Copenhagen’s meatpacking district is tucked away just south of Tivoli Gardens. It used to operate as its intended use during the day before giving way to an underworld of illegal drug use and prostitution once the sun went down.
In the very practical way that Danish society seems to operate, the area has been rejuvenated or gentrified, depending on how you look at it, into an area teeming with nightlife. The restaurants cater to those who want to eat with music blaring in their ears and those who have a little more money. The bars are open late and the tables are spread out on the concrete where the trucks made their way between pickups and deliveries.
Tucked away behind the main square of restaurants and drinking establishments is the kitchen of Morten Kryger, better known as Cykelkokken, or bicycle chef.
20 years ago Morten was in a park in Copenhagen with his friends. They placed a grill on the ground and started barbecuing. Just as the food was almost done, a police officer approached and demanded that they move. “But the food?” Morten and his friends protested.
The police officer didn’t care. They had to move. So Morten and a friend carefully lifted the barbecue with the accompanying embers and loaded it onto one of their cargo bikes. They toured the city while their food was still cooking and marveled at the novelty of such a thing. Meals on wheels had taken on a new meaning.
That was the spark of the idea. Why not combine food and cycling? In a city like Copenhagen it made sense.
To explain exactly what Cykelkokken does, it is a part of the Copenhagen City Tour by Bike, a part of the Copenhagen City Tour for Cuisine. Morten loads up his modified cargo bike equipped with a fully functional kitchen and serves treat after treat to his customers. The goal is for them to walk away with an idea of what a Copenhagen-ite means.
People live well in Denmark. The prep kitchen where I’m talking to Morten is filled with delicious ingredients, shelf after shelf of meticulously organized equipment, and a young kitchen help beginning to prepare the dishes for the evening’s reservation. The guests of the week and appointments are dangerously scrawled in different colored markers on the sink.
A few meters from Morten’s kitchen there is a soup kitchen that still serves the homeless of the city who pass through these parts. Opposite is a very trendy upstart restaurant, typical of the area’s rejuvenation. But for Morten, it seems to be more important that his space business sits alongside the have-nots than another gastronomic trendsetter from Copenhagen. He wants what he does to feel part of the whole city, to combine the streets with good wine and good food and the high standard of living that many Danes have.
“We bring together a lot of people from all walks of life,” explains Morten. “We have some people with a lot of money coming in and I am very happy to bring them to the meatpacking district because they never come here.”
Now about the bike. Away from Morten’s kitchen, in the shed next door, is his storeroom. As we walk in, there’s music blasting from a hi-fi, more storage racks reaching up to the rafters, and a floor littered with different models of cargo bikes. It is effectively a museum for the machine and Morten is an avowed collector. In the corner, next to the heavy wooden doors that alcoholics on the other side urinate against (and which Morten hopes to eradicate before turning this room into a cargo bike display for patrons) is the first model of the kitchen for bikes.
On the bike is a four-burner stove, with heavy wooden cabinets underneath. Towed behind is a sink and more storage space.
20 years later and through constant tinkering (meticulous problem solving seems to be a Dane habit), Morten has now come up with a bike model that is much more efficient and inspires even more curiosity than its original model.
For Covid it became much simpler to give everyone their own glass and cutlery. Morten lowers a heavy container with countless metal cans. Excited, he shows me how he has produced individual sets for each person on tour. When he comes up with a new solution to a problem, he reignites the passion he felt when he first thought of the idea.
The gas cooker is much more stable now and can be covered. Wooden tables rise on both sides on which dishes can be placed. Utensils are secured by rubber bands. Open a drawer in his grandmother’s house, Morten says, and the first thing you’ll find are rubber bands. That served as the inspiration for their bike kitchen, where they are a “fixer.”
Two wooden chopping boards fit neatly in front of the handlebars and can be removed for use wherever needed. Napkins, a bike pump, and a bottle of hand sanitizer sit neatly in front of the fork. When Morten demonstrates how he can cover food and keep it cooking while he drives, he succinctly slides the metal lid off a shelf next to the seat post. He can hear how he fits properly into his intended position. The kind of satisfaction and fulfillment that can only be achieved from a neatness in which things go in the exact place where they should be.
How heavy is the bike?
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Morten replies. “It’s like the saying, a bumblebee doesn’t know how big he is, otherwise he would never fly.”
If bicycles had three or four wheels instead of two, they would be less flexible, but anyone could ride them. It also wouldn’t be in keeping with the tradition of cargo bike culture, which isn’t something Morten seems willing to budge on.
“I can’t have you riding one tomorrow,” says Morten. “You need a full season with me and then I feel comfortable sending you.”
Morten admits that he quite likes that it is such a difficult skill to learn, so apparently only the most dedicated and passionate, like himself, will join him in his endeavor.
What is almost as difficult as riding a bike, he says, is learning how to be a good host. The bike tours last around four and a half hours for between 8 and 25 people (for larger groups, two kitchen bikes accompany the tour) and cover 4.5 km of route.
Five dishes are served in the city. Welcome drink, starter, three more dishes on the way and dessert and coffee. It costs around £100 for lunch and a bit more for dinner. You can rent it for just two people, Morten whispers, but it will cost you a lot more than that. As already mentioned, the tour starts in the meatpacking district and ends at Svajerbar, a shipping container turned eating space that can also be used earlier in the tour if the Copenhagen weather doesn’t play ball ( which can happen quite often) and Morten reckons there isn’t a part of Copenhagen that his tours haven’t touched.
“It’s not street food, but we like to cook on the street,” says Morten, who predates the street food boom by quite a few years.
“We like to be among everything and come with the positivism that the bicycle brings. We can’t be mad at a bike. The bicycle itself is an instrument that creates positivity. And a happy guy on top cooking? I mean, what’s not to like?
Could it work somewhere else?
“Yes, and I think it would be a revelation for other cities,” he says. Yes. He takes this concept elsewhere. We have.”
“We have done it in Paris. It was a pre-launch of the Tour de France.”
They packed a couple of kitchen bikes into a van and drove them west to the French capital, as they had when the Tour came to Copenhagen and Morten’s was booked for events after each stage of the Danish Grand Start.
“In Paris, we cooked at the embassy and then we had a day off where we took over the kitchens and walked around Paris with some guests and found some super nice places.”
And did you know where you were going beforehand?
“No no no.”
For Morten it’s all about adventure. Whether it’s on a bike, through food or meeting new people. When I leave we shake hands and we also give a high five.
“One thing,” he says. “Those photos you took of the kitchen bike racks in storage? Could you delete them?
After 20 years of work and love, he has created something beautiful, whose continued integrity is as important now as it ever has been.