MAD days

Friday we break down lamb’s skulls. Saturday we start the day foraging for ants – six hundred at least for audience samples during NFL’s presentation at the MAD Symposium.

A trip to the forest in the morning with Miles Irving and friends.

That’s Ulla, our intern from Germany for the summer.

Formica rufa is a common forest ant here in Denmark and across much of Europe. Like many ants, they produce formic acid as a defence mechanism, hence their sour taste. The diversity of flavours across species, however, is not only due to diet and geography – ants produce a huge variety of aromatic compounds as pheromones, chemicals they use for communication. What this means to us, though, is flavour.

The hives are fairly easy to spot – huge raised mounds of dried twigs and pine needles. Follow an ant on the forest floor, and it will soon lead you to main traffic. Follow the main traffic and you’ll be sure to find a hive.

We dig into the surface of the hive just until we see the white specks of eggs. The ants speed and swell, millions of organisms spray formic acid into a miasma that is palpable on the face, as if the air were replaced with vaporised lemon. To harvest in this quantity, we scoop up a fraction of the nest, pine needles and all, into a few plastic containers. We are sure to include some eggs because for some reason all the ants will die much more quickly without them.

The ants will rebuild their hive quite rapidly. Even so we will be sure to harvest from another hive next time. I wonder if we can devise a way to embed containers into the hive, so that when we harvest, we can remove only ants, and not disrupt the hive itself at all. We’ll work on it.

The afternoon takes us to the beach at Amagerstrand, where we harvest six hundred sandhoppers – small amphibious crustaceans that live in the damp sand and under moist seaweed on the beach. They taste like a more delicate shrimp and have a satisfying crunch.

After all our hard work we head to Ismageriet in Amager, some of the best ice cream in town – and, since far from the city centre, populated mostly by Danish families and children and people who know their is.

Casper, a stage from the restaurant, gets four scoops, and insists I do too. When it’s this good, I have no problems with ice cream for lunch, especially after hours of hard work outside.

Havtorn (sea buckthorn), Lakrids (Danish licorice, with salmiak – amazing), Pistachio, and Honning med nougat (Honey with nougat).

Back at the boat, the afternoon sun is high and the harbour is swum. A perfect summer day.

Later on, we head to an evening cookout picnic with some of the chefs and guests for the symposium. A relaxing, blissful meal that stretches on for hours, a time to relax before the MADness settles in tomorrow.

Mark takes us all up in his boat. How I love water cities.

Lars and Rachele.

The MAD circus tent at Refshaleøen.

People have been hanging out for hours already by the time we arrive. Time in the northern summer seems to stretch by more slowly.

Oysters from Limfjord.

Beautiful, beautiful crayfish.

Sea foods and white wine in the grass.

Many of the chefs have teamed up on different dishes. There is a sense of jovial competition around the grill as each new team takes to the fire.

A pork terrine with chanterelles, green strawberries, sea arrow grass (beach coriander), borage and arugula blossoms.

Oh and fresh peas.

Grilled leeks and fennel with herbs and an amazing charred onion emulsion.

Some sort of amazing meat thing with oregano blossoms and an incredible beetroot jus. Details are nice but so is immersive kinship.

And dessert.

Some sort of insane strawberry mess with soft gooey pastry, custard, and chocolate and strawberry ices and shards of chocolate. Courtesy of Rosio, the pastry chef at the restaurant. Of this I eat wayyy more than I need. Girl can cook.

We chilled with the staff from the restaurant and played soccer with french documentarians and chefs and hosts of people I didn’t know but did. The Spaniards and Italians talked sports. Wylie drank beer. Ferran napped. René held his daughters. Miles’ son Ezra and Arielle picked wild strawberries, half buried in the hedge.

Sunday, the madness descends. The last few days have been non-stop preparing, hauling palettes, spreading woodchips in the rain, mucking in wellies, and other necessary and satisfying physical labours. Today, the community gets its symposium.

Some of the speakers are brilliant; they dazzle with honesty, knowledge, and conviction. Some I find less inspiring/inspired. There is something valuable in each.

My favourites, I think, are by two producers who work with the restaurant: Roddy Sloan, the sea urchin fisherman from the far reaches of Norway, and Patrick Johansson (‘the butter viking’), butter master and experimentalist in Sweden. They are each humble about their craft but the power of their dedication and knowledge shines through their unassuming surface.

We hold frozen seawater to our lips, or try, for two minutes – Roddy wears a suit when he dives, but his lips, nose, and eyes are exposed; this is something like what he feels. He shows us pictures of his town, his boat, his son, the vast landscape into which he and his neighbours fold their small pocket of life. They are simple facts, but the story is moving and, to me, awesome.

Patrick gives us butter, but it is not a butter any of us has had. It is soft, deep yellow, a touch funky from culture, somewhere towards crème fraîche. He tells us about his process, his impulses, how he directs them into products and flavours the world hasn’t seen in this way.

A symposium like this is necessarily a sort of self-selecting community. What does it the most good, I think, is to actively draw these people that are not the chefs, the academics, the bloggers and the like, to pull them in when they would otherwise continue working in their own world, brilliantly. These were the talks that rounded out the programme for me, the salt of the earth that we might taste all the others more vividly.

Of course, I am also quite partial to Lars and Mark’s talk, if only because I invested so much of myself in making it the best it could be. I think it went really well. The video is here.

Aside from the speakers, of course, there is the food. Both lunches are fantastic – one with smørrebrød by Aamann’s, the other a veggie feast by Manfred’s (highlights  include broccoli with pickled unripe peaches and grilled zucchini with mint-hazelnut pesto).

Leading up to the weekend, the weather was wet and mucky. Luckily though, by Saturday, we had sun, wind, and blue skies. Certainly better than last year, which I still hear recounted as something akin to the apocalypse.

Hundreds of people from around the world picnicking in the grass, talking through the morning’s presentations and wondering about those to come. It doesn’t get better than this.

This entry was published on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm. It’s filed under adventures, events, experiments, food, general, restaurants, travel, work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “MAD days

  1. Pingback: lime marshmallows, hot and cold « hearthstrung

  2. Pingback: terra madre « hearthstrung

  3. Pingback: Amass | hearthstrung

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