A Danish foodie feeling at home

When my husband, our two cats and I moved to Berkeley about 7 months ago, we didn't just escape the coldest and longest winter in Denmark in my entire lifetime. We also landed in what appeared to live up to its reputation as the land of opportunities. So quitting a great job in the Copenhagen communication business to follow my husband to Berkeley, where he had gotten his dream job as a post doc at the University of California Berkeley, has turned out to be a very wise decision - though not in the way I had imagined.

Being a wine lover for many years, I immediately started to suck up all the knowledge (and wine) within my reach. It's a time- and money-consuming hobby, so luckily my wine mentor Bruce Cass helped me get in touch with Kimberly Charles - and now I'm here. Working with my hobby, learning even more every day and enjoying the company of my sweet and talented colleagues at Charles Communications Associates. I would never have imagined this before I left Denmark - but maybe that's one of the best things about jumping into something new: You never know where you're going to land.

One of first things I learned after arriving from Copenhagen to the magnificent Bay Area was that Danes and people in the Bay Area have at least one thing in common. We don't eat to live. We live to eat. And so, I have no trouble blending in among the foodies and winos, who seem to have occupied the larger part of this area, which I for the next one and a half years will call home.

I guess many were surprised when the Copenhagen restaurant NOMA came out on top as the World's Best Restaurant at this year's. But it didn't come as a surprise to most Danes, because we have witnessed an amazing transformation of the restaurant scene in Copenhagen over the past 10 years. Today Copenhagen takes great pride in the fact that it has 12 Michelin Star awarded restaurants. I know, it doesn't sound like much compared to the Bay Area's amazing 36 Michelin restaurants. That's really unique - and I love it! But taken into consideration that the population of Copenhagen is around 1 million (the Bay Area is 8 million) I can't help feeling proud of my good old hometown.

Noma cuisine

NOMA is the crown jewel of this little kingdom of gastronomy. Their concept is pretty unique and they stick with it. They only use ingredients from Denmark or further north. (NOMA = Nordisk Mad = Nordic Food). No olive oil, no sundried tomatoes, no foie gras, no black olives. Instead they will serve you musk ox, Atlantic halibut, wild salmon, skyr (a yoghurt-like cheese) wild berries and water from Greenland, lamb from Iceland, different kinds of grains and leguminous fruits. And they use techniques that are very traditional for Denmark such as smoking, salting, drying and pickling - and they make their own vinegars and Akvavits (distilled spirits). In addition to these traditional methods, they are also influenced by so-called molecular gastronomy, which has earned El Bulli in Barcelona its worldwide fame.

But it's not the top restaurants that seduce me when I fall in love with a city. It's the many smaller (and more affordable), fun, everyday restaurants, which play just as important a part in a well-developed and diverse restaurant scene. Like San Francisco, Copenhagen also has many wonderful small gems of ethnic cuisines, funky restaurants, cocktail bars, grand cafes and bistros. Some of my favorites are located in Copenhagen's equivalent to San Francisco's Mission District. Here you find the former meatpacking district, which has been transformed into a Mecca of funky, lively, exquisite restaurants mixed with galleries of modern art, offices for creative designers and bars - and what's left of the industrial meatpacking factories, catering companies and Copenhagen's public culinary school. It's all located in the heart of Copenhagen's red-light district, which, if I may put it this way - adds a distinct flavor and edge to the area. If you ever go to Copenhagen, do yourself a favor and visit Fiskebaren (The Fishbar) or Karrierebar (Career Bar) - you won't regret it.

Meanwhile, watch this interview with the young chef and owner of NOMA, Rene Redzepi, who seems almost speechless after receiving the San Pellegrino Award, but manages to tell the story about Ali, his dishwasher who had fallen afoul of Britain's immigration laws and wasn't granted a visa for the occasion.