18: On Grace and Onion Tarts
Some post-Thanksgiving musings, and how Mathias Silberbauer came to make the most naked of pissaladières
As you may have heard, Thanksgiving was past week, and although I haven’t lived in the US in a long time, I still celebrate it with a big, traditional dinner that has a way of consuming the better part of the days immediately before and after. Which, in addition to being my excuse for why so much time has lapsed between this issue of Bord and the previous one, also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the difference between those of us who do this occasionally for (more or less) fun and the rest of you, the professionals, who do it most every night.
That’s because I had some help this year in the form of guests who also just happened to be some of the best in the industry at what they do. There was Kat, who arrived the day before and not only julienned the leeks with surgical precision and talked me off the ledge when the pecan pie came out ever so slightly burnt, but cheerfully cooked me breakfast and picked up guests at the train station and was just an all-around nurturing presence. There was Emma, who swooped in a couple of hours before the meal started, radiantly bearing the best bread and butter and wine, and though she was until that moment a Thanksgiving virgin, carved the turkey with confidence and aplomb. There was Riccardo who magically kept everyone’s glasses filled and taught me how to ladle soup without dripping, and Donaldo who perfectly sauteed the brussels sprouts and Martin who made the gravy I (almost!) forgot.
It made me think about grace. It’s a word we often attach to movement, and indeed, at a lot of fine dining restaurants, servers are taught to move gracefully through the dining room, sometimes even by professional ballerinas. But true grace is a lot more than just that. The German philosopher Friedrich Schiller described it as greater than beauty: a well-formed body or pretty landscape or symmetrical face, after all, are just the result of nature and/or good luck. But grace requires human determination; it is, he wrote, “the expression of a beautiful soul in willful movement.” The key word there is ‘willful’: those with grace choose to bring this lovely interior part of themselves to the surface, where the rest of us can bask in it.
I think that kind of grace often goes unrecognized in a restaurant; it’s an underground current that, if it’s noticed at all, gets lumped under the general heading of good service. But there was something about the unfamiliar setting--watching all these professionals on Thanksgiving, doing what they do with skill and knowledge and warmth and calm, but doing it outside of their restaurants, simply because it is an expression of who they are—that reminded me of what a profound gift grace is. And how lucky the rest of us are that restaurants exist so that, every now and then, we get a glimpse of it.
I definitely felt lucky at Silberbauers Bistro, where the Larses and I had our most recent editorial meeting. Mathias Silberbauer wanted to create the kind of restaurant that is common in France, with simple, soul-satisfying food and wine, and little ornamentation. But in Copenhagen, there’s something almost radical about this idea, especially the presentation of classic dishes without unnecessary adornment, or really any adornment at all. Witness Silberbauers’ pissaladière, which comes to the table simply as what it is: a slice of onion tart. The story, below.
Oh, and since it’s that time of year, remember you can always give a subscription to Bord as a gift.
Thanks for reading,
MISE: Silberbauers’ Pissaladière
There is perhaps no one in Copenhagen more bemused by the outsized success of Silberbauer Bistro’s pissaladière than Mathias Silberbauer himself. Pissaladière is,