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Bringing hygge to the world

Danish chef, writer and activist Trine Hahnemann is at the House of Scandinavia in Austin to spread the concept of hygge and help visitors appreciate the art of the open sandwich.

Your book Scandinavian Comfort Food delved into the spirit of hygge. To the outsider, how much of a role does it play in daily life?
Hygge is that little pause in your day – five minutes to take coffee break, get a candle out and relax with friends or with colleagues. It’s important and it’s special because it is an everyday thing. It’s no coincidence that hygge is so big right now. People have become unsure about the world and they want to cling on to things that can give a little sense of assurance. You can’t buy hygge, it’s an egalitarian thing. It’s about celebrating the small things you can do that makes life nice.

The Danes find it weird that it has become known as a trend though. We use the word 10-20 times a day, it’s so ingrained in our society. Going to a fancy restaurant isn’t hygge, we like things to be a little anarchistic. Even if the outside world stops talking about it, it won’t go away in Denmark.

Speaking of society, you grew up in a commune in Copenhagen. How did it affect you?
Mainly that I grew up with a big sense of social responsibility. It’s ingrained in you that you’re not just responsible for yourself, but for a community. I loved the whole thing about cooking with everyone, lots of people coming together and eating every night, discussing things over the table.

Noma co-founder Mads Refslund has a pop-up restaurant here at the House of Scandinavia. How did the success of that restaurant open doors for Danish cuisine?
It has been an enormous help, both for Copenhagen and Denmark. Before Noma there was so little available. People come to Noma and they stay a while, visit other places, learn about the city. It was also important in that it was one of the first restaurants at that level not to have tablecloths, the chef came out to talk to guests as an equal, that really made it special, very Danish, much more easy going.

Tell us about your latest project.
I have recently opened a huge space called Hahnemanns Køkken. It is a food and event space where we can cook, hold discussions and there is a cookery school, where we prepare organic food and teach people why it has to cost more to eat that way. It’s a business, but it’s all about creating a discussion about where we need to go as a society. I’ve managed to bring everything under one roof which has been a dream of mine for years. Opening up such a business is a lot of hard work, but I’m really excited about it.

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