Glad to serve, mad about food

July 5th, 2011

This article is more than 13 years old.

Eco-gourmet café’s disabled culinary students cooking up a revolution in the community

Glad to serve, mad about food

‘Glad Mad’ is the name of an innovative culinary school for people with physical and mental disabilities. The name is Danish for ‘happy foodÂ’ – not an English description of emotional extremes – though creative outbursts are encouraged.

The culinary school is part of a remarkable organisation called TV-Glad that began in 1999 as the world’s first television station by and for mentally and physically disabled people, and with the guiding principle of fostering freedom of expression for everyone.

“Up the arse with correctness. LET THE CREATIVITY FLOW,” proclaims a blackboard message on the organisation’s main website.

Glad Mad’s leader, Søren Gericke, is a Danish chef and TV personality, known as much for his wildman antics and outbursts on camera, as for whipping up delicious, healthy meals.

At Glad Mad and TV-Glad, people with physical and mental disabilities are trained to do interesting jobs they are passionate about; jobs that allow them to express their individuality; jobs in the arts, media, design and gourmet kitchens; and jobs that people without handicaps would drool for.

“Everyone, including people with disabilities, wants to have a meaningful job and to live a meaningful life,” TV-Glad project manager Dorte Justesen told The Copenhagen Post. “So instead of focusing on care, we focus on developing skills that build self-confidence and create opportunities.”

One thing all Glad Mad and TV-Glad students have in common is a disability that makes learning and working more challenging. But the similarities end there. Some are challenged with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, deafness or blindness – like Güler Köcökkartal, a cooking student who cannot see. Others have learning disabilities such as autism and Down’s syndrome.

In addition to education and skill development, the TV-Glad Foundation focuses on creating revenue-generating business areas for physically and mentally disabled people through innovative social enterprises – businesses that use capitalist strategies to achieve specific social or environmental goals.

The foundation’s newest social enterprise is a designer cafe that serves up healthy, natural food and where everything from bread to sauces to desserts is made from scratch.

The menu changes daily, based on what’s fresh at the farmers’ market, but always features seasonal soups and sandwiches, a lunch/brunch buffet with naturally produced meats, fish and vegetables, a hand-crafted daily dinner special, and a ‘Daily Gericke’ – a special delicacy from Chef Gericke’s personal cookery book. Homemade desserts and muffins satisfy sweet tooths.

Café Glad is staffed by a mixed team of learning disabled students from Glad Mad and non-disabled and disabled professionals. It’s a regular business that provides the community with a high-quality product and service, but all the profits go back into the school.

Over the course of the three-year culinary programme, the students develop the skills they need for careers in restaurants, cafes, confectioneries, bakeries, catering and more. They braise, grill, roast and steam; chop, season and combine veggies and fruits; and learn how to choose the freshest and tastiest raw ingredients to prepare great food – always with an emphasis on what is fresh, local and eco-friendly.

The vocational programme also covers presentation, table-setting and service – the whole caboodle. Finally, there is a special focus and certification in professional hygiene and safety.

Café Glad is located at Biblioteket (‘The Library’) – the brand new cultural centre, library and municipal service centre (‘borgerservicecenterÂ’) that recently opened in Copenhagen’s Bispebjerg Nordvest neighbourhood.

It’s an area of Copenhagen that is more often associated with social problems than soufflés, and poverty than panini, but the new cultural centre and Café Glad are in the process of changing that.

The building itself is an exciting redesign of a 19th-century soap factory by the architecture firms COBE and TRANSFORM. COBE, which stands for ‘Copenhagen Berlin’, claims to specialise in architectural solutions for “complex urban conditions”.

That’s an accurate description of Bispebjerg NV, because the old working class neighbourhood has long been plagued by poverty and social problems, which earned it the sad post code nickname ‘2400 UnhappinessÂ’.

The city aims to see its nickname changed to ‘2400 Creative’ through an ambitious initiative covering everything from new green spaces to world-class cultural attractions. Biblioteket is the keystone in the holistic concept that integrates municipal services with cultural facilities to foster neighbourhood renewal.

“It’s a truly interesting area, with the opportunity for creative projects and businesses in the old factories and the emergence of a kind of new latin quarter – like we already see today in Vesterbro and Nørrebro and parts of Sundby,” Jan Lindboe, the leader of Kulturdiagonalen, the city’s initiative to stimulate and support Bispebjerg NV’s revitalisation, told The Copenhagen Post.

The area’s abundance of old factory buildings, small and cheap apartments suitable for students and singles, ethnic diversity, and more young people per capita than any other part of Copenhagen make up “the very cocktail” for a neighbourhood renaissance driven by creativity and culture, according to Lindboe.

Indeed, the city blocks around Biblioteket are home to a growing number of small, creative companies, artists and socially-minded organisations – Glad Mad and TV-Glad among them.

The stunning new Biblioteket has a soaring, light-filled interior with interesting and intimate stacked and cantilevered spaces, including a state-of-the-art performance theatre, a library with quiet study areas, sewing and screenprinting workshops, rooms for local council meetings, and a children’s ‘Book CaveÂ’ that will tempt the most serious adult to start climbing the stacks.

Lindboe calls the multi-purpose Biblioteket a “democratic laboratory”, and at its centre is the appealing Café Glad, nourishing the neighbourhood’s body and soul.

Ahead of BiblioteketÂ’s opening, there were other bidders interested in running the centreÂ’s food outlet, but  Café Glad proved to the city it was the best vendor to run the concession. A strong business plan and reputation for excellent food were necessary, but Justesen assumes that Cafe Glad’s philanthropic core helped tip the scales in its favour. “I think they chose us because of who we are,” she said.

Lindboe confirmed her suspicion. “They make delicious food, while giving Biblioteket a specific kind of social inclusivity,” he said. “It’s a good fit for the social profile we want to have.”

“At Café Glad physically and mentally disabled people play a prominent and distinctive role in the everyday running of the cultural centre,” Lindboe added. “It sends out a signal of diversity and inclusion – which is what we are all about.”

Marianne Kofod Hansen, the manager of Café Glad who is a Glad Mad cooking instructor, says the disabled students themselves play a big role in engaging neighbourhood residents in the new community dialogue that is cropping up in Bispebjerg NV.

“A lot of our guests are the library’s patrons – others are people who just come in from the neighbourhood looking for a good conversation. They definitely find it in here. Our students love to tell stories.”

It’s more than just professional skills the students learn at Café Glad, according to Hansen.

“It’s really demanding work. But they gain self-confidence from it and they grow a lot. Their perception of the world changes – they become very outgoing, confident and direct.”

On June 23, Jacob Linding Andersen, who has Down’s syndrome, became Glad Mad’s first professional culinary graduate. On graduation day, he had two different job offers – an enviable situation for any new graduate.

Ultimately, Andersen decided to accept a job offer from Café Glad itself, where he is now busy serving up glad fare to glad guests.


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