The Nordic Chef’s pickled vegetables in
The Trifecta Tavern, Del Mar, California.
The Nordic Chef’s pickled vegetables in
The Trifecta Tavern, Del Mar, California.
When I thought through why I wanted to write a blog and what I would write about, I chose the title “The Nordic Chef,” for several reasons. One being that I am in fact Nordic having been born in Copenhagen and raised in both Norway and Denmark. All in all I have spent a total of 16 years living in Norway, and the remainder mainly in Denmark with the exception of a short stint in Serfaus, Austria and two-years in San Francisco.
I wanted to create a blog where I could write about my food-related experiences as a professional chef, and also write about my heritage as a Nordic chef. It was my grandmother after all that inspired me to take up cooking. I often stood by her side as she cooked up classic Danish dishes like Danish meatballs (frikadeller) with cream of cabbage and new Danish potatoes, roasted pork (flæskesteg) with red cabbage, caramelized potatoes and gravy (brun sauce), plaice, classic Easter and Christmas lunches, cakes and cookies, you name it! What captured me most was this feeling of creating something from scratch and seeing it through from start to finish. Now, 17 years after I started cooking professionally, my passion for cooking is still going strong.
During my time in Norway, I was also greatly inspired by Chef Arne Brimi, one of the “grand old men” in Scandinavian and Nordic cooking. He’s always been true to local sourcing and using traditional methods. He has been foraging since before it was cool — old Nordic-style. And was Nordic before the concept was created.
Another reason for choosing “The Nordic Chef,” is to be a voice in the Nordic food movement and be an advocate for sustainable cooking not only in the Nordics but in other parts of the world too. I believe the values behind “New Nordic” should go beyond the region and that the principles can be adopted locally anywhere. What I aim to do is to share my own food experiences and what I have learned as a Nordic chef to help shed light on how we can make things better — for the environment, mother earth and for the health of society. The little the things do matter.
I will write more about the topic of New Nordic and it’s principles in my blog in future posts, however for now, I will start with posting the New Nordic Manifesto published in 2004 by 12 Nordic chefs including Claus Meyer, co-owner of Noma, and some may say is the “father” of New Nordic. The Nordic Council of Ministers is also a strong player and is behind a number of initiatives to help spread New Nordic. A brochure about the movement can be downloaded here.
New Nordic Food Manifesto
1. To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics that we would like to associate with our region
2. To reflect the different seasons in the meals
3. To base cooking on raw materials which characteristics are especially excellent in our climate, landscape and waters
4. To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge about health and well-being
5. To promote the Nordic products and the variety of Nordic producers – and to disseminate the knowledge of the cultures behind them
6. To promote the welfare of the animals and a sound production in the sea and in the cultivated as well as wild landscapes
7. To develop new possible applications of traditional Nordic food products
8. To combine the best Nordic cooking procedures and culinary traditions with impulses from outside
9. To combine local self-sufficiency with regional exchange of high-quality goods
10. To co-operate with representatives of consumers, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing industry, food industry, retail and wholesale industry, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this joint project to the benefit and advantage of all in the Nordic countries
The two chefs…..
The Danish author and chairman and founder of Slow Food Denmark, Bent Christensen, has become well-known for his books “One Day at Mugaritz,” and ”One Day at El Bulli,” where he focuses on his experience spending a day at Michelin-star restaurants. In 2011, he added two more restaurants to his collection with books based on, “One Day at The French Laundry,” and “One Day at Per Se,” two iconic restaurants run by the world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller.
I had the honor or preparing the banquet dinner served in honor of Mr. Keller and for the official launch party for the books, which took place at the American Embassy in Copenhagen. Luckily Mr. Keller was available to attend because he was “in the neighborhood” in London for the “World’s Best Restaurant” award reception the evening before where, coincidentally, Noma won the number one spot for the first time, a spot that Mr. Keller knows quite well with The French Laundry having been in that same position on more than one occasion.
We served a five-course menu and paired each course with exclusive “cult” wines from California & one from Oregon. Mr. Keller even commented that he himself was not even able to get his hands on some of the labels we poured! He said he couldn’t believe he had to travel all the way to Denmark to drink some of his local favorites.
Here below is the menu with some photos from the evening. It was a great pleasure to not only cook for Mr. Keller, but also to meet him as well. I was honored that he took the time to personally come into the kitchen to thank me and the staff, and express how much he enjoyed the dining experience. He was down-to-earth and approachable yet there is no doubt that he is a man of great depth, character and a strong and inspiring leader.
Book Release Reception Menu
Domaine Chandon Napa Valley Etoile Sparkling brut served with canapés with cheviche of crawfish tails topped avocado mayonnaise, flying fish roe and fresh herbs
Grilled Virginia scallops and Maine lobster fish cakes served with ruby-red grapefruit beurre blanc — served with 2005 Kistler Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley
Sashimi ahi tuna with seaweed salad and lightly pan-seared trumpet mushroom served with coconut and lime hollandaise sauce — served with 2006 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Oregon pigeon with salsa of mushroom and hazelnuts served with Oregon Pinot Noir sirup — served with 2006 Adelsheim Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Oregon
Filet of North Dakota bison seasoned with honey and thyme served with potato tortilla and zucchini and blue cheese soufflé and red wine sauce — served with 2005 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
White chocolate cake with pistachios, cranberry terrine, chocolate muffin baked with caramelized pumpkin jam and piña colada sorbet — served with 2007 Frog’s Leap Frogenbeerenausleese (late harvest Chardonnay), Napa Valley
To finish off the meal, we served coffee from Napa Valley Roasting Company and a 25-year old German Robins XO Brandy from Ukiah, California
This past June I was invited to be a guest chef together with one of Greenland’s top chefs and head chef of the Hotel Arctic, Jeppe Ejvind Nielsen, to cater for the 25th Anniversary of Greenland Contractors, a company that services the U.S. Air Force base in Thule, Greenland.
I stayed for six days and worked alongside chef Jeppe and the never-setting sun. What I was most impressed with was Jeppe’s commitment to using local ingredients — even in a harsh and sometimes barren environment such as Greenland. In fact, one of his creations for his restaurant is a jelly made with water taken straight from the local Ilulissat Icefjord, one of Greenland’s’ most famous. When the jelly “melts,” the natural salt is added to the dish. He explained to me that since the glacier feeding this fjord is melting so quickly, the salt concentration becomes diluted making it more edible.
It has been a dream of mine to go to Greenland this time of year since Greenland is in fact a part of Denmark, and it was surreal to experience 24-hours of sunlight day in and out. It gave me chills down my spine every time I walked outside in the evening when it should have been dark out, and saw the bright sunlight. Fantastic.
I contributed to the event with an American-style buffet and prepared a number of specialities including North Dakota bison, Pacific mahi-mahi served with pineapple and papaya salsa, sweet poatoe salad, California-inspired ratatouille, my award-winning Texas-style spare ribs, and Alabama black-eyed pea salad. Luckily the U.S. Airforce base was able to import these products through Arctic Import, another company that also participated in the event.
Besides the event, I was privileged enough to attend a BBQ event under Mount Dundas and take part in a couple of tours around the ice cap and surrounding fjords and glaciers. It was incredible. We even had a picnic on one of the glaciers right on the ice, and were taken on two helicopter rides (see video below). All in all it was an experience of a lifetime.
Here below are some pictures from the trip.
Chef Jeppe preparing his red-beet poached salmon rolled in Greenlandic seaweed.
Me together with Thule Airbase Commandor Mark E. Allen
Chef student Emil & myself on the grounds of the base.
Artic rabbit in the wild
Greenlandic Muskox in the wild – a gourmet speciality that Nordic restaurants like Noma serve.
The “Ø-mærke” is a Danish eco-label used to mark food that is organic. From its very introduction, it has been of great importance to the credibility of the inspection of organic foods in Denmark. The red Ø logo shows that the latest preparation of the product has taken place in a Danish company inspected by the public authorities. Inspection of organic foods in Denmark applies to all stages from stable to table.
Most every Dane recognizes the red logo above placed on many everyday food products. It’s not really looked at as something extra “special” because it’s really the norm here to have organic options on almost all food products. In fact, it may come as a surprise but Denmark is a world-leader in organic food production and consumption.
According to the organization Organic Denmark, whose aim is to promote organic foods and support the export of organic Danish products: Denmark sells more organic products per capita than any other country in the world, was the first country in the world to establish governmental rules for organic production in 1987 and state-control of organic foodstuffs and producers, and has seen a tripling of exports from 2005-2009. The famous logo was adopted in 1989. Also, mass-consumption has risen by 83 percent since 2003 with organic dairy having a 35 percent market share, the largest organic sector. Demand for Danish products is expected to top DKK 1 billion (134 mil EUR) in 2012.
Most would agree that the organic dairy products in the Nordics in particular are quite special – mainly milk, butter and cheese. Many know of the famous Danish Lurpak, and of course Danish butter cookies. In fact, the Norwegian milk, Tine milk, is some of the best you can get! My personal favorite dairy in Denmark is Øllingegaard Dairy in northern Zealand. A couple of reasons for Denmark, as well as the other Nordic countries, having great organic dairy products are the climate (with mild temps and even rainfall) and fertile soil. Denmark in particular has a long history in dairy making.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Danish Dairy Board.
As far as the use of organic products in food preparation in Denmark is concerned, The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries introduced new logos for organic food products used in kitchens, restaurants, cafés, hospitals, schools and larger businesses back in 2009. Since it’s so difficult to precisely measure the level or organic food use in such settings, three labels with ranges from 30-60, 60-90, or 90-100 percent are used.
Further info on Danish organic food production can be found HERE. And if you are hungry for more, info on the actual rules and inspection for organic products in Denmark, download the brochure, “Organic Foods from Denmark.” News on the organic industry can be found at the
website as well!
A couple other logos of interest relating to ethical and eco-friendly food production that can be found on Danish products also include:
The Swan logo has been the official Nordic Eco-label ever since the Nordic Council of Ministers introduced it in 1989. Products marked with this label indicate that they are among the least polluting products in the various categories. There is a long list of terms and conditions for specific product categories.
The Flower has been the symbol of the European Eco-label since 1992, and it is a voluntary scheme designed to encourage businesses to market products and services that are environmentally friendly.
If you’re visiting Denmark, and want to know where you can go to dine where there is a focus on organic ingredients, you can find a listing on Visit Denmark’s site. I have been to BioMio, a certified organic restaurant with a very hip and modern setting, and really enjoyed their brunch. If you want to visit some organic farms or pick some of your own fruit, see the blog, “Fruit Picking & Organic Farms in Denmark” for some listings.
And finally, there is pretty comprehensive overview of the organic scene in the Nordics is outlined in this article, “Nordic countries unified at BioFach,” summarizing Nordic exhibitors at the annual BioFach trade show, the world’s biggest organic trade fair in Nuremburg. I think organic and Danmark go together because, as Organic Denmark puts it, “purity, simplicity and freshness,” are what describe the essence of the Nordics in our approach to food, and the ideas behind New Nordic, which I will write more on in another blog on another day!
Organic kernebrød ”seed” Danish bread: durum wheat, wheat, sifted rye flour, sour dough, honey, pumkin seeds, salt, yeast and water
We all have a love for bread.
We all do a sniff sniff with our noses when we pass a bakery or take out the fresh-baked loaf from our own oven at home. Bread has been in the Nordic culinary world since long before the Vikings. In the old days they made bread with local grains and flour, barley and rye being the oldest. Whole wheat and oats, as well as spelt and other whole grains have become more popular in recent days. Nowadays many of the old methods for making bread are still used such as freshly milling the grains.
Being Danish, I love bread, I grew up with homemade bread, I grew up with the wonderful smell from the bakeries in Copenhagen. In fact, one of the most Danish things you can do is to pick up fresh-baked bread from the bakery, called morgenbrød, or “morning bread,” made mainly from wheat flour, a tradition since the late 1800s. It is also quite popular for employees to bring morgenbrød to their workplace on Friday mornings and on their birthday (they bring pastries too, but we’ll save that for another blog!). It is normally served with cheese, Danish butter and jam.
Also, after a long night on the town, it’s not uncommon for people to make a stop at the bakery and knock on the back door to see if there is any fresh-baked bread ready for a late night/early morning snack. In my opinion we have some of the best bakers in the world. And many others would agree. Just ask my American wife.
One of the reasons why we have such fantastic bread in Denmark and in the rest of the Nordic region is because Scandinavians originally learned bread making techniques as mercenaries working for the Roman army (200–400 AD). Germany has also influenced the bread culture in Denmark as well…..more on rye bread or the famous Danish rugbrød later.
I posted a Norwegian-style graham/wheat bread recipe below. Feel free to go crazy in the kitchen, but remember bread has its own mind so it will not always turn out the way you want. Yeast is a living organism and needs to be handled with care. The key is to have the right temperature. Experiment and go have fun!
1.5 dl. Danish heather honey (or your own local honey will do)
5 dl. whole milk
5 dl. water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 kg. wheat flour
500g. graham flour
Put sirop, milk and water in a casserole and warm it up slowly. Put the warm liquid in a bowl, and dissolve the yeast and salt in the liquid. Add the wheat flour and the graham flour, do this by hand so you have the contact with the dough. Knead the dough until the flour has turned into a dough. Stop kneading when it’s still slightly sticky.
Put the dough aside to rise for 15 min. Then you divide the dough into 3 equal sizes. Put the lumps of dough into separate bread molds placing them either on top of baking paper or first spread the mould with some sunflower, rapeseed or grape seed oil by hand. Put aside again to rise this time for 20 min.
Turn on the oven 220 degrees celsius.
Before you put the breads in the oven, make a small slit into the dough across the top, brush with some milk, and drizzle with some graham flour.
Now you put the bread (either together or separately depending on the size of your oven) in the oven for approx. 35 min. in the bottom of the oven.
One of the best things you can have in my opinion after a day out in nature is fresh homemade waffles. I remember from my childhood in Norway that my mother had waffles ready for me and my sister when we got home from skiing with our father or friends. My mother made the best waffles. In her honor, I have posted her waffle recipe below. Use it with respect and love and call it MorHanne’s, “Mom Hanne”, waffles.
Imagine you have been out all day, skiing, hiking or gardening and you come home to the smell of fresh-baked waffles. The best. You sit down with your family or friends, and get ready to enjoy the waffles together. You’ve got a cup of hot chocolate, tea or coffee, and then the waffles are brought to the table. A whole stack of them arrive and are still warm from the griddle. Yum. Eat this Norwegian treat with 38% sour cream, whipped cream or jam (raspberry or strawberry are the most popular in Norway). Another tasty alternative is to smother them with some butter and then sprinkle some sugar on top! The superior version is served with vanilla ice cream…Velbekomme!
Ingredients: 4 eggs, 6 tbs. sugar, 150 grams butter, 4 dl milk, 300 grams flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. cardamom or vanilla powder
1) Beat eggs and sugar and set aside
2) Melt the butter then add in flour, baking powder, cardamom/vanilla
3) Combine egg/sugar mix with butter and flour mix. When all mixed together, then slowly whip in the 4 dl of milk. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before making the waffles. When ready, pour mixture into waffle iron and cook for 2-3 minutes or until done.