Text by Francis Cardenau / Illustration by Damien Weighill
Francis Cardenau is a man on a mission. The Frenchman, whose now-closed Kommandanten restaurant won two Michelin stars in 1994, has done as much as Noma’s René Redzepi to turn Copenhagen into one of the world’s foodie capitals. Cardenau’s latest obsession is Danish steak.
The man who runs Copenhagen restaurants Le Sommelier (French) and Umami (Japanese), came up with MASH (Modern American Steak House) in 2006, to spread the word about Danish meat at a time when there was only one venue in Denmark’s capital serving steak.
Cardenau had long been working with Danish Crown, Europe’s largest pork producers and Denmark’s largest beef suppliers, when he saw a gap. “I realised we had this amazing product that no one was serving,” he says. “In my view, Danish beef is the best in the world.”
The difference, he says, is how the cattle – most of which come from farms in Jutland – are cared for, partly because of rules enforced by the Danish government. “They’re fed on grass, the natural way, and they’re free to roam. We don’t push them.”
That’s different from other countries – in the US, he says, “the cattle don’t move so much, and are fed on maize, which they’re not born to do.” In Japan, Kobe cattle are famously fed beer, rice wine and vitamins, and even played classical music. In the UK, he says, it’s hard to get consistent quality.
“To me, American steak is juicy and tender, but the taste is missing – I call it baby food. With Danish steak, it’s hard to describe, but you taste the meat. It’s real.” It helps that MASH only serves the very best, choosing 30-50 at a time from around 100,000 cows, all approved by experts at Danish Crown. The meat has to survive a special scanner and weekly blind tastings to ensure quality. The racks are hung for 60-90 days in special rooms with filtered air, which tenderises the meat and increases its flavour, giving it an intensity close to game.
Cardenau and partner Jesper Boelskifte have now opened a lavish branch of MASH in London’s Soho, in the art deco Regent Palace Hotel. Like all MASH branches, you can get steaks from as far afield as the US, Uruguay and Australia. “We want there to be a choice,” says Cardenau, “and to serve the best each country has to offer. But for me, Danish is the best.”