David Zilber is a Toronto-born chef, who works as a research and development sous chef at Restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. He is also a photographer who has exhibited his work in Amsterdam, Toronto, New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Work aside, what is it about Copenhagen that made you want to call it home?
It’s a shame to start this question with “work aside.” It’s very true that Noma being situated in Copenhagen, and opening when it did, contributed enormously to its success, or at least set an amazing stage for the restaurant and René to achieve what it has. But to me, Noma could have been opened anywhere in the world and I would have happily made the move (indeed, the three pop- ups prove this point!). What made me only too happy to stay were Copenhagen’s ease and quality of life. Things just work here. Sure, Canadians are proud of things like health care and social services, but it’s amazing to see how far those ideals can be pushed in the effort to create a nation that really cares about its citizens.
When a friend is visiting from Canada, where do you take them first, and why?
Glyptoteket is one of the most amazing art museums I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It’s absolutely stunning, filled primarily with giant stone and marble sculptures. It’s calm and full of gravitas. Though the collection scarcely changes, I could visit it again and again. It’s never too crowded and has the good fortune of being right in the centre of the city. I love bringing people through there for an hour and a half en route to a good meal.
Where do you take such visitors for their first dinner? And their first lunch?
For lunch, Schønnemann! The classic Danish restaurant has been around for three centuries, serving amazing smørrebrød, Danish open-faced sandwiches, and lots of schnapps. New Nordic cuisine is great and all, but old Nordic cuisine is irreplaceable. For dinner? Restaurant Barr, the restaurant that took over Noma’s old physical space and serves delicious northern European plates, or Sanchez, the casual Mexican restaurant started by Rosio Sanchez, Noma’s former pastry chef. Both knockout spots.
Where do you go out for morning coffee—and what’s special about it?
Restaurant 108, Noma’s sister restaurant, has a little corner of its building, appropriately named The Corner, that does outstanding coffee and simple breakfasts. You can sit outside by the canal and watch all the Danes cycle by. It’s a fantastic joint.
Likewise, afternoon drinks?
Natural wines have found a little bit of a Mecca in this tucked-away northern capital. The wine importer Sune Rosforth has a great natural wine bar called Den Vandrette right in Nyhavn, Copenhagen’s picturesque harbour. Equally good is his competition: Ved Stranden 10, situated right on the canal opposite Denmark’s capital buildings.
And late-night drinks?
Where do you like to go for a bike ride? Or a walk?
You bike everywhere in this city, so the point is kind of moot. That said, it is such a dream to get around here— the city’s flat, for one, and every street has a separated bike land. It’s often way faster to bike than to take a cab or the metro.
The King’s Gardens is an amazing commons for everyone to enjoy. It’s a beautiful royal garden where you can just lie down in the grass for a few hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon without a care in the world.
What do you think the chefs and restaurants of Copenhagen collectively do best?
Hospitality, and a sense of place. There’s a confidence to how disarming the service can be in this town. Even at Noma, dining feels more like being over at an old friend’s place than a stiff act. Beyond that, the commitment to the region, its ingredients, both wild and farmed, can be felt from the plates served in top restaurants all the way to the local grocery stores.
What is your favourite local food market?
Torvehallerne is the big one in the centre of the city, with a great range of products, from cheese to wine and charcuterie, and a bunch of great eateries where you can cozy up to a bar and grab something quick.
What part of the culinary experience in Canada—if any—do you miss most in your adopted home?
Its diversity. For all of Copenhagen’s strengths as a global food city, it’s damn hard to find good Asian or Indian restaurants, let alone jerk chicken. In Toronto, I was spoiled for choice! Copenhagen can sometimes feel a bit homogenous.
Is there any Canadian ingredient or product that you miss cooking or eating?
Pacific halibut is a fish I wish we had here, but I will say there’s nothing wrong with North Sea turbot.
If you had to pick one dish that encapsulates the strengths and virtues of the local cuisine, what would it be?
Aebleskiver, a traditional spherical Danish pancake, normally served with apples but stuffed instead with smoked fish. Its feels like everything the region is.