Danes do it better

Blond-cateringPersonalised service and a commitment to quality are integral to the success of Blond Catering. Mitchell Oakley Smith meets an excellent Danish export.

If you were asked to describe Danish food, could you? Perhaps it’s the tyranny of distance, but Australians don’t tend to know very much about Nordic cultures, and what we do know is largely with thanks to Australian-born Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark. But as Jesper Hansen says, Australians are willing to try just about anything. “It’s like a blank sheet of paper because Australians aren’t afraid to try something new,” says the founder and executive chef of Blond Catering. “The Danish are pretty set in their ways when it comes to food—they like their potatoes, meat, gravy—but that’s not the case here.
At the events we cater, Australians aren’t scared to try dill-cured salmon, or marinated herrings, because it’s such a multicultural country with so many different food styles on offer.”

All that said, Nordic-style food is currently experiencing a moment of popularity. Noma, the world’s most famous restaurant, is opening a pop-up at the Barangaroo site in Sydney this coming January. And, as Hansen adds, it’s not all that different to modern Australian cooking. “My heritage is very similar to what Australians have started doing, which is going back to the basics and concentrating on really good produce, really good meats and seafood, and not doing too much with them.
If you get high-end product, you don’t need to throw in lots of chilli or spices or anything else.” With appearances on SBS television program Food Safari, and inclusion of his famous gravlax in the show’s namesake recipe book, he has helped to bring Danish cuisine to
a broader audience.

It’s perhaps for this reason that since launching his business in 2008, Blond Catering has risen to become one of Sydney’s leading corporate caterers. Hansen first came to Australia in 2001 on a working holiday visa and, as he explains, “fell so much in love with the country and the people and the food and the weather and the atmosphere.” He subsequently emigrated here
a year later. Back in Denmark, he’d worked as a chef in some of the country’s most famous restaurants, including at Tivoli Gardens, the celebrated Copenhagen amusement park, and ran his own summer restaurant in the coastal resort town of Hornbæk. Locally, he was responsible for the running of several high-profile catering companies before establishing Blond Catering following increasing demand from private clients, including the Royal Danish Consulate-General.

Running a catering business is, according to Hansen, incredibly different from a standalone restaurant, allowing for a greater planning process. “When you have a restaurant you have to be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days per week, and you have the rush period for each sitting,” he explains. “With catering, you can really concentrate on the one event and build up to it, to make sure that everything is perfect.” Hansen and his team spend time discussing in great depth the details of each project with the client. “It’s everything from the flower arrangement to the waiters to the perfect dinnerware,” he says. “It’s like a love affair, a slow build-up that you nurture for weeks, and so you have a little more time to get
it completely right.”

It’s this level of personalised service that Hansen believes is key to Blond Catering’s success. “You can’t just say to a client, ‘This is my menu, take it or leave it.’ You need to spend time with them to find out what they really want, because each one is different. I think it’s important to tailor a menu for their specific event—whether they want a classical sit-down lunch or casual canapes. Being flexible really is key, and I think that’s why we have gained so many clients that continue to book us. It’s about being small enough to care about the details and big enough to execute them.” That approach has seen Hansen serve a number of famous diners, from Princess Mary to every Australian Prime Minister since his business began.

“I don’t want to be the biggest caterer in Sydney, I just want to be the best.”—Jesper Hansen, Blond Catering

It’s certainly a far cry from the humble beginnings of Blond Catering in 2008. “Back then it was just me, and so
I picked up the phone, did the quotes, managed the finances, did the cooking, would drive to the event, serve the food, and come back and do the washing up.” Today, his team numbers around 15 and fluctuates with the changing of seasons and around larger events. But despite not personally managing each detail of the business anymore, he makes it his duty to be across all aspects of it, recognising the important link that exists between the administrative and culinary sides of the business.

Does he see more growth for Blond Catering? Despite a move in 2010 to its current premises in the Austral Bricks Design Studio, Marrickville, Hansen foresees the business outgrowing the space in the new year. “We’re looking at a bigger kitchen, bigger cool rooms, more cars. I do want it to grow. That said, I don’t want to be the biggest caterer in Sydney, I just want to be the best.” In late October, Blond Catering earned that mantle for the nation, picking up the Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering HOSTPLUS Caterer of the Year award. But rather than taking a break to celebrate, Hansen believes the accolade comes with great responsibility. “I really have to step it up now and make sure everything is perfect,” he says. “When people book the winner, they expect a winning meal and a winning experience. I’m honoured to win the award, and it’s a pat on the back for my team and I, but for now it’s about getting straight back to work.”

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