An experienced chef, sommelier and restaurateur by the age of 30, Johann Duedahl Jacobsen has used plenty of Scandinavian savvy to promote the global natural wine movement, combined with using organic and sustainable ingredients at Ancestrale wine bar and restaurant in Copenhagen.

Your Instagram profile has the hashtag ‘vinvivant’ prominently displayed in the bio – why is that word important to you?
Nothing added, nothing removed is the best definition for what ‘vin vivant’ means in wine production in my opinion. Wine that is alive, contrary to what you pick off the shelf in a supermarket. It’s basically as nature intended – no pesticides or chemicals are used on the vines, plus no added yeast or filtration methods are used in the cellar.

How did growing up on a rural Danish farm shape who you are in 2020?
My hometown, Bøjden, 200km southwest of Copenhagen only had three shops – a butchery, bakery and pizzeria – you had to travel 10 kilometres to get anything else. We farmed pigs, ate only meat and carbs and that’s all I knew. My first job was washing dishes at the butchery three times a week after school, and at 15 I enrolled in chef school in Svendborg – where a whole new world opened before my eyes.

After graduating, you were a waiter at Le Sommelier, the grand dame of Copenhagen’s French restaurants – how did that experience contribute to your culinary journey?
It’s an appropriately named establishment because it has the biggest wine list in the city. I learnt a lot there and most significantly joined the Danish Sommelier Association – and passed their test! I was also overworked and underpaid [laughs] and left to join a wine bar.

Is that where you learnt another part of the hospitality industry – hosting, or ‘working’ a room?
Absolutely, the owner at Ved Stranden 10 (where I worked for two years) was an incredibly charismatic man – he could laugh, argue, even shout with (and at) customers, but always landed up hugging them on the way out. Just by watching him, I learnt lot of how a business owner has to actively engage with his or her customers in the wining and dining industry.

And this would all culminate in opening your own establishment?
Towards the end of 2016 myself and two partners – that all shared the same vision of how we wanted to present our product to the hospitality industry in Denmark – came together to open Ancestrale in February 2017. It was about changing the things that we didn’t like in our previous jobs, taking inspiration from things we’d seen on travels that we did like, and create something for ourselves. There wasn’t a specific ‘epiphany moment’, just the luxury to try something that was organic and sustainable which could contribute to good health and a cleaner environment. There is no wine menu at Ancestrale. We engage with guests, asking what their preferences are and what they are in the mood for, then make suggestions based on our expertise and current stock. It’s a real labour of love.

Tell us how the name Ancestrale came about?
The name pays homage to the philosophy we follow of simple Danish principles: natural, organic and sustainable – all served with authenticity. Methode Ancestrale is derived from the French winemaking technique that involves bottling wine partway through fermentation which traps carbon dioxide to create a gentle, carbonation of bubbles. The wine is not filtered and no dosage (sugar) is added and is therefore considered more ‘natural’ than other wine styles.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in the kitchen?
If you arrive on time, you’re actually already late. If your shift starts at 10am, you arrive at 09:45 and are all settled in and ready to work at 09:55.

How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will alter the hospitality industry?
Here in Denmark we’ve basically lost our whole spring and summer tourism trade. But one is forced to be optimistic and the strong will survive – they will adapt quicker and be more creative. I like this simple quote from Douglas McMaster* in this current climate: “Limitations breeds creativity.” We reopened on August 7 and were joyous (and grateful) to have so many regulars come back through our doors. (*McMaster is a British chef, restaurateur, and pioneer of the zero-food waste movement.)


What’s your most treasured possession? Probably my Cinelli bicycle, a fixed gear bike which I built myself.
What’s your favourite journey? A trip I took to Sicily in 2018 … the food, people and natural wines experience will live with me forever.
Who was your hero growing up? A sous chef I did my apprenticeship under at Holms restaurant in Middelfart (Denmark).
What’s the greatest ever TV show? Master of None and The Office (USA).
What will you never drink or eat? Malibu Rum! Or any mass-produced wine that lacks soul.
What do you never leave home without? I suppose I’m the stock-standard on this one: wallet, keys and phone.
Who or what do you learn from? I’ve learnt a lot from Instagram over the years; the ability to follow my peers in different countries, view new food combinations and pairings, discover new ‘clean’ wines and generally just immersing myself in the diversity of the platform.
What activity have you got better at with age? My understanding of other people, and why they act like they do.
What is your guilty pleasure? A classic beef burger. I only eat meat maybe five times a year – first choice is Tommi’s Burger Joint in the meatpacking district of Copenhagen. Probably paired with a German Riesling.
Your three rules for a happy life? Don’t compare yourself to others; believe in yourself; don’t worry too much about money.
What was the first record you ever bought? Something from Toy-Box when I was maybe eight-years-old, a Danish ‘bubblegum pop’ group.
What infuriates you? Arrogant and impolite people.
What’s your final meal? Fricassée – boiled or braised meat (I prefer chicken or veal) with a white sauce, tarragon and new potatoes with butter and parsley.
You leave tonight: What city, which band? Tokyo to see LCD Soundsystem (VIP tickets of course, please…)
Who would you like to be:
Sitting on a plane next to? Bradley Cooper, I enjoy his acting and presume he’s a genuine person.
Stuck in a lift with? Curtis Harding, so he can sing to me! And I want the scoop on when new material is being released.
Having dinner with (present or past)? Anthony Bourdain.

Ancestrale is located at Oehlenschlægersgade 12, Copenhagen, Denmark. / @ancestralebar

Interviewed by Barry Havenga for LNLA