Straight from forest to table

Successful Nordic chefs prefer natural, organic and local raw materials - in the right season. Chefs in the Nordic countries swear by many of the same raw materials.

Successful Nordic chefs prefer natural, organic and local raw materials – in the right season. Chefs in the Nordic countries swear by many of the same raw materials.

As part of the process of identifying Nordic culinary success factors, researchers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have carried out qualitative surveys using interviews with prominent chefs from their respective countries.

What all these highly successful chefs have in common is that they ascribe sensory properties to raw materials and their places of origin. When they say for example “Asparagus from Hvasser” or “Cod from Lofoten” the chefs assume that the customers will know what they mean.

Local and seasonal, with regular deliveries

All the chefs in the survey place importance on the source of the raw materials. Closeness to nature, the Nordic climate and weather conditions make for raw materials of high quality. Most important of all, the chefs want locally produced raw materials – from small scale production, local fish and game or locally picked berries and mushrooms. The biggest challenge facing the chefs is obtaining these kinds of raw materials. To be able to offer their diners local dishes, the chefs are reliant on regular deliveries. It is therefore important to establish networks that secure access to seasonal local raw materials of high quality – as fresh as possible. Furthermore many chefs prefer organic raw materials.

Norwegians are fish lovers

While the Norwegian chefs choose fish (as both starters and main courses) more often than their Nordic colleagues, the Danes use a great deal of meat in their dishes. The Swedish chefs are keenest when it comes to vegetarian main courses, while the Finns prefer vegetarian starters. Game, wild berries and mushrooms are popular among all the chefs in the survey and are frequently used throughout the Nordic countries.

Favourites from the sea

Norway and Denmark, with their long coastlines to the open sea, have an access to the treasure chest of the sea that is quite different to that of Sweden and Finland. Naturally this influences their choice of raw materials. While both Norwegian and Danish chefs include cod among their top three choices, this is replaced by freshwater fish like perch and char among the Swedes and Finns. Shellfish on the other hand are popular in all the Nordic countries, first choice in fact in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Herring, which is plentiful in the Baltic, has a traditional place in Swedish cuisine and the Swedish chefs are the only ones to place herring in their top three.

Fauna determines choice of game

The choice of game is influenced by the different fauna. There are no elk in Denmark, for example, so the country’s chefs don’t put it on the menu. But the Danish chefs are more influenced by continental Europe than the others – and more creative in their choice of game. They are the only ones to include pigeon among their choices, for example.

It is often difficult for the chefs to get hold of game – even where access should be good. Even though Norwegian hunters may account for around 35,000 elk a year, several chefs tell us that they have a problem in getting enough elk meat. Reindeer is actually the only form of game that appears on the lists of all four countries.

There is more agreement about farmed meats. Lamb is everyone’s favourite. Both chicken and pork appear on the lists of all the chefs, although their placing varies. Veal is popular among chefs in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, while beef is mentioned by all except the Norwegians. Norway is the only country to include goat, while Denmark is the only country to mention capon.

Mushrooms are among the favourites of chefs of all the Nordic countries. Otherwise there is some variation in the choice of vegetables. Asparagus is very popular among Norwegian and Swedish chefs, while the Danes prefer root vegetables. Potatoes are important for all the chefs, with the Finns especially describing them as an important part of a meal.

Fruit and berries – best for dessert

The most typical Nordic raw materials for dessert are rhubarb, strawberries, apples and various wild berries – and it is among these that the chefs have found their favourites. Exactly which is first choice and which comes further down the list varies from country to country however. In Norway it is rhubarb and strawberries on top, in Sweden rhubarb alone, while both Danish and Finnish chefs prefer wild berries ahead of all other dessert raw materials.

Getting local food producers on board

The problems involved in accessing fresh, local raw materials show the importance of establishing good local delivery networks of small scale producers. The New Nordic Food programme is therefore organising several joint Nordic workshops for producers of local food. In addition to building up local networks, the focus will be on product development, quality assurance and marketing.

In May 2009, Nofima Mat will organise the Nordic Terroir Workshop. Delegates will learn about and become more aware of the significance of the effects that the local environment and soil have on the growing of food. Because there is little doubt that local factors provide certain qualities and properties and affect the perception of the product’s quality.

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