Nikolaos Strangas - The Pastry Chef
Meeting Niko, and visiting his shop was such a treat to both my taste buds and my curiosity. I have been going to his shop for years for the occasional treat, and really admire his courage when it comes to presenting something that the market is not focused on. He presents delicate, yet pungent flavours that are not necessarily very sweet, in perfectly shaped and decorated cakes and macarons. While this, for self-confessed francophiles like myself is absolutely sublime, it is not a perfect match with the Danish market.
Knowing that he has worked at Era Ora (a Michelin restaurant in Copenhagen), the look of his beautiful desserts were no surprise to me. The flavours are fruity, and always has a good combination of sweet and sour notes. They are basically perfect, and minimalistic in the best sense of the word. This also goes for his little boutique, and although it might attract attention because of it being so wonderfully different, he says that “The problem with us from the start has been with the communication, to say that this is something different, and in a way to educate then in terms of flavours. They need to learn, they need to taste it. Flødebolle, I think is the sweetest thing in the whole universe. But they think that’s not sweet. They think the macarons are sweet. They have grown up with the flødebolle, it’s like it’s in their DNA.”
Coming from working for Era Ora for seven years transitioning to starting his own business at the same time, must have been quite challenging and he underlines that when he started up he was by no means a business man. He was a pastry chef and had to learn how to be a business man along the way.
The first time I came to his boutique, I was surprised to find that his macarons were quite different from the French. They are not bad compared to Ladurée, but they are filled with chocolate ganach and not the traditional French filling. They are not as colourful as the French either, but I really like how the flavours are a lot less perfumed, like they do it in Paris. One thing he sure does better than Ladurée is the caramel macaron, and it is the crown jewel of his collection of sweet indulgences. It is so incredible good that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after having my first one. It was the first macaron that I was actually crazy about (I actually never really cared much for macarons when I first tasted them). The only bad thing is that they are often sold out, because they are such a small pastry shop, and can’t produce to meet the demand.
10 things about Niko
NO.1 Went to pastry school in Greece! They only accept 25 chefs a year, and he got in on his third try.
NO.2 He describes working at the Michelin restaurant Era Ora as “an experience, an education, in so many ways.”
NO.3 He loves the coffee and caramel macarons, and the passion fruit cake from his own collection.
NO.4 What he loves making the most is plated desserts, and his biggest dream is to open a dessert restaurant.
NO.5 His favourite treat is nougat! And ice cream. He says I can’t even begin to understand how much he loves ice cream (I think I can..).
NO.6 His left arm is tattooed with sweet things, and he is planning to add an ice cream to the collection.
NO.7 He loves croissants the most when they come straight from the oven, because it’s within the first half hour it is the most crispy and buttery and delicious.
NO.8 The boutique only recently started to sell bread, and as he says . “bread is a priority in Denmark.” While people will rarely stop for cake on their way somewhere, they will stop for bread, and delicious Danish treats. Smart move. Huge, amazing treats!
NO.9 One of his ambitions is to open a second shop next year.
NO.10 To the question to why he became a pastry chef he answered that “Why not? It’s what women want. They want a sweet man. They want the men to make cakes!”.And while I laughed and said that there for sure is some truth to that (hint to guys who wants to date me) he added: “No, it is true, but it was a passion.”
After talking a lot about his history, business and ideas, we came to talk about the fact that we are both foreigners in Copenhagen. I’m from Norway, and he is from Greece. Niko moved to Copenhagen in 2002, and the way he describes being in Denmark is exactly how I feel about being away from my home country. He said that “I feel I’m in the middle, I’m not Greek Greek, and I’m not Danish. I’m here and I miss Greece, and I’m in Greece and I miss Denmark.” It is so weird that I, having moved such a short distance, can feel the exact same way about moving to a different country as he does. Niko laughed at me, and said he thought that there were no big cultural differences between Norway and Denmark, but although they might not be very clear or even visible at all (before you move countries), they are quite substantial. Moving from Greece must be such a huge transition, having a totally different culture, climate and traditions.
Niko is really sweet and funny, and I must say that I completely fell for the charm of the Greek hospitality. I ate delicious macarons for days after the interview, and was quite happy that it was weekend. I'm going to London, so this weekend I'll indulge on macaroons from Ladurée, but I'm going back to Niko for a salt caramel macaroni straight after! Have a wonderful weekend (soon)!