I spent part of my afternoon yesterday agitated and annoyed. I know that I’m getting older as I’m loosing patience easier and am often not as tolerant as I used to be. Why was I annoyed? Well, I overreacted, but my little episode has taught me a valuable lesson about hiring staff (I’m blowing this out of all proportion, all I had was some shitty service).First, let’s have a run through of what I’d been up to. Torvehallerne – two great big glasshouses in a cobbled square on the edge of Copenhagen city centre. They’re built in an ‘up and coming area’, an area a few years ago which was much more unsavoury. The glasshouses are home to two market halls – I find it strange that Copenhagen had no public market prior to this, bizarre even. However, I wouldn’t really compare the market to what we think of as a traditional provisions market, this is a gentrified equivalent, a haven for designed, dressed retailers where moneyed locals and wide eyed camera holding tourists wander the aisles. There’s nothing quite like it in the UK to compare it with (to my knowledge). Some blogs I’d read pre-trip had compared it to Borough Market, but even nowadays with Borough acting as a tourist hub itself, they’re not alike. I remember being introduced to Borough by a Location Manager friend during the early 2000’s, I absolutely loved it. So much so that one year we made it up to London for Christmas Eve just to experience the buzz of the market. I miss the honesty of the place, I was introduced to Gorwydd Caerphilly at Borough, huge rounds of cheese atop a wooden trestle and that was it. No dressing up, no vintage crates, no enamelware, no galv, just the product.
The closest market that it reminded me of is the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, California, though this is much bigger and didn’t feel quite as relaxed. Quite a few people had told me to come to see the market, I don’t know whether that built expectation but it probably contributed to my feelings toward the market. Firstly, it’s stunning, it’s clean, tidy, well presented, beautiful – it’s a spectacle. And that’s probably what killed it for me, tourists are there taking pictures, and locals cling to a small few stalls that they trust – it doesn’t have the feel of a thriving provisions market. It was a Tuesday I know, so I did’t expect it to be packed, but the meat counters were tired looking, they were nicely dressed it’s just the meat had been sat for days. Similarly some of the smaller stalls were immaculate, but you could tell by the servers bored stare that they were clock watching. Earlier this year I went to Spain with some friends, the two markets that we visited in Cadiz and Jerez (especially the fish counters) are amongst the best markets I’ve ever seen, even the small towns in the mountains had incredible markets with just one or two stalls with produce that was out of this world. Each counter was bustling, queues were 3 or 4 deep and most stalls had sold out by lunchtime.
I’m a creature of habit, and when I visit a market I tend to do a walkabout, check out which stalls are busiest, try a few things out and then head back at the end to the stalls that I thought had the best produce. So, I took my tour, had a lovely chat with Bernie from Austria, an ex-Chef training as a butcher on the Cleaver’s stall and who was looking to come to the UK to further train as a butcher. The stall was mainly fresh meat, with a small amount of processed products including sausages from Mineslund!They had some beautiful beef, a wonderful young marbled entrecote/rib-eye from Danish dairy cattle, and some nice aged beef from grain-fed American cattle. They also sold Australian Wagyu (200Kr/Kg) but his pride and joy was their Danish pork from Hindsholm Grisen. They’re an organic, free range producer who rear Duroc breed pigs. From the information on their website they have a very specific breeding regime, sows farrow once per year rather than the commercial 2.5 (5 times per 2 years) and are fed a soya free diet. They’re slow grown, and are weaned late from the mother. It sounds like an idyllic set-up and had I more time, I’d probably try and organise a visit. One thing did strike me as odd – the choice of the Duroc breed, they’re well known for fast growth and good daily live weight gains and seemed an odd choice for slow growth. Bernie and I had a bit of a too and fro on where the Duroc breed comes from, he claimed UK, I thought US. Something for wikipedia to answer… yes, I win USA! USA! USA!
Tired of doing my bit as a gawping tourist taking pictures, I picked the coffee shop with the longest queue and joined it. Now, I’m not a coffee aficionado, I can’t name beans in the way that wine connoisseurs know their grapes, but I do really like my coffee. I’m a bit geekish, I have various ways of making fresh coffee – cafetiere(that’s French press to the Americans), filter but at the moment my favourite is the aeropress (and yes, I have a bean grinder too – am I starting to sound like a twat?). Coffee Collective started off well, I placed my order with an obvious coffee geek – he ran through the types of coffee they had, where in the world they were from, he was a fountain of knowledge and I placed myself in his capable hands. That’s when things started to go down hill. My coffee was being made by a ‘tanned Danish God’ (my words, but I’m sure he would have been happy with the description). He had an attitude of aloof coolness about him, an attitude that in reality just makes you out to be an absolute tool to the rest of humanity. I started worrying about the quality of the coffee when the whole hoopla of making a brew turned into a show (remember Tom Cruise in Cocktail?). The result; 15mins of waiting uncomfortably for a filter coffee served by a man who ignored me for most of that time; and the coffee itself… on a par with American gas station coffee.
I was irritated at this point, slightly annoyed. I appreciate a bit of flair and theatre, it adds to an experience, but not when the product is terrible. Sadly, I thought this would be the very worst of my market experience, but it wasn’t. The market isn’t to blame really; I am, I chose badly, like a sheep I went with the masses rather than go with gut instinct of who to buy from. Onto Palaeo, that’s right a fast food joint based on caveman ideals. I went for the Palaeo Dog, a smoked organic and free range pork hot dog (though it was more like a brat) in a square omelette with a load of fancy dressing. Sadly, the omelette was cold and limp, the dressing was lumped in bottom part of the omelette and made a soggy mess, but what as worst of all was the tasteless dog – no porkyness, no smokeyness, I could see pieces of chili but I couldn’t taste it.
Having a story, ideal or even a gimmick is fine, but it puts added pressure on you to deliver a good quality product. The Palaeo stall was buzzing, in addition to the small indoor tables their outdoor benches were filled with diners, one of the few places busy mid-afternoon. Was I the purchaser of a single poor item on the menu? Or were we all there like sheep because of pretension? Half eaten, the dog went in the bin, and I headed to find something else to eat and a decent cup of coffee.
So, to give the market its due there were some exceptional stalls. The two fresh fish counters were busy, their fish looked good, bright and their fish was selling well. There were other very popular stalls especially those selling ready to eat food, a liitle Tapas bar was rammed full. But I hadn’t come to Copenhagen to buy from the faux Italian, Spanish and French stalls. There was a real buzz outside – benches and tables were packed with people eating and drinking. Some small more traditional outdoor fruit and veg stalls were doing good business, but their boxed veg stood in contrast to the perfect washed and presented veg inside.Something about the market didn’t rest easily with me. I’m not sure whether it was to do with the fact that for the most part, these were retail stalls i.e. selling a range of goods by different producers. High-end artisan markets work far better when they have a direct connection with the producer, there were a few of these stalls there, and these were the ones that seemed to ‘work’ for me.
So, what did I learn? Choose your staff well, they represent your company, and a poor service will invariably turn people off the produce. Secondly, and more importantly – quality is everything. It doesn’t matter if you use every buzz word going – ‘free range’, ‘high welfare’, ‘organic’ etc if the product is crap, it’s crap. If I provide crap service, I want to know, I want to do better, I want my customers to be happy.