With his signature bucket hats and something-blue colour palette, Frederik Bille Brahe cuts a dash in Copenhagen’s small yet social scene. The chef is perhaps one of the most recognised faces, due to the nature of his work as proprietor of some of the city’s best loved eateries. Most days, he interacts with the city’s residents and a network of friends who regularly stop by his restaurants in pursuit of the healthy, wholesome food that has established him as one of the friendliest — and most fashionable — chefs around town.
Atelier September, the first café he opened, is minimalist in design but buzzy in atmosphere. The vegetarian menu focuses on classics like avocado on rye bread, which is often referred to as the best on the planet by visiting New Yorkers and Londoners – two groups not unfamiliar to the now-ubiquitous dish. The light-filled restaurant has also become home to Copenhagen’s stylish leaders, from local Instagram queen Pernille Teisbaek to set designer Ana Kraš, as well as Bille Brahe’s supermodel girlfriend Caroline Brasch Nielsen and his jewellery designer sister Sophie Bille Brahe.
However, prior to launching his restaurants, Bille Brahe had a few different incarnations. For starters, he cooked alongside Noma founder René Redzepi, and trained in London and Paris. Becoming frustrated with the culture of fine dining, he then set aside the knives and made a move into in the music industry, running an independent record label and performing as a DJ. Soon however, he was forced to face his fate. “I was longing for an alternative creativity but I realised that the lifestyle of nightclubs and that scene wasn’t good,” he reflects. He realised that cooking was his true calling, but decided to approach it with a fresh lens. “All the things I was doing in life and all the things that were driving me, whether it was art or music, I realised that those things needed to become a part of my practise instead of taking away from it.”
With a recharged focus, Bille Brahe opened Atelier September. “I always say that fine dining is a little bit like the airport — only businessman love to go,” he says, laughing. “Whereas I would love the idea of Atelier September as a train station, where ordinary people can afford to go.” The components that make it are an open kitchen, airy space, flea market tables and furniture and healthy, accessible cuisine and encouraged social interaction.
By contrast, Bille Brahe’s other restaurant, Apollo Bar & Kantine, is more of a social enterprise than a Danish alternative to café culture. Based in the heart of the picturesque Academy of Fine Arts, the canteen serves an affordable vegetarian lunch to students and anyone else. “It is a community kitchen,” explains the chef. “And we see it as a development for how we can make nice, affordable food for other institutions in Denmark.” The bar, which is situated in the courtyard of the art college, is a low-key hotspot for Copenhagen’s night owls. Open till 2AM, the inside is small and cosy, with high ceilings, and the bar sprawls out onto the courtyard. In the summer, you’re just as likely to see Helena Christensen poised on one corner as you are local residents of the city, students or art collectors enjoying a drink al fresco.
When it comes to the city itself, Bille Brahe’s favourite neighbourhood is Frederiksstaden – the area surrounding the royal palace, built in the 18th century – for its Haussmann-inspired boulevards and stylish shops and restaurants. However, his favourite place to eat, that is not one of his own venues, is Morgenstedet: a macrobiotic vegetarian restaurant in Christiana, Copenhagen’s self-proclaimed anarchic island. The “morning place,” as it’s more commonly known, opens at lunchtime and offers organically produced dishes such as butternut squash and peanut stew, both with a kick of cayenne pepper, enjoyed with brown rice, romanesco broccoli salad, carrots, a side of light and creamy hummus, plus coconut, apple and red cabbage. All dishes are served from the counter and guests help out by clearing up their own plates.
Sartorially speaking, Bille Brahe doesn’t take himself too seriously. “Not being strict or boring” is a prerequisite to his style, as well as an almost obsessive predilection for blue — Bille Brahe is almost always wearing something in the colour. What he does look for in clothes, however, is a sense of tactility in his uniform wardrobe of sweaters and loose trousers. “Almost everything comes from the material,” he explains. “Everything I engage in has to have a high material quality, which doesn’t always mean it needs to be expensive.” For Bille Brahe, what’s important is combining different textures and materials – a practice he says is one that resonates with his approach to food, furniture and art.
PHOTOGRAPHER Duy Vo • WORDS BY Osman Ahmed