Feeding Britain’s Scandi love: Meet Adam Price, the Danish celebrity chef who created 'Borgen'
Who says a successful TV writer has to be single-minded? Susie Mesure on the celebrity chef behind Danish hit ‘Borgen’
Susie Mesure writes interviews, news and features for the Independent on Sunday, Independent and i, and has done for the last ten years or so give or take two lengthy maternity leaves. She is interested in just about any topic, especially anything Scandinavian, food, or consumer-orientated, and used to be the Independent’s Retail Correspondent
Sunday 10 November 2013
Adam Price, the creator of Borgen, is filming a cookery show in Florence. Of course he is! Not content with spawning possibly the world’s least likely hit series – a drama about Danish coalition politics that 75 countries have snapped up – it turns out that Price moonlights as a celebrity chef.
Said series, Spise med Price (Eat with the Prices), is in its seventh season, putting Borgen’s three to shame. Oh and by the way, the title rhymes. The name is Pri-se, not Price: if it helps, imagine Borgen’s heroine, Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, barking it to her spindoktor Kasper Juul.
The blond-quiffed Price, who shares the kitchen with his brother James, has taken the show on tour for its latest incarnation, hence the Florentine location.
“I’m standing in perhaps the most beautiful square in the world, the Piazza della Signoria,” he tells me down the phone, in near faultless English. “It’s where Helena Bonham Carter fainted after seeing a murder in A Room with a View.”
The filmic reference is crucial because Spise med Price owes much of its “weird, cult” popularity to its “black humour” mixed with a liberal sprinkling of film associations, he says. Hence today’s episode, which saw them whip up Italian classics such as cantuccini and pappa al pomodoro, is called “A Meal with a View”.
Both the cooking and drama genes came from Price Snr, John, who was a famous Danish actor, theatre director, and, yes, a foodie, neatly combining in one package everything we Brits admire about the Danes. The English names are deliberate: his ancestors quit London for Denmark in the late 18th century. “I come from an old family of travelling actors; clowns,” he says. “Food was my father’s part-time job, or very important hobby. Everything was about food when we were growing up. We travelled to countries that were famous for their food and would visit special regions and special restaurants.” Like his father, Price also reviewed restaurants – before opening one of his own, that is. The brothers now own two; a second, in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens opened last year, quickly notching up guests such as Bill Clinton.
Despite admitting that many Danes know him more for his cooking, Price insists that writing is his “first and proper job”. It certainly wins him plaudits; only last month, he was in Sydney picking up a major award for Borgen, which returns to British screens this Saturday for its third and final season. And yes, he is sure it’s the last. “There’s a natural ending to the story,” he says tantalisingly. “Even though we really love the characters and it was sad to say goodbye, it’s a nice feeling that something ended when it was still well-received and we hope it will be missed.” That much is a given considering the show defied all expectations to become a global sensation. An “astonished” Price says that, at best, he thought Sweden and Norway might buy Borgen “out of brotherly love”. The upshot of Borgenmania is that Price is shortly off to LA to consult on a US remake, a joint HBO/BBC Worldwide project. Then it’s back here to work on a new political drama with Michael House of Cards Dobbs for the BBC. And no, he won’t be drawn on more details.
Until then, fans should savour the last 10 Borgen instalments. That they even exist is a tribute to Price and his “boy band” of writers, namely himself, Tobias Lindholm and Jeppe Gjervig Gram. “It’s very rare to get the opportunity for more than two series because we’re a small country and we have a small drama production.” He was ready to call it a day after – spoiler alert – Nyborg called an election at the end of the 20th episode and, indeed, says they had always planned for that to be the show’s final scene.
But given the green light to continue the story, they decided to have a little fun and ask, “What if she loses?” “We wanted to challenge ourselves and see how such a ‘heroic’ character would react to defeat,” Price says, explaining why the action opens a few years after the election.
Without giving too much away, there are other surprises in store: not least because Price was joined for the first time by two female writers. This was out of necessity, both logistically – Lindholm is busy directing movies and Gram is working on his own new series for DR, Denmark’s state broadcaster – and, he claims, narratively. “There is one episode specifically, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to, that would have been very difficult for a man to write. In fact, if only men had written it, it would have been the subject of great criticism.”
I’m agog, but he doesn’t want to ruin the plot, so instead we discuss the virtues of that strong female lead. He says he wanted to write about “sacrifice” and he felt it would be “more painful” to see a woman struggle with the “very, very big price tag” that came with the biggest job of all, prime minister. “She loses her husband, daily contact with her children, her sex life, her freedom.”
As he notes, it’s novel to see women fail those they love quite so spectacularly. “Men have had 10,000 years’ experience of letting down our children, our wives, our family [in order] to wage wars, build empires. We’ve seen men sacrifice everything that was important in their private lives.”
Price recalls a meeting with Denmark’s current PM, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, back when she was the leader of the Social Democrat Party, before she got the top job. “She actually quoted the then new Danish PM, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who said in an interview: ‘If the wife and kids see me once or twice a week, it will be fine’. She said, it was quite funny [because] ‘If I become prime minister I’ll never be able to give an interview like that because women would say I’m a bad mother and a bad wife’.”
I’m left feeling bad that I didn’t grill him more regarding how he feels about leaving his own young child behind in Denmark while travelling the globe – he has a five-year-old and an 18-year-old – although I’m guessing he’s accepted it’s just the price (no pun intended) he has to pay for his own success.
Politics isn’t the only 24/7 job out there.
The third and final series of ‘Borgen’ begins on Saturday 16 Nov, 9pm on BBC4. The box set release follows on 16 Dec from Arrow Films
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