The Price Brothers: Denmark’s reluctant chefs
Owners of five restaurants, and lauded as TV celebrities in their native Denmark for the food entertainment show Spise med Price (Dine with Price), James and Adam Price are charming, funny and bright – but surprisingly uncomfortable with the ‘chef’ label. Perhaps it is due to the fact that they are from a family of entertainers, or maybe it is just sheer modesty. Scan Magazine spoke to the Price brothers about creativity, working together, and great Danish food.
While often described as quite different, the two brothers in fact appear to have a lot in common – in addition to all their shared career projects, that is. Both describe their higher education paths loosely as coincidental: James in choosing to study composition after a friend got accepted to the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music and suggested that he would like it too; Adam, swayed by the political climate, a conservativeliberal government and the mid-1980s fear of not getting a job, was convinced to try to study law. Granted, neither path was surprising in the slightest. The brothers were steeped in a creative home, their father multi-talented but among other things an actor and director, and their maternal grandfather a successful, stern lawyer.
While known and loved in Denmark for their popular food show, Spise Med Price, both brothers are equally adamant that their ‘real career’ is elsewhere. And it is hard to argue with them when you look at their achievements. For 18 years now, James has spent the summers performing revue theatre in a huge tent outside Copenhagen, and he has won multiple awards for his work as a conductor, composer and pianist, including Årets Revy Komponist (Revue Composer of the Year) in 1983 and 1996. Moreover, he has contributed scores to films and TV productions, and songs to the Danish qualifier for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Adam, also a gifted musician and occasionally seen writing and performing alongside his big brother, grew up dreaming about becoming a writer. “So I studied law, but I always kept a foot in the artistic world. My brother kept inviting me along and asking me to rewrite scenes and other bits and pieces,” he says and apologises for any disturbances – he is just about to jump on the bike to go collect his son from school, but is happy to chat en route. “I started working for a huge law firm in Copenhagen, spending my days in a suit training to be a junior lawyer and going directly from work meetings to entertainment meetings, talking to people about a song I’d written or a sketch I was working on.”
Adam was 23 when he got his first contract with DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation – and it was DR that eventually gave him the biggest gig of his career to date, when he wrote the huge hit political drama series Borgen. “I’ll always be grateful for my years in law,” he reflects. “They gave me a sense of structure, those good old-fashioned academic tools that’ll help you perform almost any task. Also, you could say that the themes of central governments and power and justice run through almost every story I’ve ever dealt with.”
With principled prime minister Birgitte Nyborg (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen) of Borgen up there among Nordic Noir’s most-loved heroines, it is fair to say that Adam’s latest creation, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon The Storm), featuring Lars Mikkelsen in one of the leading roles, presents similar themes albeit in a very different, more slow-paced guise. “There are so many interesting clichés around what we feel a woman can and can’t do in drama, so I wanted to play around with the issues of being a bad mother, a bad wife; there are a lot of very judgemental people out there who are very willing to look at a bad mother in a much harsher way than a bad father,” he says of Borgen’s female lead.
“Working with the main character in the other, I was very much building on my own experiences. I’m a son of a father and a father of a son, a brother of a brother. There are many layers of power between men that are to an extent universal, and I felt that after Borgen I had something to say about that.”
A humorous food show
Say what you want about power dynamics between men; they do not appear to cause friction between the Price brothers, who juggle their individual creative projects while overseeing five restaurants and somehow making time for a popular TV show. The latter started out more as a fun thing than a chase for the big audiences, but it seems that brotherly bond worked a treat on screen. “Adam had started writing as a food critic for Politiken and after a few years they asked me to write recipes for them, so we were slowly getting into the food industry. Then one day, we were sitting in my kitchen discussing food telly, and back then, we had a tradition for food TV here in Denmark, but only really from abroad – like Jamie Oliver and those chefs, and always put in the late slots,” James explains. “We thought it was strange: the interest in food was growing, so why don’t they produce shows here at home? So we wrote to them, and they were sceptical but allowed us to do a pilot. Then they saw that we had something special between us and thought it might work.”
The brothers recorded ten shows of Spise med Price, hoping that at least their family and friends would enjoy seeing them on the screen – but their family and friends were not alone, and soon the number of viewers shot through the roof and the show was recommissioned and moved to a prime slot on the main public service channel. “They were flabbergasted!” James laughs. “To think that a food programme could pull in that many views! That’s ten years ago, and ten seasons down.”
James describes the show as a lot of fun and the opposite of formal or serious – but, he insists, it was never developed as a concept as such. “We’ve worked together for many, many years, writing lyrics and music together, performing together; we’ve written six musicals together. Humour is extremely important in our being together, and it’s the chemistry between us that makes the show. We never sat down and said that we’ll do this and we’ll do that – it just happened. And that’s a good thing.”
Danish fusion food
With extensive experience of everything from recipe development and food criticism to cooking in front of a big TV crew, James and Adam sure know more than a thing or two about food. Yet when it comes to the restaurants they own, they put a huge amount of faith in the chefs and managers on site. “You know, we’ll turn up with our recipes to discuss them with the chef,” says James, admitting that it is sometimes hard to get the planning to work, let alone get both brothers in the same room at the same time. “And they’ll say ‘well, we can’t do it this way or put it like that’. When they receive an order, they have to be able to make it in ten minutes – it’s very interesting to follow how they work in a professional kitchen.”
The restaurants under the Brdr. Price umbrella, as the Danes would call them, mostly serve a fusion of French, Italian and Danish food. Both brothers are adamant that New Nordic Cuisine is not for them, but at the same time acknowledge that the movement has had some important consequences for the Danish food scene. “I think the moment we began taking ourselves seriously and trying to use our national identity to bring something new into the world instead of just copying what much bigger nations do best – that was a major turning point,” says Adam. “When I started out as a food critic 25 years ago, the gastronomic scene was completely different. A fine restaurant at the time was a French restaurant. They’d be so self-sufficient most of them imported French chefs, like they had to bring their own chefs over here to teach the stupid Danes how to cook properly – some even got their produce from France!”
That tongue-in-cheek tone and sparkle in the eye seem ever-present whatever the Price brothers talk about – from their childhood to their career choices and their joint projects and successes. “Humour is a universal language, and for my brother and I, it’s always been that bridge we could cross and meet no matter how different our lives were at any given time,” says Adam. “We’re fortunate that we really like each other – not all brothers have this affection for each other. But I’d say our show is a show about sharing a passion with someone you really like. We can bridge any gap with humour.”
Then the screenwriter and TV chef apologises yet again: he has arrived at the school and jumped off his bike, his son wants his attention, and he clearly has no intention of ignoring that. It is so stereotypically Danish it almost seems planned. Almost like a scene from a Nordic Noir drama, except this dad cannot be judged.
TEXT: LINNEA DUNNE
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