Ready, steady cook
The chicken awaited its fate. As I looked on, Maya, nine, set about carving off the thighs with caution. Her younger sister Olivia, four, simply grabbed a razor-sharp Sabatier and started hacking away at the uncooked carcass like a toddler version of The Muppets’ Sweedish chef. No doubt Gordon Ramsay tackles similar sibling rivalry in his own kitchen.
I had come to the kitchens of Meyers Madhus (that’s Meyer’s Food House in English) in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district for the kids’ cooking school. My little Bake-Off fans, Maya and Olivia were getting stuck in to filleting the fowl while I pondered how wise it was to encourage under-10s to play with extra-sharp knives. But that was the whole idea. From cookery camps to after-school cooking clubs, the Copenhagen cooking school, established by top chef and Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, is all about the kids making friends with food.
‘Denmark has been trying to backtrack in recent years to regain its connection to nature and natural produce’ says the school’s executive chef, Bo Frederiksen. The New Nordic Kitchen movement, founded by Meyer and Noma co-owner René Redzepi in 2004, has reawakened interest in foraging for seasonal, sustainable and natural ingredients.
Contributing to the New Kitchen Manifesto that kick-started the movement, Meyer noted simply: ‘Kids should cook.’ By raising awareness of healthy eating and encouraging children to foster an interest in organic gastronomy from an early age, he argued food can become a part of the solution to wider social issues.
It’s a theme to be developed further this summer with the 10th anniversary of the Copenhagen Cooking Festival. Northern Europe’s leading food event will stage some 150 events across the city from 21-30 August.
The kids run the kitchen
In Meyer’s sleek stainless-steel kitchen, the menu of traditional Danish chicken fricassee with boiled potatoes, followed by rhubarb trifle served with cream, was being co-ordinated across four workstations by head chef Mette Strarup. The girls quickly got stuck in, teaming up with a couple of Danish girls to happily chop up veg, season sauces and prepping desert. The three-hour class was designed to take the group through the whole recipe, culminating with serving the meal like a restaurant service.
I even felt a frisson of fatherly pride when Mette showed the class how to carve the chicken, my girls rolled up their sleeves while some of the Danish teens grumbled about handling the giblets. ‘I really enjoy working with kids and seeing their confidence grow, both in terms of social skills and their interest in food,’ Mette tells me during a break.
With 30 minutes to go things were hotting up, Maya was busily adding lemon juice to the simmering rhubarb while Olivia helped head chef Mette thicken the sauce for the chicken. Just like a scene from the kitchen at Noma, however the service came together at the last moment and we all sat down to eat around a large communal table. Maya and Olivia agreed that, while they may have different approaches to carving the chicken, an afternoon of intensive training in the art of the New Nordic Kitchen had left them feeling more inspired and confident to help with dinner back home.
Away from the kitchen, we sampled lots of the city’s family foodie hangouts over the long weekend. We went for lunch at the newly opened Copenhagen Street Food, the Borough Market-style collection of food trucks and pop-up kiosks. We tucked into hotdogs and traditional potato-based open sandwiches. We spent the next day at the Tivoli Gardens, the historic theme park dating from 1843, and had lunch at the newly opened Spisehuset restaurant where we enjoyed a picnic-basket style lunch washed down with bottles of our new favourite Scandi pop drink, Faxe Kondi.
Aside from food, how child friendly did Copenhagen prove? Everyone speaks english and the infrastructure for families is good. We could eat early in the evening to avoid overtiredness and most restaurants were unfazed by an inquisitive four-year-old on the prowl. On the downside it’s not the cheapest place and navigating the bus network can be challenging.
How to get there: Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Manchester from £83 return. SAS (flysas.com) flies from Heathrow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham from £94.10 return.
Where to stay: NIMB Hotel (nimb.dk) has swish junior suites in the grounds of Tivoli from £555 per night. Tivoli Hotel (tivolihotel.dk) has functional mid-range family rooms from £177 per night, including breakfast, with playroom and pool access. WakeUp Copenhagen (wakeupcopenhagen.com) has deals on family rooms for up to four people, £99.
Cooking festivals, classes and restaurants for kids: Meyers Madhus (meyersmad.dk) runs courses from its kitchen at Norrebrogade 52C, Copenhagen. Prices from £35. The Copenhagen Cooking festival (copenhagencooking.com) runs from 21-30 August. For details of dining options at Tivoli, see tivoli.dk. More about Copenhagen Street Food at copenhagenstreetfood.dk.
How to get around: A Copenhagen Card costs £49 for 48 hours and gives free access to attractions, including Tivoli and the National Museum, and free travel on public transport. Two children under 10 go free with an adult card (copenhagencard.com)