Travel

The Bornholm Identity

Discover Bornholm, the amazing European food destination you've never heard of
Bornholm, Denmark's Thriving Food Scene
Photo: Gustaf Emanuelsson/Getty Images

When Nicolai Nørregaard decided a decade ago to team up with two friends and convert the beach shack of his youth into a forward-thinking restaurant, the idea was more than a little radical in Bornholm, a rural Danish island covered in rolling poppy fields and quaint half-timbered houses.

"When we started here, there was nothing," the soft-spoken chef remembers. "Everybody was like, 'What the fuck are you thinking? You want to open a restaurant in the middle of nowhere? It's not even a town—are you crazy?' But, yeah, we were crazy. Luckily, we were crazy enough to do it." Lucky for him, and lucky for the rest of us, who are in on the secret. Copenhagen may be one of the world's greatest culinary hubs, but the under-the-radar gem that few outside of Denmark know about is this rural Baltic island of Bornholm.

Nørregaard, one of the few self-taught chefs in Denmark, grew up on the island and met his business partners, Magnus Høeg Kofoed and Rasmus Kofoed, while working at a casual family restaurant in Svaneke, alongside the eastern shore of Denmark's "Sunshine Island."

The trio opened Kadeau in the spring of 2007 to rave reviews, putting the tiny Baltic island on the culinary map for the first time. In 2011, they opened an outpost in Copenhagen, bringing Bornholm's flavors to mainland Denmark—and both locations now boast a Michelin star.

During Bornholm's short (seven-to-eight-week) peak season spanning July and August, Kadeau Copenhagen closes and the staff heads to Bornholm to forage and preserve the summer's bounty. Think flash-fried Baltic prawns dusted with mushroom powder and a preserved fig-green plum crumble, and last year's pumpkin grilled and glazed with quince vinegar and fermented autumn honey, then topped with wood ants, grilled rose hips, fig leaf oil and white asparagus sauce. 

Photo: Veronica Meewes

"We chose Bornholm, because it has so much to offer and it was untouched territory," Nørregaard says. "It's a very small place, and it's very rich here. The summers are very long, which means the fruit here is better and sweeter. We can ripen mulberries and figs, which you can't do anywhere else in Scandinavia. Everything here is just a little bit better."

The island's unique terroir, with its warmer climate and fertile topsoil, also results in beautiful durum wheat (local pasta company Pastariget even exports its product to Italy), and most edible herbs are found close to the coastline, where the slightly salty sea washes over them for the perfect amount of salinity.

Of course, there are plenty of challenges that come with opening a locally committed restaurant on a remote island. Historically, Bornholm was a fishing village, but due to overfishing in the 70's and early 80's (plus the 75,000 hungry seals who call the island home), local seafood is scarce. The island is sprinkled with historic pyramid-shaped smokehouses, but the herring they smoke is now sourced from other areas of the Baltic. (A visit to one of these traditional smokehouses—like Røgeriet i Svaneke or Snogebæk Røgeri—is essential for a taste of Sol over Gudhjem, a local dish made with smoked herring, radishes, chives and raw egg yolk on Danish rugbrød.)

When the island's only slaughterhouse shut down eight years ago, Kadeau relied more than ever on the island's native fruits and vegetables, plus any wilds the crew could forage. Over the years, they graduated from container gardens to one hectare of land sprouting edibles like asparagus, strawberries, ramps, gooseberries and rhubarb.

Cultivating a rich landscape is a communal effort across the island. Gaarden, a new agricultural and culinary center, supports new food businesses and encourages local farmers to grow more diverse fruits and vegetables. This year, 60 more acres of fruits and vegetables have been planted across the island than last, and that number is anticipated to double before the year's end.

"In the late 80's and 90's, when the fishery disappeared, it left the island with an identity crisis, which we are now finding in food producers," Mickel Bach-Jensen, the head of Gaarden, says. "We're a magnet for food entrepreneurs right now."

Last year, Christian Skovdal Andersen and his Australian wife, Jessica, opened Penyllan Brewery out of an abandoned fishing factory, where they're now brewing some of the country's best beer using wild yeast. And next year, esteemed brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø will launch another location of Mikkeller on Bornholm, a move that will undoubtedly bring more attention—and a little healthy competition—to the island.

Photo: Veronica Meewes

Then there's Bornholm-born chef Mikkel Marschall, who started an annual culinary competition called Sol over Gudhjem (named after that iconic herring dish) in 2009. The festival now attracts more than 10,000 people who come to the island to watch well-known chefs compete in several rounds, while local producers showcase their island-made goods.

Picture local ice cream from shops like Svaneke Is and Sandvig IS Kalas, which dot the coast and serve natural scoops against a dreamy backdrop. Or enjoy the view over housemade pastries and wine at Norresan, a beachside cafe in a converted Gudhjem smokehouse. Then try twists of softice flavored with licorice at Lakrids. Johan Bülow began making this now-Scandinavia-wide cult sensation in his mother's tiny Bornholm kitchen. 

Høstet offers vitamin-rich sea buckthorn juice, marmalade and oil from its Nexø plantation. And revered local butcher Jørgen Christensen slices samples of smoked sausage from his farm café, Hallegaard, where his brand-new micro-slaughterhouse will once again make fresh, local and naturally raised meat accessible to the island (and beyond—his meats are desired by Denmark's top chefs).

"Hopefully, within a year or two, we'll see more farmers coming on, because now they can actually get their animals slaughtered," Nørregaard, who's invested in Hallegaard and a number of other Bornholm projects, says. Most recently, the Kadeau team joined forces with the revamped Nordlandet (a kitschy motel turned sleek seaside hotel) to serve exquisite yet accessible dishes.  

This fall, he'll return to Copenhagen to launch a naan spot in Tivoli Gardens and run PONY, his casual ode to Bornholm, as well as Kadeau 2.0. And though the frigid Scandinavian winter may be long and dark, a little bit of Bornholm sunshine will light up every one of those restaurants. 

  • The rocky coastline of Gudhjem, a small fishing town on the island.

    Photos: Veronica Meewes

  • Cold asparagus soup with blue mussels, gooseberry broth, green asparagus oil, blue cornflowers and borage from Kadeau.

  • Licorice softice topped with salty licorice syrup and licorice crumbles from Lakrids by Johan Bülow.

  • In the distance, Hammershus, Scandinavia's largest castle, which is on the northern tip of Bornholm.

  • Emmer flatbread with seaweed butter at Kadeau.

  • Orange poppies in front of one of Bornholm's famous round churches.

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