Denmark’s best baker is a Nepali

This first episode of the new Nepali Times series Home Abroad tells the story of a Nepali engineer-turned-baker in Copenhagen

All photos courtesy of: SANJIV GIRI

On Tuesday, Nepali Sanjiv Giri came second as he tried to defend his crown as the Best Baker in Denmark, which he won in 2022. 

He also holds separate titles for the best baguette and the best cake in the Scandinavian country. All this was no cake walk in a country that gave us the ‘Danish’ and takes baking rather seriously. So how did a Nepali end up as a top baker there? 

Giri has baked his entire adult life, working at some of the best bakeries in Copenhagen as well as studying the craft in Paris. Last month, he opened Maison d’Brød (House of Bread) in Charlottenlund in the greater Copenhagen area. 

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“I have dreamt of running my own bakery my whole life,” Giri, 39, told us on the phone from Copenhagen. He works 18 hours a day starting at 2AM to prepare the dough for breads, croissants, baguettes, and pastries. Word of mouth helps, and there are customers galore. 

“The bakery is in a residential area right now, and a lot of our customers are older. So I will keep our products pretty basic,” says Giri over the phone as we catch him on his off day. But even then, he was planning to check out new machinery at the store.

Pastries at Maison d'Brod

Before starting out on his own, Giri was Head Baker at Andersen Bakery in Copenhagen, and had already gained a lot of experience and accolades, but was looking for a new challenge. 

It all started over two decades ago in Kathmandu when Giri signed up for training at the Chef’s Association of Nepal. Initially, he tried his hand with Indo-Chinese cuisine and even banquet catering in Nepal, but liked neither. Once he was introduced to baking, the trajectory of his career, and his life, changed.  

Giri was also studying engineering at the time, but his heart was not in it. “I did poorly in my exams, and decided I couldn’t fail in all areas of my life,” recalls Giri. It helped that his uncle was a chef and his family was supportive. 

Giri then got into a ‘learn and earn’ program at Soaltee Crowne Plaza in Kathmandu, where he also worked in the bakery department of Sky Chefs, preparing airline meals with access to a kitchen with cutting edge baking equipment. 

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He joined a 12 person group that went to Doha in 2006 to work in baking, even though he did not particularly enjoy the gig. It was 2010, when Giri moved to Denmark with his wife, who was studying there. Jobs for formally untrained bakers were difficult, and he had to contend with a part-time apprenticeship.

Giri finally enrolled into a baking and food preparation course at the Zealand Business College in Denmark. While this was usually a work-study type of course that would last for four-and-half years, Giri had already amassed significant working experience and was able to sprint through the coursework in 18 months. He earned the highest mark, 12, on all of his papers. He got a silver medal from the Danish Queen in the city hall. 

More pastries at Maison d'Brod

On the recommendation of Copenhagen’s Baker’s Guild and his college, Giri was then awarded the AP Moller Foundation’s 100,000 Danish kroner grant for young craftsmen, the equivalent of Rs1.9 million. 

“At this point, I considered going to the US, but I wanted to refine my baking even more,” recalls Giri. So he continued his education by joining in the Advanced Boulanger course at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, among the best cooking schools in the world.

This coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic which allowed him to focus completely on his studies. Before long he had mastered the making of baguettes and croissants. 

In France, he learned about the intricacies of time and temperature, and he has amassed so much experience the he can tell what went wrong with a failed item just by looked at it. “If you overproof dough in the rising stage, your bread turns out flat. If you underproof it, your bread will be raw. If you’re making croissants you can’t take the dough above the melting point of butter -- 26॰C. You need to monitor the temperature of everything,” he explains.

Giri credits discipline, curiosity, and passion to his mastery of the craft. He believes in doing things by the book to consistently achieve good results. He relentlessly tests himself by trying out recipes he finds in books or on the internet. 

“You need to be able to translate the skills you have acquired,” says Giri. “Having a passion for baking is most important, as succeeding in this business means long work hours that take a large toll on your body.” 

Relationships suffer too. “From 2010-2017 I did not have a social life, and I never get to spend a lot of time with my kids,” adds Giri.

Croissants, which are one of Giri's favorite things to make

Ideas for new recipes come to Giri at various locations. Sometimes it’s when he needs to make themed products as per the season or holiday. Usually, it takes a lot of trial and error to create a new product, and he remembers a pumpkin-cake filled croissant that was an instant hit among customers. 

Another one of Giri’s creations, a mousse cake that combines apple, creme fraiche and the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu, won him a competition for the best cake in Denmark in 2022. In 2021, he won another competition for the best baguette in the country.  

After years of carving a name for himself in Denmark, Giri wants to open a baking school in Nepal and pass on his mastery to a new generation of bakers back home. It may not be long before we have a Maison d’Brød in Kathmandu. 

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Vishad Onta


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