New Nordic
By Magnus Wittbjer and Micha van Dinther
Published Jul 2014
In April of this year, the gastronomic spotlight was yet again turned to Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant, as it snatched Restaurant Magazine’s World’s Best Restaurant Award. Noma (which is short for nordisk mad, meaning “Nordic food” in English) is without a doubt the most important forerunner in New Nordic Cuisine, a movement that, by applying a set of principles defined in a 2004 manifesto, seeks to emphasize purity, simplicity, and freshness in cooking, as well as increasing the use of local and seasonal foods. With its crusade that was meant to be “informal, open, and democratic” and a way to unite chefs, farmers, big and small companies, politicians, and the general public, one might argue that, from looking at Noma’s close to $300 tasting menu and the three-month waiting list, New Nordic Cuisine has become somewhat elitist. Or is this perhaps a misguided conception? It is a crisp summer morning, and a small group of curious foodies meets up outside a golf club in the southern Swedish region of Skåne, just across the bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark. With takeaway coffees in hand, we set out to identify and explore the area’s many edible plants and herbs—a guided tour arranged by the first-ever edition of the local food festival Skanör Falsterbo Matfestival. “A restaurateur friend of mine disclosed that he normally purchased nettles from Italy and ramsons from France,” says our guide Tony Gylleneiden, a botanist who grew up in the area. “I just found it the most bizarre setup, since both are prime examples of what can be found in abundance in the wild locally.” Long story short—in 2005, Gylleneiden started exploring the possibility of selling the edible flora he identified in his immediate surroundings. His passion for botany, herbs, and wild berries was turned into a thriving business thanks to the abundance of wild nature, and his foraged plants and herbs are now found on plates at the best restaurants all around Skåne. On our two-hour excursion into nature’s pantry, he points out and lets us sample around 20 of the 575 types of edible plants that grow in the wild in the Nordic region. Part of what has been essential in the success of New Nordic Cuisine, whose ideology was adopted and supported by all the ministers in the Nordic Council back in 2005 and whose message now has spread throughout the entire region like wildfire, is the general public’s right to something called “freedom to roam.” Harking back many centuries, all the countries in the Nordic region with the exception of Denmark have, as part of the constitution, given people the right to access nature, regardless of who the landowner is. This means that anyone is able to venture out into sparsely populated areas and enjoy nature, as long as it is treated with respect and consideration. No doubt this quaint and so utterly democratic law, resulting in the foraging of fungi, plants, and berries, facilitated the dawn of New Nordic Cuisine. A few hours later, seated on the outdoor patio of a small café, we are treated to a dish that almost blows our minds, especially surprising considering the minimalist take on ingredients. Acclaimed Swedish chef Daniel Berlin, who runs his eponymous restaurant out of the tiny village of Skåne Tranås, is in town offering his signature dish to festivalgoers at the extremely democratic price (this being Scandinavia) of $27. Slowly cooked over beechwood charcoal for 14 hours, the tender inside of the rutabaga is cut up as a savory and meaty, although vegetarian, dish and decorated by bread croutons made from rutabaga peels and a chlorophyllic green dressing created from its haulm. From the few components that remain of the root vegetable, Berlin has cooked a creamy broth that complements the dish perfectly. Finally, it is topped with grated organic aged cheese to add a final touch to this rich concoction. The flavors are simple and clean, and the different textures melt into a perfect organic and locally produced feast, completed with the aid of a crisp and lightly sparkling natural white wine. “The Skanör Falsterbo area already has a car and horse show. It is about time we arrange a food festival that lets people access great food,” concludes festival chief and gastro entrepreneur Mattias Kroon, before we steer our way back to the charcoal grill for seconds. Every Tuesday, 28-year-old head chef Alexander Lööv Fohlin takes his kitchen crew to the southern Swedish forests to gather wild produce for the week to come. Back at Bantorget 9, a newly opened restaurant in the university town of Lund, rough ceramic dishes are plated with deep-forest, fairy tale–like dishes such as a sugar-cured skrei carpaccio served with an emulsion of redwood sorrel, chickweed, violets, and beurre noisette. In his elaborate cooking, where nothing is left to chance, everything has its place on the plate. “Fine dining is not for me—I want my dishes to be clean and with the ingredients at center stage,” says Lööv Fohlin when we meet him in the quaint, traditional, 17th-century building that houses the restaurant. “Food and ingredients are always on my mind. I actually keep a notepad next to my bed, as I tend to wake up in the middle of the night with tons of ideas on new flavor combinations, dishes, and ingredients.” At dawn on a Saturday morning, we drive for 45 minutes to Hörte—a village consisting of no more than a couple of houses and scattered fishermen’s huts, right on the water along the south coast of Skåne. The air is warm; the water is flat as a mirror. In the remains of these medieval houses of a Hanseatic trading post, chef Martin Sjöstrand and his soon-to-be wife, Emma, have settled and opened what they call an experiment. When asked to clarify, he describes Hörte Brygga as a mix between café and restaurant that offers a pick-and-mix concept, without any real set menus. Instead, guests are welcome to order basically whatever they want, prepared from superior seasonal ingredients sourced from local farmers, fishers, and producers and sealed in little glass jars. “The majority of what we serve has been sourced within a few miles from here,” says Sjöstrand. “We don’t compromise on ingredients, and regardless of who you are and what you crave, you are able to come here, hang out, eat, and kick back. All in a pomp and circumstance–free setting, while knowing what you eat is well prepared, tasty, organic, and local.” Feasting from the jars in our makeshift picnic basket, seated alongside a team of workers and a twentysomething runner who have stopped by for a healthful breakfast, we can’t help but revisit the question of the seemingly elitist New Nordic Cuisine. It is clear that the fantastic edible creations plated at Noma are not accessible to most of us, but thanks to a plethora of other talented chefs pertaining to New Nordic Cuisine, it is increasingly clear that the philosophy can be anything but elitist. And in most cases, you do not have to sign your name on that three-month waiting list to try it. Noma Strandgade 93, Copenhagen, Denmark Skanör Falsterbo Matfestival Skanör Falsterbo, Sweden Daniel Berlin Diligensvägen 21, Skåne-Tranås, Sweden Bantorget 9 Bantorget 7-9, Lund, Sweden Hörte Brygga Hörte Hamn, Sweden