Putting the taste of Norway into words
Sweet, sour, fresh, mild and natural. That's how five Norwegian star chefs describe the taste of Norway. "Norwegian chefs have lost their hearts to the niche producers," concludes researcher Margrethe Hersleth.
Arne Brimi, Tom-Victor Gausdal and three other Norwegian star chefs are describing the taste of Norway as cod from Lofoten, juicy Norwegian lamb, sweet strawberries and fresh rhubarb. The taste is very local, if we are to believe the researchers who interviewed them. Hersleth has conducted in depth interviews with five carefully selected Norwegian star chefs on behalf of New Nordic Food.
Taking niche products to heart
"Norwegian chefs are more concerned about raw ingredients than I thought, and they absolutely love Norwegian niche producers," says sensory and consumer researcher Margrethe Hersleth of Nofima Mat (formerly Matforsk). Another important finding was that the chefs believe in the concept of terroir (see fact box) and that organic food often tastes better than conventionally grown food. "This is very positive for niche producers, supporters of organic food and the future of Norwegian food production. But the most important consideration for the chefs is still that the quality is up to standard," stresses Hersleth.
Believe in lamb
We have heard a lot about the clean, fresh taste of Norway and that the food up here in the north has its own flavour because of our Arctic climate. But those who prepare food for a living – the chefs – have never described how Nordic food tastes before. The researcher asked the chefs before the interview to put together a three course menu for each of the four seasons. One of the dishes was also to be prepared. During the interview, all the menus were reviewed and the chefs had to give reasons for their choices. Fish and seafood, lamb and strawberries were ingredients used by all. "I think it’s odd that the politicians aren’t doing more to make more of lamb as a brand. I believe Norwegian lamb has very special qualities, something the chefs seem to believe as well. The supermarkets always want to sell cheap, but it is important to differentiate Norwegian lamb from the imports. That’s not being done well enough at the moment," says Margrethe Hersleth.
Jarle Baer of Oslo Spiseforretning can easily rattle off the names of the producers who supply his kitchen – he knows many of them personally. Wherever possible, he chooses niche products – and he uses suppliers from all over the country. Some are big, others tiny. Perhaps the smallest of all are the elderly couple who ring every autumn when they have been out picking chantarelles in Nordmarka. "The logistics of getting hold of supplies have been hard. To begin with people would send boxes of fish packed in ice by express carrier and we had to go and pick them up ourselves. Luckily things have got much better over the years," explains Baer. He has even got one supplier to develop a special apple juice for him.
"There are many good restaurants in Norway, but they are all very similar. I knew that it was possible to find unique raw ingredients. I also picked just the right time, because that was when (former Minister of Agriculture) Sponheim was going around talking up small scale food," he explains about the time his restaurant opened in 2002. "Better to use expensive Norwegian salad than a cheap import," is his clear conclusion. And it isn’t garlic that flavours the lamb here, but its wild Norwegian cousin ramsons. Some of the other herbs used here are mint, lovage, lady’s smock, sorrel, goutweed and nettle.
Taste through raw ingredients
The chefs were asked to give sensory descriptions of their dishes, but they often find it more natural to do this by describing the raw ingredients. "Cod from Lofoten" for example or "Asparagus from Hvasser". "It’s as if you don’t really need to say any more, and the chefs believe that customers understand what they mean," says the researcher, who quickly adds that it can be difficult to express sensory properties. "Especially in Norwegian, which has a limited vocabulary," she adds.
Researchers have been putting the same questions to prominent chefs in all the Nordic countries. This is intended to give us the answer to what it is that characterises the Nordic taste – which will be used in turn to market Nordic food in Europe. "The aim is to find common denominators in raw materials and preparation. And perhaps also a few differences that we can make use of," says Margrethe Hersleth.
THOSE WHO TOOK PART:
Kjartan Skjelde, Tango Bar & Kjøkken, Stavanger
Member of the Norwegian national team of chefs. Has practised both in Norway and abroad. Kjartan always chooses ingredients that are in season. Combines traditional recipes with new ingredients and ideas.
Tom-Victor Gausdal, Flavours, Bærum
Runner up in Bocuse d’Or, chef of the year 2005 in Norway. Member of the national chefs team for 11 years. Uses ingredients from local producers that are in tune with the season. Has a modern menu with both Norwegian and foreign influences.
Roy Magne Berglund, Du Verden Restaurant, Svolvær, Lofoten
Member of the national chefs team for four years. Specialises in fish. Was fish chef of the year 2000 and chef of the year 2004. Is concerned to preserve and maintain traditional Norwegian food.
Jarle Baer, Oslo Spiseforretning
Experience from west Norway before he came to Oslo. Only uses Norwegian ingredients! Keeps to seasonal ingredients as far as humanly possible and has a thorough knowledge and large network of niche producers.
Arne Brimi, Vienvang, Lom
Probably the best known TV chef in Norway and the author of several books. Since 1984 he has been based in Lom, where he has built his own restaurant in the mountains. His philosophy is that it is important to be part of nature and that food should be made from the ingredients of one’s own district.
New Nordic Food
New Nordic Food is a value creating and innovative programme, in line with the Nordic Council of Ministers’ vision of "the Nordic region as a global winner". New Nordic Food is intended to help highlight the strengths of the Nordic region in regional values, gastronomy, commercial development, raw materials and tourism. The aim is to give Nordic residents an appetite for Nordic food in our time. So far about 30 research and development projects have been initiated under the auspices of New Nordic Food. Einar Risvik, research director of Nofima Mat, chairs the steering committee. This project is also supported by the Nordic innovation centre NICE.