Most people have to read about Crown Princess Mary’s life in a magazine or newspaper. But Bente Grysbaek has not only met her – she’s also worked as her private chef.
It all came together in 2011 when “our Mary”, as she’s affectionately known, returned to Australia for an official visit with Crown Prince Frederik.
Their itinerary included a trip to Denmark House in Melbourne, where the popular and photogenic couple was welcomed by Danish-born Bente, the venue’s manager and executive chef.
“I was a little bit starstruck about meeting them, but they were both really lovely,” she says. “They were very friendly and kind.”
The warm opinion was only enhanced when she joined their family – including the couple’s children – on a private Victorian holiday for 10 days.
While discretion prevents Bente from sharing many details of her time as the family’s private chef, she admits to enjoying the engagement.
“It was such an honour to look after them,” she says. “We all took a real shine to each other and the whole experience was a pleasure.”
Her memories were only enhanced by handwritten notes of thanks, which serve as a lovely testament to the couple’s pride in promoting Danish culture globally.
And Bente knows she’s not the only Australian to have been inspired by their love story – and by the seamless melding of two cultures from opposite sides of the world.
It’s something that’s echoed at Denmark House, which can cater for up to 100 guests for ceremonies and receptions.
“In most ways, a Danish wedding is just like any other wedding,” Bente says, pointing to celebrations that combine the best of both worlds. “We do the throwing of the bouquet and all those traditional things.”
But where the European culture really comes into its own is food and drink.
“Everything we do here is very authentic,” she says. “If you look at the menu, most of it comes from my Mum’s kitchen. That’s part of why I really stick to my guns about authenticity.”
So, what makes for an authentic Danish wedding? Food, of course, says Bente who, below, has shared just some of Denmark’s favourite wedding tipples, dishes and traditions.
“Drinking akvavit (a flavoured spirit, often written as aquavit) in the beginning of a wedding, either for a welcome, or at the start of the meal, is an important gesture, and it’s a big tradition,” Bente says. “Everyone gets a shot of akvavit and everyone bids each other welcome. We also use it for the toasts.”
You’d expect to find herrings at a Danish celebration and Bente (whose menus also include such dishes as steak, pork belly, chicken and beef) says it pays to keep an open mind about combinations such as herring fillet with curry salad, apple, capers, onion and marbled egg.
“People who come here often get the biggest surprise when they have herrings,” she says.
“Most of them will be a little bit hesitant but when they taste them, nine times out of 10 they are surprised to discover they are delicious. And that’s because we make all of our own marinades and garnishes here. It’s very different to what you get in the shops.”
“As well as a wedding cake, or sometimes in addition to it, a traditional Danish wedding will also have something called a Kransekake, which is a marzipan tower made up of rings that sit on top of each other,” Bente says.
“It’s decorated with items such as Danish flags, so it’s also a pretty traditional.”
Smorrebrod and other delicacies
Loosely translated, smorrebrod is open sandwiches made from dark rye bread, and they’re a major centerpiece of wedding food, particularly when it comes to appetisers. “As is traditional with our canapés, and actually right throughout the menus, there’s a focus on using traditional Danish dark rye bread, which is very nutritious and healthy,” Bente says. This is paired with traditional toppings, such as gravlax, or crumbed fish with remoulade.
“There’s also a lot of cured and smoked goods, such as meat and fish. We use a lot of seafood in general, including herrings of course, and our desserts are also very traditional.”
These include Aeblekage – braised apples layered with toasted crumbs and Chantilly cream – and Citron Fromage, an authentic Danish lemon mousse served with toasted almond flakes and cream.
“It’s very much about giving our guests a true and authentic taste of Denmark,” Bente said.
Pleased to have a little piece of her homeland in the city, Bente reveals that Bar Dansk – which hosts the ceremonies, and is kitted out like a lounge with Danish-designed furniture, big windows, expansive views and wooden floors and beams – has the largest collection of akvavit in the southern hemisphere.
The theme continues through to Restaurant Dansk, which hosts receptions, and again has Danish-designed furniture, as well as crockery, glassware, cutlery and teapots. Available themes include the aptly named Nordic Fairytale.
“People really respond to our lovely venue,” Bente says. “But we don’t just give them a venue, we give them a beautiful immersion into Danish culture.”
And the ultimate compliment she can offer is this: “I know I would have liked to have had my own wedding here.”