‘Denmark is a food lab for trends’
Describe yourself in three words
Foodie, storyteller, curious.
How did you get to where you are today?
Through song and dance, really. I used to work in restaurants when I was in university. I loved cooking and the intensity of a professional kitchen, and I got to eat well and learn the craft. Later, we used to go out and cook for people to make extra cash. When I later worked in politics, all I could ever publish in my own name was something completely other than on politics or communication, so I got a side-job as a food critic at my old paper. Working with food now is a combination of the agenda-setting skills I learned in politics and journalism, and systematically eating way better than I could actually afford in my youth.
What’s your biggest professional achievement?
In this job, it’s being a part of the international interest in the food thinking of the Nordic region – it’s very much being a part of a movement; an intuition that there are things to be moved, and that we can inspire the global food culture.
What is your pet hate?
Really cheap food. Sorry – I hate cheap junk that leaves you oblivious to how it was made, where it was grown, who made it, or if there was ever a human being in the other end. It is not for me.
Give us a positive prediction for the food industry over the next 12 months
Organic will continue to rise globally, and will pick up again in the UK. People will start to discover species and varieties in any product – it will no longer be a tomato, it will be a San Marzano tomato; it will no longer be potatoes, but a King Edward potato. People will drink less, but it will be more expensive. The growth will be in the top or higher ends of the market, and it will be much cooler to deal in foods. The people who make foods will gain social status – it will just be cooler to feed people, because there will be more stories to tell, more diversity, more new products – all about adding flavour and quality to more people’s lives. Isn’t it cool?
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?
That she or he has a competent vision of the future, and that they understand – truly understand and appreciate – the kind of product that they make. I don’t understand leaders in the food industry that don’t have a passion for meat, dairy, veggies or beers, or whatever they make. How can you develop products or maintain a good product without deeply understanding what you make?
Who do you most admire?
In food? Rene Redzepi of Noma, because he changed my country – nothing in food here will be the same again. He inspired a new curiousness: I saw Nordic seaweeds in the supermarket here the other day – and we never used to eat that stuff. I also admire Norman Borlaug for giving the world high yield wheat-plants and bringing millions out of starvation. I admire the wine makers of Burgundy for keeping it real and resisting the temptation for change, and I admire people like Michael Pollan for speaking truth to all that new age weirdness in food: it should be fun and delicious to eat.
Which people/organisations or companies are the ones to watch right now?
I am very interested in how big companies respond to a growing high-end market. In Denmark, Carlsberg, Arla and Danish Crown have recently introduced high end, gourmet products to match a growing demand for taste. And I believe they are trend makers here: Denmark is a food lab for trends. How will big food follow the changing market? How will the likes of Pernod Ricard and Unilever try to find the profits and brand value in a growing high-end market?
Which words do you most overuse?
If you weren’t in your current position, what else might you be doing?
Manufacturing consent for a politician.
Tell us something about yourself that few people know
I never actually finished my education – I was too restless. Sorry. If I go back, it will be to study history.
Food and drink, what do you think?
What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
I regret that I only have one life to give to the food revolution – nah, just kidding – more time with my kids, definitely. It’s politically correct I know, but I’m one of these soft Scandinavian men.
How do you relax?
Travel – most often food related. I was just in Campania to hunt for buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and splendid scenery. Before that, I was in Istanbul to try out new Anatolian cuisine. My favourite thing is picking wild mushrooms in Sweden.
How would you like to be remembered?
As anything but boring or a bad host.