The Danish designer chooses a historic restaurant, full of personal memories, in his adopted US hometown as the venue for his hypothetical ‘farewell banquet’.
“When I moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1950, there weren’t many creative people here. But it was becoming a hub for architecture. A group of five architects, which included Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson, came from Harvard. I knew most of them, and I worked on some of their projects. They happened to come here, and they stayed because there was work to be done. People didn’t move here simply to design new houses; they moved because they liked it, and it’s an easy distance to New York. It didn’t change the culture of the entire town. Some residents built contemporary houses, but there was always an important sense of tradition. It did mean that people were paying more attention to architects and art exhibits.
This inn has been here forever, and is well known in the area. They have a wonderful Sunday brunch with eggs benedict. They also have wonderful lobster, and the gravlax is very good. I eat a lot of fish; it’s very Scandinavian. My favourite foods are lobsters, crabs, mussels and other fish. As a child in Denmark in the twenties and thirties, I remember eating with my parents. We didn’t eat too much meat, but the meat we ate was mostly Danish meat. That meant a lot of pork – what Denmark is famous for. We ate a lot of freshly caught fish. The fruits and vegetables that we ate back then were seasonal, but at that time we did get things like oranges and lemons from Spain. When I moved to America, I didn’t notice much difference with the food there. I ate pretty much the same as I had in Denmark. It’s been easy enough for me to eat Danish food as I’ve been married to two Danish girls!
I have a large family – four children, and 11 grandchildren. When we celebrate things, like my 95th birthday earlier this year, we like to have them all around. It’s rather morbid to think about my last meal, but I’m sure they would be here for it.
My wife Henny moved here to New Canaan from London in 1978, and we were married in 1979. In fact, we had our wedding lunch here at the Roger Sherman Inn back then, over 30 years ago. We used to do a lot of entertaining, both here in New Canaan, and at our summer home on Block Island, where my children and their families still holiday.
We had great parties, cooked up by Henny, but cleared up by us both. I tried to help Henny with the cooking. Three years ago, my daughter Peggy asked Henny to compile her old recipes. It included things like chicken scallopini and roast pork loin. All things that she used to make at home.
We moved [my furniture] manufacturing to Connecticut because of the wealth of buildings that became available. The area had been known for textiles, but the unions ended up moving the industry south where labour was cheaper, so there were all these old buildings left. We moved the factory up here in 1954. Living here, I could oversee everything, which was exactly what I wanted. That was very important to me – design and business go hand in hand.
Why did I come to America? Everyone asked me, what on Earth did I expect to do here? I said I really thought there was the possibility to set up an industry here for contemporary design. All the architects were my friends, and all the decorators were traditional. So it wasn’t the decorators who were interested in me, it was the architects. Whenever they had a job where they wanted good contemporary design, they would have to go to Copenhagen or Milan or London to find it.
When I moved here, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what it would become. I just had hope. All I could do was work hard, and select good co-workers. We had to work with factories used to doing traditional work, because that was all there was. We had to train a whole new group of workers about making furniture – they all trained with me. American design hasn’t changed that much.
It doesn’t matter to me if I’m classified as a Danish designer or an American designer. I would be doing exactly the same work if I hadn’t left Denmark because it’s about taste. Is taste national? People go to those individuals whose taste they like. The important thing for me was working closely with architects and interior designers. It’s about developing a need for a specific piece. No two designers will attack the same project in the same way and that’s a good thing. We developed a new industry and solved some problems with design.
What is design? It’s problem solving. It’s about the simple principles. That’s what I enjoy.”
As one of the first Danish furniture designers to move to the United States during the 1930s, Jens Risom was a key figure behind the development of mid-century modern design in America.
Born in Copenhagen.
Risom moves to New York after meeting the American ambassador to Denmark the year before.
Risom collaborates with Hans Knoll to develop a line of furniture.
1946 – 1972:
After returning from the Second World War, Risom founds Jens Risom Design (JRD). Initially focusing on residential furniture, JRD starts producing non-residential pieces in the late 1950s.
Risom founds Design Control in New Canaan and creates products for companies like Do-More and the Howe Furniture Company.
Ralph Pucci introduces a new line of Risom-designed furniture, including older designs and new pieces.
An important Connecticut landmark, the picturesque white clapboard building of the Roger Sherman Inn was constructed in the 18th century as a private home and is named after the state’s first US senator. The inn’s 17 rooms, large restaurant and private dining rooms make it popular with local residents.
195 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan, CT
Traditional chilled vichyssoise; pan-roasted king salmon with ratatouille, black olives, capers and oven-dried tomato dressing; white chocolate and pistachio crème brûlée
8 x 170g King salmon pieces
25g chopped fresh thyme
30g piment d’espelette
2 cloves chopped garlic
300g (each) diced red pepper, yellow pepper, courgette, yellow squash, peeled aubergine
400g over ripe fresh tomatoes
1.8ltr high quality tomato juice
35g black olives
100g oven-dried tomatoes in oil
250g (each) champagne vinegar, olive oil and blended oil
2 tsp chopped garlic
salt and pepper to taste
For ratatouille, sweat onions and garlic in a large pot.
Add peppers and cook for 1 minute. Quickly sauté courgette and yellow squash in olive oil. Add ingredients together, then repeat the same with the aubergine. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato juice and let simmer until vegetables are al dente.
Add the solid ingredients for the sauce into a blender, and blend to almost a puree. Then add the oils in a steady stream. If the sauce is too thick you can thin it out with some tomato juice.
Season salmon fillets with salt, pepper, piment d’espelette, and fresh thyme. Sear the salmon in a hot sauté pan to a golden brown, turning once. Cook in oven for 5 minutes. Heat the dressing in a pan, with olives and capers and serve with a chive garnish.