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Meet the maker: the oyster king of Denmark

In the waters off the tiny island of Venø, Kristian Borbjerggaard harvests wild oysters for the kitchens of Denmark’s finest restaurants. Discover the story behind his enterprise and the best spots to try shellfish in Copenhagen.

By Justine Gosling
Published 6 Jan 2021, 08:00 GMT
Kristian was only 16 when he spotted a gap in the market and decided to make his living ...

Kristian was only 16 when he spotted a gap in the market and decided to make his living off shellfish. Eight years later, he's responsible for 80% of all the homegrown oysters consumed in Denmark, supplying many of the country’s top Michelin-starred restaurants.

Photograph by Getty Images

Located in Limfjorden, in the north of Jutland, Venø is reachable only by car ferry. In 2012, it’s population of around 200 people declined their government’s offer of a bridge, in order to protect it from further human interference.

The waters around the island are home to a large wild population of European flat oysters. These are rounder and flatter than the non-native, craggy, teardrop-shaped Pacific oysters that were introduced to the area in the 1980s. They’re also firmer and, arguably, have a stronger, creamier taste. These oysters represent Kristian Borbjerggaard’s livelihood, but he doesn’t farm them. Kristian’s oysters grow wild — and once they’re harvested, he simply restocks the waters with oyster spat that’s produced in his company’s organic hatchery.

Kristian is the third generation of his family to work in Venø’s fishing industry, and says he never considered any other career. When he was 12, his dad let him try his first European oyster, which he admits he found “disgusting”. He knows better now. “If you don't enjoy the taste of your first oyster, eat 100 and you’ll learn to love them,” he says, admitting he still eats about 25 a week.

Kristian was only a teenager when he spotted what he felt was a gap in the market, and decided to make his living off shellfish, and oysters in particular. He launched his business aged 16, funding it with the wages from his job as a sales assistant in an electrical shop on the mainland. By the time he was 18, Kristian had built up enough stock and customers to go full time, but challenges remained. “I used to have to lie about my age when speaking to restaurants I wanted to sell to,” he explains. “They didn't know about my upbringing and assumed I was too young to know anything. But they all respect me now.”

These oysters represent Kristian Borbjerggaard’s livelihood, but he doesn’t farm them. Kristian’s oysters grow wild — and once they’re harvested, he simply restocks the waters.

Photograph by Justine Gosling

Today, aged 23, Kristian produces 80% of all the homegrown oysters consumed in Denmark, while supplying many of the country’s top Michelin-starred restaurants. Such is demand, he’s nothing left to export and is currently expanding his facilities to increase capacity. Last year he produced 1.3 million oysters. “I see the pride in my dad’s eyes when we’re packing up a big order together,” he says. “He's an old-school Danish fisherman so would never say the words, but I see it.” 

Despite the abundance of oysters that grow on their shores, the Dane’s aren’t huge lovers of the food, but this is slowly changing. “My goal is to get us to eat more of our own oysters, rather than importing inferior produce all the way from France,” he explains. “We’re getting there.”

Kristian has ambitions to have more people come to Venø to enjoy the island’s nature and see where the oysters come from. He plans to build cabins for guests to stay in, and to set up tours of the facilities. Overall, he hopes this ancient food will one day put his tiny island on the world’s gastronomical map and draw foodies from all across Europe. And if he succeeds, maybe Venø will need that bridge after all.

Three of the best places to find oysters in Copenhagen

Hav Torvehallerne
Located in Copenhagen’s very Instagrammable produce market, Hav Torvehallerne offers a range of fresh delights from the sea to take home — alternatively, take a seat and sample its wares at Hav2Go restaurant.

Kødbyens Fiskebar
A former Noma protégé, Anders Selmer has created a much lauded and reasonably priced fish restaurant in edgy Kødbyen, Copenhagen’s former meatpacking district. Very popular with locals.

Restaurant Jordnær
Jordnær is an unpretentious two-Michelin-starred seafood restaurant around six miles north of Copenhagen. 

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