This story was originally published in Danish on MUNCHIES DK.
We recently published a story about a restaurant in the Netherlands that only has one employee. But we soon learned that the Netherlands isn't the only place in the world with such an establishment. In Copenhagen, another one-employee restaurant has started up.
Since September 2016, Thomas Pamperin has been chef, waiter, owner, as well as dishwasher at Restaurant Njordvest at Utterslev Torv.
"Instead of working for people who don't appreciate my work, I'd rather have my own place where I can just be myself," says Thomas. "You get rid of all the BS, but I do occasionally miss someone to chat with." Njordvest can only accommodate eight guests, and on his homepage, Thomas describes the place as "probably Denmark's smallest restaurant". Sure, you can find a hot dog stand or three out there with fewer square feet and with only one employee, but this is a full-service restaurant with a really tiny kitchen.
That's why there's a system for everything, and Thomas will have to make do with the kind of cookware most people use at home—there is no room for industrial machinery. He has a small Sousvide vacuum packer and a KitchenAid-mixer, and instead of a heating cabinet, he has installed an extra oven that he bought at Ikea.
Thomas polishes the glasses, sets the tables, does the cleaning, washes the dishes, and kneads the dough so that it is ready to be baked before the service starts at 6 PM. The food needs to be chopped, placed in trays, and prepared, so that the food can leave the kitchen within just a few minutes. When the guests are gone, he washes the dishes before he goes home at 11 PM. He saves the glasses for the next day.
"You have to be insanely well-prepared," he says. "If I have six reservations, and two guests suddenly come in from the street, I have to be ready for it. Otherwise, everything sails. I was alone the first evening and I had a table of four. While they were arriving, a random group walked in, and I was not prepared for that. There I learned that I had to be prepared for eight guests every day. Even if only a table for two has been booked."
Thomas' vision is typical of our time: the food must be anchored to the local area. Every chef says that, but it's one thing to run a restaurant in the outskirts of a forest or to have a farm, where you can grow all the raw materials yourself. It's quite another to be a single man going it alone in the city.
He may have to cheat a little bit on the herbs at this time of year, but the rest of the year, he only has to buy meat and fish that are not local.
Anything else he can find in Utterslev Mose or at the Bispebjerg graveyard, which is a short walk from the restaurant. "Of course I don't find it on the graves," Thomas emphasizes, "but there are lots of green areas in there, along roads and pathways." Here he finds yarrow, lamium, flowers, wild carrot, parsnip, mushrooms, berries, mirabelles, sweet cisely, and elder.
"Nordvest (Copenhagen's northwestern district) has a slightly trashy reputation," he says, "and that is pretty understandable. It has been quite trashy." The adjacent room used to be a smokers club, and Thomas thinks that the area is having trouble getting rid of the slightly tarnished reputation.
"I think many people imagine you will be served boring food if you go to Nordvest to dine," he continues. "That shortcuts will be taken. Nothing is perfect, not this restaurant, nor this area. If perfection is what you seek, you must go downtown. I don't like that kind of food snobbery."
You don't find much snobbery here. Folks in the community have time to say hello and help one another, whenever they can. Thomas benefits greatly from that. He got the ceramic plates in exchange for a dinner, and the neighbors also bring raw materials.
"Out here, people sometimes contact me to ask whether I can use a bag of apples, quinces, pears, and anything else that happens to grow in the local gardens," he says. "The only criterium I have is that the raw materials must come from the area. And I don't waste anything. Everything must be used, even if it means that I'll have to spend an extra hour, if that's what it takes."
He constantly adjusts the menu based on the raw materials he has available. It also means that the menu details may change, depending on the weather.
One of the locals, who visits the restaurant and also helps Thomas, is Rikke Milbak. She is a biologist and botanist, and she owns a single-house garden near the restaurant. The garden is filled with wild herbs, roots and flowers, such as thyme, hollyhock, evening primrose, and Chinese chives. Sometimes Rikke has too much in the garden for her own use, so she cooperates with Thomas, so that he delivers compost for the herb garden and she in return gains access to the impressive bio-assortment.
When we visit, Rikke digs deeply into the garden and finds Jerusalem artichokes that Thomas will turn into chips and serve in the evening.
Although life as a solo restaurateur can sometimes be lonely, and although Thomas misses the cooperation in the kitchen, he is never completely alone.
"Fifty percent of those who come here are regulars," says Thomas. "It's great, and then you can always get a chat."