Hygge at Home
Hygge is a Danish word describing a feeling of comfort, coziness and safety — kind of like giving yourself a big hug. It’s also the concept driving a Daniel Island-based business bringing vegan meal boxes and stunning gluten-free cakes to Charleston residents.
Nordic Cooking owner Louise Rakers launched her business in March, just before the pandemic began taking its toll on small startups. Rakers, who initially planned to solely focus on plant-based culinary classes for adults, found herself unsure of what to do following the shutdown.
“I couldn’t do that anymore, so it put me back to square one,” said Rakers, who started selling bread to Daniel Island residents to keep her new company afloat. “I told my mom, ‘You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you start selling sourdough.’”
But in a matter of weeks, things drastically changed for Nordic Cooking after Rakers started posting pictures of the all-vegan meals she was cooking at home on her Instagram page. Nordic Cooking followers quickly became curious about who was behind the picturesque plates and elegant cakes they saw online, Rakers said.
“It seriously took off so fast. All of a sudden, my phone was ringing all the time, and I had a huge client base,” she said.
Locals wanted to know how to get a plate of chipotle portobello tacos for their vegan daughter or an anniversary cake for their now-gluten-free wife. That’s when Rakers knew it was time to shift her business model.
Nordic Cooking is now made up of three components: private cooking classes, weekend meal kits and gluten-free cakes.
“We have those three legs, and all three seem to be doing pretty well,” she said. “I feel extremely grateful that my company took the turn it did whereas other companies took another turn.”
Rakers, who grew up in Denmark, found out she was gluten-intolerant in 2016, leading her to transition to a fully plant-based diet.
“I used to be a huge meat eater, and I slowly switched into the whole foods and felt so much better,” she said.
Rakers shared this passion for plants with the kids she worked with during her time as a social worker in Denmark, teaching them vegan cooking techniques and later bringing these plant-based cooking classes for kids to Spain in 2016. “I just saw the massive impact it had on these kids,” she said.
Rakers would have been content continuing to teach her classes in Spain, but love brought her to the United States, she said, where she reconnected with a high school boyfriend. Together, they decided to move to Charleston in 2018. After over two years in the Lowcountry, she’s found a way “to prove that just because it’s called gluten-free and plant-based doesn’t mean it’s boring.”
Nordic Cooking offers private cooking classes at its Daniel Island facility or in the comfort of locals’ homes, but most of Rakers’ time throughout the pandemic has been dedicated to the other two parts of the business — her gluten-free cakes and plant-based meal kits.
“I love cake — I’ve gotta be real — so I was so upset when I found out I had to live my life gluten-free,” said Rakers, describing the lack of flavor she found in most gluten-free cakes. “One day, I just created my own gluten-free flour because I thought that was the problem.”
It turns out, Rakers’ millet-based flour was the key to making a tasty gluten-free cake, and her eye-catching designs are helping her gain even more customers.
“I always sit down and sketch them out, especially if they’re wedding cakes,” she said. “It’s a big passion of mine to make them as beautiful as possible.”
Her meal kits, designed to feed up to three people for an entire weekend for just $85, are delivered on Fridays.
“I think it’s a shame that just because you call something vegan the price should go through the roof,” Rakers said. “I keep the price there on purpose because it’s important that I reach a bigger crowd.”
“We do a new menu every single week,” she added. “We don’t do vegan junk food — there’s enough of that around Charleston.”
Instead, the chef is delivering dishes like vegan Thai curry, jambalaya and pulled jackfruit “chicken.” In addition to the main courses, each kit comes with soup, salad, dessert and even pancake mix or another vegan breakfast to enjoy on Sunday morning.
Special additions like this or the flowers that come in the thoughtfully designed kits aim to create hygge, that Danish word that loosely translates to “cozy” in English.
“It’s that feeling when you’re home by yourself and you’re eating your favorite food,” Rakers said. “We use this word all the time in Denmark. It’s such a big word, but it’s also baked into how we do things.”
Hygge is a part of every Danish gathering, Rakers said. She hopes her meal kits can recreate this feeling in Charleston homes.
“I don’t want it to just be in a cardboard box — I want you to get the feeling of, ‘Woah this is amazing,’” she said. “(Hygge) comes in the box, and you can unpack it in the kitchen and have it in your home.”