How to capture the taste of the sun
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Ah, summer. I feel most alive in summer. As the sun warms my skin, it also lightens my spirit and all I want to do is throw parties all summer long. I once read a short book by Etel Adnan called The Sun on the Tongue. While the book never directly addresses or answers the question of what the sun actually tastes or feels like on the tongue, I have spent a lot of time wondering. Does the sun taste of honey? Or maybe a fig? I came across some Danish strawberries recently and thought that must be the taste of sunshine. After all, there is so much sunlight in the summer in Scandinavia.
I found myself in Copenhagen to celebrate the launch of a homeware collection that I designed in collaboration with the Danish design brand Hay. The collection is named Sobremesa, a Spanish term that loosely translates to the time spent around the table after a meal – once the eating and initial catching-up is out of the way. It is the time spent enjoying one another’s company, digesting, relaxing and savouring idle moments. The ring of wine that stains the tablecloth, the melted puddle of ice cream at the bottom of the bowl… As part of the launch, I cooked dinner for 60 people from the design community at the home of Hay founders Mette and Rolf Hay. What do you do when you find yourself in a foreign city, tasked with cooking for that many people? You phone a friend. I called the Danish chef Frederik Bille Brahe to tell him I was coming to town and needed help sourcing ingredients and maybe also a helping hand.
Frederik told me about Giancarlo, a mythical Italian man who would supposedly show up to my door with a refrigerated truck full of delicious summer fruits and vegetables that I could buy on the spot by the kilo. I was intrigued, if not also slightly dubious. Would I not need to order everything in advance? What if something didn’t arrive? What if Giancarlo himself never arrived? The only thing I should have doubted was doubt itself. The day before the dinner Giancarlo arrived with his white refrigerated truck, hopped out of the driver’s seat, pushed open the massive truck door and invited me in. I felt the sun on my tongue right there and then, in the back of that truck, lined floor-to-ceiling with crates full of delicious summer produce. There was possibly the best-looking fennel I had ever seen in my life. There were also Sorrento lemons, figs, lovage, citron, courgette blossoms, melons, crates of tomatoes in different varieties… It was pure summer bliss.
Back in the house, I picked herbs and flowers in the kitchen that overlooks the Sound, the body of water that separates Denmark and Sweden. The menu was based on my interpretation of what the sun tastes like: stuffed courgette blossoms with ricotta, anchovy and citron; bean purée with tomato and fennel flowers, braised fennel with sauce gribiche; peas and fresh broad beans in lovage oil with flowering borage; hake poached in fig leaf served with aïoli; new potatoes and finally Danish strawberries with meringue, crème anglaise and camomile. There were loads of edible flowers because the florist was kind enough to give me some from her father’s garden. I am not keen on using ingredients solely to garnish. If something finds its way into a dish, it’s because it’s delicious and serves a purpose. The fig leaf and courgette blossom most certainly did.
Fifteen minutes before guests were due to arrive the unpredictable Danish summer seemed to have a surprise for us. A few drops of rain started to come down, and everyone helping organise the party started to panic. Were we to move all the tables inside? But everything was already so beautifully set up! I stayed calm, and as usual stood in the kitchen, piping the courgette flowers with ricotta, one by one. I knew that summer would not fail us and that the sun would come out in honour of all the people – the farmers, the distributors, the cooks – who give so much of themselves to others and are always chasing the sun. As soon as guests started to trickle in, the sky cleared up, and a big beam of sun came shining down. The sky stayed lit until just before midnight, and I left Copenhagen with 60 new friends. @lailacooks