NyHaven, a one-time pop-up new Nordic dinner in New Haven on March 3, blew away a couple dozen diners lucky enough to purchase seats to the 15-course dining experience showcasing some of the most daring and inventive food in Connecticut. Conceived by Chef Simon Marcell Davidsen with fellow Community Table chef Tommy Juliano, they teamed up with John Ginnetti of 116 Crown, who not only generously offered the kitchen and dining space for NyHaven, but also paired each snack and course with an appropriate "cocktail."
An indelible evening marked by a provocative menu, curious cocktails, and a house filled with appreciate gourmands, we attempted to capture the meal in not just words, but an interview with Chef Simon Marcel Davidsen, photos of each course, and 116 Crown's video of the NyHaven experience:
How did you first conceive of Nyhaven?
I've been playing with the idea of doing a pop-up in New Haven for quite some time. I live in New Haven and eat out in New Haven often. And one of the things I miss the most, is to get more of a experience eating out, than just filling my belly. There are many great restaurants around here, but I feel that everybody is afraid of taking that extra step, everybody stays within the comfort zone (except Bun Lai and the cicadas, ha!). I wish that people would look at going out to eat more as an event and gathering, rather than just dinner. Surrender yourself to the chef and let them cook for you.
How did you convince 30 people to dine on an unknown menu?
The best experiences I have at other restaurants is when no menu was presented, you really get to eat stuff that most people would avoid on a menu, and a lot of people would probably not had come to NyHaven if they would have seen the menu before hand. But how often do you watch a movie at home before going to the cinema to watch the same movie again? It's all about experiencing something new and unique. Even when you go out to eat, a lot of people go online read the menu see what they wanna eat, go to the restaurant order what they saw online gets the dish and are disappointed, most of the time, because you have been building up expectations about the dish for hours, or are upset because the menu was outdated. Now they have to think about what they now want to eat. You start your dinner out with no excitement, no new experience, no happy feelings etc. I wanted to eliminate all that. And let every dish be a surprise.
What gets you most excited about cooking?
Connecting with nature, in the way of seeing what's in my surroundings, where am I. What do I feel, smell and hear. For example the duck that I served at the pop-up, was served with blueberries, spruce and smoked parsnips. Often I take walks in the forests up in Washington, Connecticut prior to work at Community Table, to clear my head and breathe some fresh air. There is this one spot that reminds me of a forest I used to play in growing up in Denmark. I remember eating wild berries off the forest floor, some of the most flavor packed berries I have ever had, in the background you can hear the ducks playing in the lake, people camp out and have bonfires and you are surrounded by huge spruce trees. So it made sense to me try and capture this moment in a dish. And when these moments happen, that's what gets me exited.
Is there an ingredient you can't live without?
No! Haha. I adapt pretty well to my surroundings. But if I had to pick one it would be pine/spruce. It's Nordic lemon. Haha. Which other chefs came to work with you in the kitchen? So in the kitchen I had I bunch of friends helping me out. Which I'm extremely thankful for. Matthew Neele used to work with me back at Heirloom, he spend some time at Noma in Copenhagen and then went to be one of the pastry chefs at Wallse in NYC. Christian Wilki was the Chef at Chocopologie in South Norwalk and also from Denmark. Fritz Knipschildt owns Chocopologie and Knipschildt Chocolatier and is my old employer and very good friend, he made it possible for to be here in America. Sean Butler is one of our Chef De Partie at Community Table. And Tommy Jullianno who was the pastry chef and creator of the desserts at the pop up is our Pastry Chef at Community Table.
Each dish construction was and thoughtful and playful. Take your snack/amuse of birch or the wonderful duck and blueberries. Can you explain the journey of either of those dishes, from why you put the ingredients together, the components, to the final preparation?
The baby shore crab and dill is unique and has a value to me. Bun Lai from Miya's sushi was the first to introduce these little amazing creatures to me. They love to hide under seaweed covered rocks. So I served them on the rock they lived under with the seaweed from the rock. You have to head to the beach right before low tide, collect the little crabs, rocks and seaweed. Then you rinse the rocks very well, the same for the seaweed. I prefer to blanch it (place it in boiling water for 2 min. Then place in ice water) it allows any bacteria to die. Then I hang dry the seaweed for 24 hours, since this was a pop up, this was done at home. So imagine the smell of seaweed covering my kitchen. "Awesome!!!" Then when it's dry I blitzed it in a blender with a little amount of sea salt, the outcome is a bright green dust. Then for the crabs. First I rinse them really well. Then I make a ice cold water bath. And slowly place the crabs in them. The crabs will fall asleep but maintain their perfect shape. Once they are asleep I fry them in peanut oil for 2 minutes. Dot a few dill cream dots on the rocks, dust with seaweed powder, and place the crabs around the rocks.
I have worked with the reindeer moss in different ways. And have had it served in many ways. And I've been trying to work out how to serve it most natural. I have a huge love for birch trees, they are really unique they look like no other tree more like the zebra of trees haha. The have a fantastic sap, that can be used in many great ways. But to get the good sap you must carefully watch the trees and tap them at the right moment once a year. Unfortunately our time here in Connecticut is not yet, but hopefully in a few weeks they will be ready.
So getting the reindeer moss requires some hours spent in a forest, preferably at high elevation. walking around in different kinds of woods and forests make you realize and see what grows together. To me that's new Nordic, not so much using Scandinavian products but more exploring and appreciate what nature can bring to the table, cook and plate it in a natural way. Should we expect to see more pop ups like this? "I hope. My dream of course, would be to open my own Nordic eatery in Connecticut.
Who else is doing Danish cooking justice in the region?
Scandinavian Butik in Norwalk. They have a little cafe where you can get danish lunch. But in regards to New Nordic or fine dining I'm really unaware of places, in Connecticut. New York has plenty to offer, Luksus in Brooklyn, Aska in Brooklyn, Skāl NYC, Acme in SoHo and Aquavit and of course Aamanns plus many more. Also Birch in Providence I heard should be really good, but I haven't had the chance to visit myself.
Why Community Table and why that kitchen? What makes that place a great home for your talents?
I've spent a lot of time in different kitchens around Connecticut, to try and find a place that can satisfy my hunger for creativity, and CT is so far the only place where we truly have talented people with the same philosophy on food. It's very rare to have multiple people thinking the same way. Executive Chef Joel Viehland worked at Noma, my Fellow Sous Chef Amy Yi has Been at some of the best kitchens, from Noma, mugaritz, Jean George and is currently spending some days in San Franscico at Manresa and Coi. And Tommy has also been in some great kitchens like EMP, Alinea, WD-50. So we have some pretty knowledgable talents in our kitchen.