Dine amongst the stars
TEXT: LOUISE OLDER STEFFENSEN | PHOTOS © MIKKEL ADSBØ
The staff at Kokkeriet were thrilled to receive a star when the newest results of the Nordic Michelin guide were announced in February. It is far from the first time they have been included; in fact, Kokkeriet was first blessed with a Michelin listing back in 2006, 13 years ago. While the accolade is encouraging, however, co-founder and owner Sammy Shafi still gets his biggest thrill from working at the restaurant of his dreams every day.
“I dreamt about Michelin stars when I was a little boy, but the most consistent dream I had was the one about owning my own cosy, shiny restaurant in this area,” Shafi says. “I’m very grateful that both came to fruition. I grew up just down the road from here and my father owned a restaurant, so I feel a very strong attachment to Kokkeriet, to the area and to the restaurant industry as a whole.”
Shafi began working as a waiter at a local fish restaurant at the tender age of 13, before joining his father’s Restaurant Harlekin. After extensive training abroad, he returned to Denmark and purchased Kokkeriet with his brother in 2001.
“I love that Kokkeriet has a history and a well-established tradition, not just as a great restaurant but as part of the local community,” Shafi says. “She brings with her a lot of responsibility: this classy lady has survived for so long and managed to reinvent herself again and again in a city in constant change.”
In her current form, Kokkeriet presents itself as a modern but cosy and intricate restaurant. The kitchen is viewable from the street, and it is recommended that guests go and have a peek as they wait for their food to be prepared. The dishes are respectful of Danish cuisine, but playful, offering guests an experience far out of the ordinary. “We have a huge underlying ambition – we want to show that the old-school Danish culinary tradition deserves a Michelin star too.”
Some flavours are familiar, while others are so old that few people will have tried them: the kitchen uses plenty of exciting new techniques and approaches, but the chefs also search through ancient cook books to uncover forgotten bits of Denmark’s culinary legacy. This results in a continually evolving set menu – with vegetarian and pescatarian cousins – made up of several individual dishes. Coupled with the wine or juice menu, guests can experience most of the kitchen’s offerings in one sitting, and once a week, guests can even help decide what will go on the menu next. “Tuesdays are the neglected middle child of the week, so we want to make them special.”
The restaurant adds extra dishes to the set menu free of charge but allows the chefs to go wild with new ideas. “It’s a really fun experience for both the guests and the kitchen, and a great way for us to actually make sure people will love what’s on our menu,” Shafi explains.
In 2017, Morten Krogholm became head chef at Kokkeriet, following stints at other Copenhagen gourmet restaurants, including Noma. “Morten’s a fantastic addition to Kokkeriet,” Shafi says. “He’s obviously great in the kitchen, but he’s also a great creative partner to me and a lovely, engaging host to our guests in the restaurant, where he spends a great deal of time. Equally importantly for a head chef, he understands his kitchen and his colleagues and is an excellent and nurturing leader for the guys who work with him.”
Giving back to the community is a priority for Shafi and Kokkeriet. “As said, I grew up around here, and it was always very important to me that Kokkeriet continues to be an active part of Kronprinsessegade. We benefit from the location we’re in, and we want others to benefit from us being here too, including people that we might not reach through our day-to-day work.”
Over the past few years, Kokkeriet has initiated several projects and events in support of good causes and good people, including a weekly cooking class for students at a nearby school as well as participation in Copenhagen’s ‘En til væggen’ events, where up to 80 homeless people are given a makeover, clean clothes and a Michelin meal.
“We believe that the way we can make the biggest impact, however, is through nurturing the next generation of chefs and waiters. That’s what we do best,” says Shafi. As on Tuesdays, Wednesday diners are given the option to sample four extra dishes for free. On Wednesdays, however, these dishes are the sole creations of Kokkeriet’s student chefs and student chefs from other gourmet restaurants, whom Kokkeriet invites to participate. “Trying out your own dishes in a high-pressure environment is the most valuable experience you can get as a chef, and it shows – our students have won both national and Nordic competitions. It benefits us as well as them to give them that confidence,” Shafi concludes. “I love this restaurant as if it were my third child, and I want it to thrive for generations to come.”