One of the things that I really love about the New Amsterdam Market is that it features different kinds of food events and showcases the variety of the things that we eat in this city. This was really evident in the Ice Cream Festival this summer and the Hudson Valley Harvest in October. Today, we had a chance to dip into another part of the New York’s culinary heritage with the Smørrebrød Festival. This was part food festival, part competition, as the participants were pitted against each other in a variety of categories.
Ulla Dubgaard and Maiken Tandgaard Derno from the Consulate General of Denmark were kind enough to talk with me at the earlier part of the event about how this came together. For a couple of years, they have been working with well-known chef Trina Hahnemann and her Danish Rye Bread Project on a possible activity based upon the revival in cooking and in traditional fare that has become bigger and bigger on the food scene in general and also in Europe specifically (see Ireland and Darina Allen). With Noma named best restaurant in the world earlier this year, they said that the timing seemed appropriate to launch this initiative.
Rye bread or rugbrød itself is something that is an intrinsic part of their heritage. From farmers who used to take slices of bread layered with fat and salt to have as their lunch to workers in the industrial revolution days who ate it with potatoes, meats and whatever else was leftover from the night before to the modern smørrebrød shops similar to our hamburger stands, rugbrød is rich in fiber, provides good bacteria through its mild fermentation, and stands as a perfect platform for whatever flavors are placed upon it. Baking the bread oneself is also part of their tradition, as Maiken explained that parents make it for their children’s lunches and university students use their dormitory ovens to produce loaves, even with good bakeries from which to purchase it. It was clear in talking to them that they were honored to be able to bring this part of their native country to the market and that they were very impressed at the number of people who showed up today to share in this tradition.
With Chef Trina Hahnemann’s assistance and with bread baked by Nordic Breads using locally-grown wheat and rye from Cayuga Pure Organics, NYC chefs created thousands of pieces of this Danish specialty layered with regionally-sourced meats, cheeses, fish, and other products. The beers were sourced by Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and featured several from Denmark, which paired beautifully with the array of smørrebrød that participants could select for their meal.
Sandwiches from Saltie, GreenBrownOrange, and Trina Hahnemann (L-R)
A $20.00 ticket allowed you a choice of three of the sandwiches and a beer. As you can see from the photos below, it wasn’t simple for me to choose from all the great-looking options which ones to put on my plate (seen above). As Robert LaValva of New Amsterdam Market said, it wasn’t easy for the judges to decide either, so I felt better about my selections. After today’s event, I can see very clearly why these delicious bites are worth keeping close as part of the Danish heritage. Perhaps we can find some room to export them to the U.S, as well, so that we can enjoy them more often.
Smoked Venison with Onion Marmalade, Apple and Celery Root Chefs Simo and Tuomas Kuusisto of Nordic Breads
I’m already a huge fan of their Finnish Ruis Bread (rye bread made with 100% rye flour), which has been on my breakfast table for a couple of weeks now, so I had no doubts as to how delicious things would be today from the start. I had to make tough choices to pick my three sandwiches, so I didn’t get to sample this one. If I’d had been able to make a fourth selection, or if my friends had come with me today, this would have been the one that I would have tried. I’m going to put in a plug for them to have this as a sample to try with the wonderful bread that they normally have for sale at the market so that I can have another chance to taste it.
Winner: Most Interesting Flavor Combination
Braised Pork with Caramelized Onion and Caraway Marlow & Daughters
I had a great time talking to the chef from Marlow & Daughters before everything kicked into gear. He seemed really happy to be participating in this event and to see how it would all unfold. This was another of the selections that really made me wish I had an extra ticket to try it out. Again, my solution is just to try to track it down at another available opportunity.
Winner: Most Beautifully Simple Combination
Chicken Liver, Pork Shoulder, and Parsley; Yogurt, Crosnes, Sunchokes, and Currants; and CB & J (autumn berry) Chef Patrick Connolly of Bobo
This trio of sandwiches would have made an interesting meal in and of itself with the different combinations and textures working with the bread. I didn’t see any of these on the table to try when I made it to the head of the line to make my selections. I suspect that he may have already sold out of them when it was my turn to eat. What I really liked was that in his acceptance speech for his prize, he admitted that the ringer was his staff member who has a relative who works as a chef in Denmark.
Winner: Most Traditional Combination with a Twist (for the chicken liver one)
Beef Loin, Shaved Fennel, Sweet Onions, Yogurt Lemon Sauce Chef Alejandro Alcocer of GreenBrownOrange
I’m not sure that any photo can do justice to how wonderful-tasting this was. Succulent, tender beef on top of a creamy yogurt sauce with just the right tang from the lemon and the sourdough of the bread combined with the crunch and bite from the onions and the fennel, this was amazing and a worthy use of one of my precious tickets. I would definitely have gone back for seconds and maybe even thirds.
Winner: Dairy and Meat Combination
“The Peck Slip” (Egg, Butter, Pickled Beets, Arugula, Herbs, Capers, and Feta) Saltie
Sweet, salty, creamy, tart, this hit all the notes in every bite. As one of the folks helping hand out sandwiches said, “I want one of these, and I’m not even a vegetarian!” He was totally correct. In visual presentation alone, this one made my short list of those to try. On first bite, it was obvious I’d made the right decision. As the judges put it, it had many different flavors going on at the same time, but each one came across distinctively and in complement to the others. Not seeing it on the website as yet, I recommend that they add this one to their menu.
Winner: Most Beautifully Complicated Combination
Long Island Scrod Brandade, Shaved Carrot Salad with Beets, and Narragansett Ricotta Chefs Nathan Foot and Christophe Hille of Northern Spy Food Co.
This seemed like an interesting combination to me with the fish and cheese, but I didn’t get to try it, as by this time, I’d run out of tickets. It looked lovely, and I can imagine that the beets and carrots would have given a hearty, earthy crunch to the sandwich, rounding out the other flavors on the bread.
Winner: Combination Using Seasonal Vegetables (beets)
My third selection was a sandwich by Chef Trina Hahnemann. She made several of the smørrebrød, so it was hard to pick from just one of them. The beet was very popular I was told, and the potato with leeks and cheese and walnut samples looked really good. I opted, however, for the one which to me seemed very traditional: small, sweet shrimp wrapped in a dill sauce. The salty shrimp and peppery herbs just melded together with the tang of the robust bread into the most wonderful flavors that seemed so appropriate with the waterside location of the market. This was something that just fit with the tone of the day.
I also had a chance to try a couple of the Danish beers that were available. On the advice of Jimmy Carbone, I tried the Mikkeller Pilsner, from a craft brewery in Denmark. Light and refreshing, this is one that I can definitely see as a good pairing for many of the smørrebrød. The second drink I had, though, was the IPA from the same brewer. Stronger and more complex in flavor, this was what I really wanted to go with the sandwiches that I had picked for my meal. I see from their site, that they also have a bar in Copenhagen, which would be someplace to visit the next time I can make it over there.
As Robert LaValva said in closing out the food festival, maybe this is the beginning of more events to feature cuisine from other countries that factor into the foodscape of the city. With the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and District 1 – City Council Member Margaret Chin (both of whom were there today) for the market and its activities, I hope that can become a reality. This was a great event for the perfect, sunny fall day that we had this afternoon. It brought lots of people to downtown and the wonderful food and drink created the perfect atmosphere in celebration of the market.