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North of Nordic: A Young Chef Invents ‘Neo-Fjordic’ Cuisine

One dessert at Lysverket is an ethereal cake made with almonds, chocolate and gjetost, the caramelized, spreadable goat cheese that resembles Latin American dulce de leche and is a national obsession.

To procure the ingredients he needs, Mr. Haatuft spends much of his time on projects like nabbing loads of fresh herring before they are sent to the central market (Norwegian fishermen are not allowed to sell directly to chefs), tracking down divers and hounding the region’s farmers to grow more diverse crops.

To ensure a steady supply of flavorful, fatty pork, he prodded his friend Anders Tveite, a chef turned farmer, to start raising Mangalitsa pigs, whose woolly coats allow them to live outside all year, even in these rough mountains, still snowcapped in early July. In advance, Mr. Haatuft promised to buy all the meat that the farm wanted to sell him.

“There just isn’t enough good produce to go around,” he said, crawling up steep strawberry beds at a farm in the mountainous Voss region northeast of Bergen. “It’s not like being at Per Se, where there are seven other farmers I can go to for organic produce if my guy doesn’t have what I need. This is it.”

Although the movement toward local, sustainable and traditional food is relatively new here — frozen pizza is the unofficial national dish, particularly the beloved cult brand Grandiosa — it is growing quickly. In addition to offering generous farm subsidies, the government now funds agricultural education, food start-ups and gastrotourism by aggressively marketing Norway’s seafood, its pristine terroir and its many accomplished chefs.

Tone Ronning Vike, a former journalist, recently moved her family from Bergen to run a centuries-old family dairy farm along the Aurland River with the help of a government grant. For the farm’s guesthouse, she buys potatoes from Norway’s only school of organic agriculture, goat cheese from the two remaining local farmers who produce it, and reindeer meat and mountain trout from Sami hunters and fishermen. (The Sami are modern descendants of the ancient people of Arctic Europe, and the only people in Scandinavia who are permitted to herd reindeer.)

“Norwegians already have a healthy lifestyle; we hike, we hunt, we ski,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of room for education about how to eat well.”

Ms. Vike, like Mr. Haatuft and virtually everyone involved in bringing better food to Norway, is concerned about how the country’s booming aquaculture industry fits in. Neither of them serves the globally popular product labeled “Norwegian salmon,” knowing that it is not wild, but farmed in the country’s waters.

Before setting off for nearby fjords and waterfalls, explore the cultural scene and Nordic cuisine of this beguiling coastal city.

Norway is the second-largest exporter of fish in the world, and seafood is the country’s second-most-valuable export after oil. About 70 percent of that export value is in farmed salmon, an increasingly controversial product. Even with modern technology and strict regulation, penned fish have mixed with the wild population, introducing catastrophic parasites like salmon lice. Pesticides, food waste and sewage have seeped into fjords and rivers. Millions of farmed fish have escaped into inland rivers, upsetting the ecosystem of spawning.

Many restaurants do serve farmed salmon, and both the systems and the regulations for aquaculture are getting tighter. “Norway is working strongly toward a sustainable aquaculture industry,” said Silje Lesjo, a specialist in local food for Innovation Norway, a government agency that provides support for high-tech businesses. Advanced aquaculture technology has also become a valuable Norwegian export.

The halibut served at Lysverket is farmed in one of these innovative systems — in pens built on land, a more difficult and expensive method, but one that does not affect the water or wild fish. And Mr. Haatuft works only with fishermen who pull in wild creatures like cusk, sea urchins, langoustines and mahogany clams — big specimens with thick brown shells that live for up to 400 years.

In a storage shed in Sotra, an island just off the Atlantic coast, surrounded by tubs of live seafood, Mr. Haatuft opened a salad-plate-size scallop, pulling aside the mantle and the roe to get to the plump meat. Slicing it up in the shell with his pocketknife, he relished the squirm and the salt water that made the flesh taste fully alive.

A few hours later at the restaurant, he grilled the scallops on just one side to firm up the muscle, then set off their sweetness with baby radishes and a bright, pleasingly bitter purée of nasturtium leaves. (Nasturtiums, like dill, sorrel, ransom, lovage and other pungent herbs, thrive in Nordic climates.)

One commodity in short supply in Bergen is sous-chefs, but Mr. Haatuft is not planning an active recruitment effort.

“Why would I encourage people to take a hard, hot job working 16 hours a day, when in Norway they could work seven hours in an office and still get free health care?” he said.

“I want the people who can’t do anything but cook, people whose only dream in life is to be a chef. People like me.”

NYT > Food