My night at the millionaires' dining table involves an arms dealer with a penchant for diamonds, roast pork sandwiches, and burning Lamborghinis.
It's 6:45 AM. It's Friday and the kids have just woken me up. They want to go to school. I've had two hours of dead man's sleep and I have a hangover of biblical proportions. My head and body are on the verge of exploding. My legs are cramping, I've got a cold sweat and in a few minutes I'll be face to face with other parents my age who are in a far better condition than the sad, tormented shape I've ended up in. I'm pissed off with The Ambassador. It's all his fault. He tricked me into this and I should never have said yes. There is no way in hell I'll survive the next two days.
I'm in the middle of Dining Impossible, the world's most exclusive dinner party. A three-day gourmet extravaganza at three of the world's best restaurants in three days. Copenhagen is the current destination and I'm part of it.
A couple of hours before my hangover hell, I was in Balthazar, the champagne bar at Copenhagen's plush d'Angleterre hotel. I was saying goodnight to my fellow diners: The Ambassador, The Poker Player, The Arms Dealer, The Bank Manager, The Retailer, The Jetsetters, The Drummer, The Internet Millionaire, and their partners. They all have quite normal names, but the condition for me writing this story was that I keep their anonymity.
The first day had been a blast. I'd heard a lot about Dining Impossible, imagined even more, and I hadn't been disappointed. We had been to Geranium, the three-starred restaurant on the top of Copenhagen's national stadium, in their private dining room. We had been served all night by the head chef Rasmus Kofoed, Bocuse d'Or winner and an absolute star. This was the best show in town.
The Ambassador—The Culinary Ambassador or The Ambassador of Pleasure, as he was once christened by Thailand's minister of industrial affairs—is actually Kristian Brask Thomsen, who dreamed up the concept for this dinner party madness four years ago. He was told it was impossible. You couldn't get the reservations, let alone the guests, and definitely not at places such as Geranium, AOC, and Noma for three nights in a row. But The Ambassador pulled this off and thus named the event "Dining Impossible." It's toured the world, from Barcelona to San Sebastian, New York to Lima and Hong Kong, and now it's back in Copenhagen for the fourth time.
Considering the disgraceful state I'm in, I somehow manage to drop off the kids with perfect indignity but without child services paying me a visit. I try to get back to bed and replay last night's events. The Retailer was the first person I got talking to. The brief interrogation went something like this:
"What do you do?" he asks.
"So you write lies?"
"I write whatever sells."
I really like The Retailer.
The dinner at Geranium was an exhibition of effortless perfection. Kofoed is from another planet when it comes to technique and precision. Razor clams with an edible shell so thin, so delicate, and so beautiful that it makes me sick to think about the amount of work going into this. Dill "stones" made with mackerel and horseradish, deep green and shiny as if they were pebbles that had been polished over millions of years and just pulled from the sea. Twenty-two courses in total. With wine pairings.
We were wasted. A steaming drunk guest from another table crashes our party. She's named Maja. She sits down on the windowsill where she manages to break a vintage Danish design lamb before she is elegantly, but firmly escorted out of the restaurant. Did that really happen? I'm thinking about all this as I lie in my sweat-soaked bed, but I'm interrupted by a text message. "Are you on ambassador form?" What the fuck do you think? Quick shower, put the hoodie on. Hop on the bike.
Kristian the ambassador is the perfect host. An uncomplicated blend of formality and charm. A tsunami of stupid uncle jokes and, when the alcohol takes hold in the wee hours, a veritable jukebox full of sleazy 80s hits. He's impeccably dressed. Speaks with an affected accent as if he was aristocracy, even if his family is firmly rooted in bourgeoise, small-town Jutland. He is confused about many things in life, but the confusion never manifests itself to much more than a shrug. He's a self-made gourmet dandy with heart, soul, and a pocket square in his dinner jacket.
Half an hour after the text message, I meet him by Olafur Eliasson's circle bridge outside the restaurant No. 2. He's having a drink in the sun. A couple of the other guests have turned up; it's nice to see they are as battered as I am. It's always worse the first morning, says The Arms Dealer. I breathe a sigh of relief and sit down next to The Drummer. He flew in from New York yesterday afternoon, a few hours before we hit Geranium. He's excited and occasionally starts drumming on the table without even noticing. He's retired now. Can't a hear a bloody thing. When he goes out with his drummer friends in New York, they all sit around a table shouting "What?" at each other all night.
We eat a burger and drink a glass of chilled white wine. Things settle. The Retailer looks terrible. Something about going to a strip club the night before with The Bank Manager.
The second evening's restaurant destination is AOC. Unlike Geranium, the place actually smells of food. There is a whiff of stock which hits your nostrils; the sweet scent of braised cabbage. I sense something in my gut which I willingly mistake for hunger. We are back in the private dining section, which is a beautiful space. I'm sitting between The Ambassador and The Bank Manager. The Ambassador is apologetic. "There aren't enough women," he says. I don't care. The Bank Manager from London is chatty and great company. He talks about benchmarks. The Ambassador delivers benchmarks when it comes to food. And the guests happily pay for that. Which makes perfect sense. Nobody wants to throw gold behind a loosing project. Afterwards, The Bank Manager explains how he helped restructure Greece's towering debt.
AOC is comfort food in the best possible sense. Just when you think you are about to keel over in this ludicrous gastronomic experiment, this lovely, comforting fare comes rolling in. A tiny dish of onion with caviar and elderflower is borderline genius, as is smoked potato with bleak roe and brown butter emulsion. There is flounder barbecued on the bone, which has to be eaten with your fingers. One of The Jetsetters refuses this. Instead, he gets up and tells a dirty joke, just to keep everything in balance.
Alexander is our waiter all night. He's no more than 23, and he's a fucking star. We all bow down to him. The drummer tells us stories about playing with Stevie Wonder. It's that kind of night.
The extensive wine menu takes its toll and we have an early night. In the restaurant foyer we chat to the smokers. The Internet Millionaire explains that he has sold his Lamborghini. It couldn't handle the heat in Dubai. It's a big problem in Dubai. Burning Lamborghinis. He laughs. I look over at my bicycle with its child seat attached. It's leaning against the wall, covered in rain.
The next afternoon, Saturday, I join the others at Grisen (the pig) which is the hippest fast food joint in town, run by the hippest Turkish guy in town, Umut. The others have already been to John's Hot Dog Deli in the Meatpacking District where they ate foie gras hot dogs. Of course. This is very much in the spirit of The Ambassador. Umut has made a hot dog with hemp and caviar. I inhale it; that's how good it is. The Retailer is all in. He is going for a roast pork sandwich, and we all seem to be on much better form. Fernet is being poured.
Umut places a giant roast pork sandwich in front of me. It's slathered in bearnaise and comes with a mountain of fries on the side. The Ambassador looks worried, what with our dinner at Noma that evening in mind. He forbids me to eat the damn thing. As if I could. The Poker Player and The Retailer don't bat an eyelid and finish the whole greasy mess, knowing full well that there is hardly going to be steak on the menu later on.
The Internet Millionaire explains that he has sold his Lamborghini. It couldn't handle the heat in Dubai. It's a big problem in Dubai. Burning Lamborghinis. He laughs. I look over at my bicycle with a child's seat attached.
The Retailer's wife has taken the other wives shopping for fur coats. We discuss whether it makes sense to talk about a "sale" when the coats have been marked down from $20,000 to $12,000. He opens a bottle of red and mumbles about having to work extra hours next week.
I tag along with The Poker Player and walk through Nørrebro. We talk about schooling and kids. About pedagogy. Considering the ignominy of this morning, I'm hardly the right person to debate that subject, but this is what fascinates The Poker Play and what he actually spends his working life doing. I can feel my preconceptions being torn apart one by one. It's not a nice feeling.
If writing about food is your trade, then you need to live in a city like Copenhagen. And that's all thanks to Noma and René Redzepi. The Seal Fucker has conquered the world and created a culinary miracle in the city. An undertaking like this dinner party would have been unthinkable in the pre-Noma age.
The Ambassador is standing by the window in Noma's first floor private dining room, wearing a white dinner jacket. The other guests are slowly arriving, all looking excited, even if they are unsure of what to expect. We've been joined by two new team members: An American venture capitalist and her private chef have flown in from Lake Como where she has been holidaying. I'm seated next to her and The Internet Millionaire; no sane person would moan about this company. I have no idea what a venture capitalist does, but she patiently explains in her thick Californian accent. The Internet Millionaire's girlfriend, from Essex, is terrific company She is living the highlife in Dubai, but seems to have a healthy ironic distance to it all. She's goofy. So is her husband. This is a blast.
Some would say that Noma is not about the food. That Noma is avant-garde, which it is, but that is never the aim. A couple of the dishes are miles better than anything else we taste over the three days. There's a dessert of sheep's milk yogurt with ants. King crab with fermented egg yolk. Small ravioli with shrimp, using nasturtium leaves instead of pasta.
From time to time, tourists are given a tour of the first floor kitchen. It's not disruptive as such, but we notice. Later on, it's our turn for the kitchen tour, which is pointless and I feel like a cruise ship guest getting a tick on the list.
We end up in a nightclub in the heart of Copenhagen where Champagne and gin are flowing. The Ambassador is dancing with a large group of women, moving with the giddy enthusiasm of a teenager at a prom, and sweating like a horse. I head outside to talk to The Arms Dealer while we drink beer. She tells me about hunting and her other hobby: the diamond trade. I could listen to her for hours. The first night she described herself as a "Natural Born Killer." I wholeheartedly believe this. She and her husband are great company. Once in a while, we are interrupted by a group of very drunk women at a bachelorette party, all wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
The Ambassador joins us outside, still sweating like a disco maniac. Other people are sweating too, and if they stand too close to The Arms Dealer, she immediately tells them to back off. I love it. She puts in ear plugs and goes back to the bar for more drinks. I talk to her husband about the work he does for The Association of Forensic Odontology, about how he flies out to crisis zones if there are bodies that need to be identified via their teeth. It is hard to take your eyes off the huge, gleaming diamond in the lapel of his jacket.
The music is groovy and so are we. I take another look outside. One of The Jetsetters is French-kissing The Venture Capitalist in the corner. The others are chatting, hugging, drinking, and dancing. It strikes me: I'm going to miss these people. It feels like summer camp; we have been through so much together. I leave before I get teary-eyed. On the way home through Copenhagen, I'm humming "Lady in red." Did they even play that?
It's Sunday night and I'm standing in front of the kitchen sink. There are four pounds of blue mussels that need cleaning, and I'm overwhelmed by the sadness of having to cook my own dinner. I'm sad that there are no more Michelin stars; sad that I'm longer with The Arms Dealer and The Poker Player. It was never a question of money for them. They were there because they wanted to. It was always about the food and getting access to the best possible—and most prestigious experience—that money can buy. And The Ambassador is there go-to-guy for this.
I write him and say that I feel empty inside. "It's perfectly normal," he replies. But I don't want normal. I want 60-plus dishes in three days at three of the world's best restaurants. I want three full wine menus and everything that comes with it. Mostly, I just want to dine with an arms dealer who sells diamonds in her spare time.