Article + Questions by Jim Bamboulis
Answers by Cindie Christiansen
The ingredients used, the dishes produced and the people behind it all. For me, there’s no better way to experience the true soul of a place than by exploring its food scene. It reflects deep roots, international influence, reinvention and its current heartbeat.
Call it a pastime or smart traveling but I love consciously eavesdropping on random conversations. Whether I’m home or abroad, these types of spontaneous interactions almost always land on food, where to eat, what to eat. To me, it’s these conversations that produce some golden nuggets of information. Some exceptional, some mind-boggling. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve listened as tourists unbelievable gave up and just went to McDonald’s for dinner. What the hell do you mean you can’t find a “decent pizza in Rome”?!
Travel of course, includes food. And if you’re someone with an ounce of courage and touch of adventure, discovering unique outposts, down unknown side-streets can make a regular trip exceptional. As a experiential travel and food writer, photographer and videographer, my aim when traveling – always – is to delve deeper than the typical, to take flavour risks. As a Food Tour Guide at home in Toronto, my aim – always – is to delve deeper than the typical, to showcase flavour risks for those adventurous and courageous enough to want to make their trip exceptional.
I had the honour and privilege to work with Visit Copenhagen, the city’s tourism board in December 2019. As you can imagine, food experiences in the capital were a top priority and when plans were confirmed, my imagination and excitement levels went through the roof. One such experience during our stay was a food tour with Cindie Christiansen, Owner/Founder – Foods of Copenhagen. The city itself is famous the world over for its regal history, immaculate architecture, cycling culture and of course, a efficient and environmentally-conscious Scandinavian lifestyle.
But when it came to food, true Danish cuisine itself, Danes – generally speaking – needed, even craved a boost in self-confidence. When it finally got it, pride soon followed. Danish fare has been re-invented, is once again cherished and celebrated. And the international community has taken notice, flocking in droves. My interview with Cindie explores the evolution of Copenhagen’s food scene, what role she’s played in showcasing the best flavours in the capital, food sustainability and gastro experiences that will leave you breathless – and full. Thank you Visit Copenhagen and Cindie for making this happen. Enjoy the Q+A, all.
Describe Copenhagen’s food scene 10 years ago vs. today. What changes have you seen that have made it more attractive to an increasingly more palette-diverse international audience?
15 years ago, fine-dining in Copenhagen meant going out for French or Italian because Nordic cuisine was not considered good enough. Today, we have become aware of the quality of our produce and most restaurants in Copenhagen are based on local ingredients.
With the New Nordic Food manifesto from 2003, we have seen very innovative approaches to traditional food with a strong focus on health and ethical production philosophy. This has created new foods, techniques and lots of enormous creativity. Innovation and creativity attract most people!
What were you doing before starting Foods of Copenhagen, and describe the moment when you decided to take that step and establish your food tour company. What was your ‘I’M DOING IT’ moment?
During my master study in international marketing & management at Copenhagen Business School, I was applying for corporate jobs. Nothing really sounded interesting to me and I was very uninspired at that time. Through my studies, I had only worked corporate and I thought that was my way. On the other hand, I have always been eager to create and had a desire to be my own boss, because freedom is everything to me.
After lots of considerations and many sleepless nights, I decided to find an international food related startup where I could work for a year in order to meet inspiring people and to learn about the industry. Food has always been a passion to me, and I have always loved to travel and meet new cultures.
That year (almost two) was so much fun and I met lots of really cool people and I was lucky to get invited on my first food tour in Lisbon. After the food tour I wrote a little note “Foods of Copenhagen”. I got an idea, but I did not know anything about the food tour market in Copenhagen. It took me a few months to get the idea into action, and I did actually go to several corporate job interviews at the same time. I still remember coming out from a specific interview just knowing I had to create the job I could not find.
I then called one of my friends to discuss it, when he said “ What are you so afraid of, what is the worst that can happen?” I created Foods of Copenhagen, and my business is today my ticket to freedom (not free time, that is important) and amazing people, both in terms of collaborations and the guests we have.
Foods of Copenhagen isn’t just about food tours in the capital. Describe the experiences that you offer that go beyond the city…and maybe even peoples’ comfort zones.
I like to go beyond the city and create something extraordinary that you as a traveler would not be able to create on your own. I love to “keep” people a little longer than just the regular tours in Copenhagen 😉
So today we also host gastro trips over several days – both for groups and companies. Our next gastro trip for groups is in May 2020 where we will have one day in Copenhagen and 2 days on The Faroe Islands. We will go foraging, cook with chefs, explore nature, sailing and eat at Michelin restaurants. These are one-of-a-kind gastro experiences.
I don’t think my tours are a ‘crowd-pleasers’ – I like to challenge people a little. This is also why I introduce guests to e.g. an vegan hot dog and sometimes insects on corporate tours (I work with a chef who has tested gourmet food with insects). It brings people even closer together!
I always say, that my goal is never that guests like all the food (I hope they will), but my goal is to showcase authenticity, innovation and a local cuisine.
In your opinion, what do you think people’s perception of Danish food is – and how do your experiences help enlighten visitors?
Many people still don’t know what Danish food is and I still experience many who haven’t heard about the big transformation here. On the other hand, I meet lots of people who are now visiting just because of the food scene. They know how much good food they can find, as they have read all about it and booked all the best restaurants.
My thoughts behind each tour is to showcase the development of the food scene, so I make sure we always include traditions, modern food and trends. Much of the innovation is based on traditions here, so we need to move chronologically! I show our guests the whole spectrum and introduce them to the people I find inspiring – they get a unique peak into a local food scene, its development and the history of the city.
Is there one dish on your experiences that best represents Copenhagen – and even perhaps Denmark as a whole? Which one and in what way?
Smørrebrød! A traditional dish that has seen a complete gourmet transformation. Today you find “smørrebrød” in the Michelin guide under Bib Gourmand recommendations.
This shows exactly how much Copenhagen has changed, evolved with new flavours. Same for the hot dog, not in the Michelin guide yet, but maybe one day 😉
What can the world learn from Denmark about food, food production, food sustainability?
- The benefits of using local food.
- Local focus & tourism.
It’s important to get visitors out of the city center and out to the different areas in Copenhagen to spread people out, but also to visit other parts of Denmark. Denmark is so much more than Copenhagen! This is a clear strategy from the tourism board in Denmark.
- Big emphasis on the importance of organic produce (high quality food).
- Big emphasis on the importance of ethical production (animal welfare).
What are 5 Danish must-eats that every visitor should try when they visit? I hear licorice and cakes are a big deal.
Rye bread, ‘Koldskål’ with Danish strawberries in summer times and new potatoes from Samsø as well as Flødeboller (pictured below).
Hotdogs from Døp or Kejser sausage and licorice from the brand called ‘Bagsværd Lakrids’. Sorry, I’ve got six must-eats 😉
Personally speaking, you run a super popular – and delicious- business. What makes you excited to get out of bed each morning and keep doing it?
Thank you!!!! The people I work with! They are all so super passionate and their hard work inspires me a lot.
When you dine out, what’s your go-to spot and what’s your go-to meal?
I don’t have one go-to spot, but you will often find me at places such as Ancestrale, Barr or Broaden & Build. At the moment my go-to meal is grød, because it is easy, quick, healthy and very flavorful.
What’s your idea of shattering your own food comfort zone? Is there a particular cuisine that you’d love to try but haven’t brought yourself to do it yet?
I like to get out of my own comfort zone – I think the fermented lamb on the Faroe Islands is still challenging 😉 I have not explored the Chinese kitchen so much, but I’d love to one day.
You already do so much, What does the future hold for you and Foods of Copenhagen?
I do not believe in mass tourism, so we will keep the small and intimate group tours. It is important for me to stay creative and offer unique experiences in different parts of Denmark as this is also a way to support sustainable tourism in my opinion. My hope is that we will do lots of multi-day gastro trips in the future. On these you can really give people extraordinary memories.
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. I spent 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to working with brands to promote travel, food, and cultural experiences.
I’ve created content and collaborated with everyone from Chevrolet, Lonely Planet, Trivago, Nevada Tourism and The Weather Network to New Brunswick Tourism, Yellow Pages, Tourism Toronto, and Airbnb. Safe travels, y’all.