – gastronomical editor of the national newspaper Børsen. Other notable guests I could spot were foodie Kirsten Jepsen, chefs Bo Bech, Christian Gadient and Sat Bains, as well as the PR responsible of both Noma and Maaemo. It was an audience of gourmands, in other words.
A Unique Opportunity
What I love about this concept is that both restaurants showcase their actual menus. It’s not new creations that they are testing on an audience for the first time or one-off dishes. That means Studio & Friends is a unique opportunity for foodies to experience two restaurants at once. While I had been fortunate enough to visit both Maaemo and Studio before, Martin seated next to me hadn’t been to either of them. I very much enjoyed watching his excitement with every serving. The meal consisted of 8 different snacks with Champagne, followed by 6 savory dishes and 2 sweet dishes with wine pairings and ended with 2 petits fours and coffee. Studio and Maaemo served every other dish.
Similarities and Differences
Whereas Maaemo is a pretty hardcore new Nordic kitchen that interprets and renews the traditional Norwegian cuisine, Studio has a new Nordic style combined with French techniques and flavors. The first snack from Studio was a potato crisp sandwich of sorts filled with smoked cod roe, while Maaemo countered with a tiny onion filled with yogurt and sprinkled with rose dust. “Is it smaller sized dishes that gives you three stars?” I mocked Esben as he served us the snack. “Yes, smaller dishes and higher prices,” he jokingly replied. Both dishes, by the way, were a treat to the taste buds. Next up was “plum & yuzu” from Studio, which I found to be one of their weaker dishes. Maaemo, on the other hand, served my favorite from when I dined there recently: Norwegian “lompe” – a potato pancake topped with king crab, butter, and kelp. The butter aroma was worth the journey alone …
The meal continued with many highlights from each camp. My favorite Studio dishes were the langoustine brain taco and the salt baked celeriac with truffle. I’m a sucker for slow-cooked celeriac, where you get that caramelized, earthy, sweet, umami flavor. Top Maaemo dishes were the “rakfisk,” the sweet and acidic pickled onions with aquavit, the scallops and the tartare with smoked beef fat that makes it taste like it was grilled. Their only dish that I didn’t like so much was the raw razor clam. For me personally, the taste is too bitter and I don’t like this particular sea flavor.
The Next Studio & Friends
Luckily, these events are not only for industry people or food writers but for any of you hardcore foodies out there. This round was sold out in less than 24 hours, though, so you have to pay attention. Follow Studio’s Facebook page, check your calendar and decide quickly when they announce the next happening. I don’t know when it will be, but there was almost six months between the first two so it might take a while.
If you attended this or similar events – what is your impression of such evenings? Please share in a comment.