This week some of the world’s best chefs are coming together in Washington to highlight the innovativeness and high quality of New Nordic Food.
By John Arundel
Off the coast of Western Sweden, 14 miles south of Oslo, lie the Koster Islands, part of a pictureseque archipelago of barren islands and sheltered swimming coves – and a destination for seafoodies worldwide to experience some of the freshest and most innovative Scandinavian seafood cooking anywhere.
That’s where I traveled last week for Washington Life to experience the new Nordic cuisine, something being celebrated all this week during Nordic Food Days in Washington.
Sydkoster is a car-free and care-free summer resort 150 miles up the coast from Gothenburg, the country’s second largest city and the gateway to West Sweden. From Stromstad, a 40-minute ferry ride drops you at the small port of Sydkoster, a rugged island with a few cozy restaurants and a charming waterfront hotel, the Hotel Ekanass.
Sydkoster’s only hotel offers up breathtaking views of the port and across the archipelago of Sweden’s jagged coastline, with bright sandy beaches serving as clear signs of the last Ice Age. Part of Sweden’s first Marine National Park opened in 2009 on national TV by the King of Sweden, King Karl XVI Gustaf, Sydkoster’s population swells to 4,000 during the summer months and less than 400 hardy souls during the brutishly cold winter months.
“The waters off Sydkoster have some of the freshest seafood that you can eat anywhere: mackerel, herring, crab, lobster,” said Christer Sjöö, the chef at Hotel Ekanass. “We get tourists from all over the world here, not just to experience the tranquility of it all, but also to experience the New Nordic Cuisine which is food that’s known for promoting healthy living.”
Here the cold, chilly waters of the seafood-packed Baltic Sea will bring some of the Nordic delights arriving in D.C. this week, prepared by some of the top Scandinavian chefs gathered here this week.
The embassies of the Nordic countries are importing some the region’s best and most creative chefs to the United States for the very first time, as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark and introduce New Nordic Food to the Washington restaurant scene. The Nordic chefs will participate in culinary events all over the metropolitan area, including exclusive culinary master classes, food demonstrations and other food-related events.
“New Nordic Cuisine reflects a back to basics approach to cooking,” said Swedish chef Tommy Myllmaki, a participant in Nordic Food Days and this year’s silver medalist of one of the world’s most prestigious cuisine contests, Bocuse d’Or. “It is celebrated for its purity, simplicity, freshness and its original take on traditional dishes and for letting the ingredients shine.”
Chef Myllymäki was classically trained at one of Sweden’s highly recognized culinary schools, and has worked with many acclaimed chefs and restaurants in Scandinavia, such as Noma in Denmark. The owner of two successful restaurants in Sweden, he received national recognition 2007 as Chef of the Year in Sweden and is known for combining his Swedish heritage and passion for seasonal ingredients which is evident in his cuisine’s fine and distinct flavors.
“New Nordic Food reflects the changing seasons, and a modern, healthy, and sustainable approach to cooking that benefits nature, people, and society as a whole,” said another participant, Geir Skeie, the 28-year-old Norwegian chef who two years ago became an international cooking sensation when he led the Norwegian team to a gold medal at the Bocuse d’Or – the Olympics for Chefs. “In short, New Nordic Food is high quality food with no fuss.”
The success of New Nordic Cuisine within the international culinary community means that these days the Nordic region hosts some of the world’s best chefs, as well as many Michelin rated restaurants where patrons can enjoy the organic, fresh and seasonal ingredients of the region.
At this year’s Bocuse d’Or in Lyon – one of the most prestigious culinary competitions in the world – the chefs representing the Nordic countries did remarkably well by taking the first, second, third, fifth and seventh places.
Other winners participating in Nordic Food Days include chefs from Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
From Denmark comes Mads Refslund, one of the driving forces in Danish gastronomy and New Nordic Food. He was part of the team that started Noma, known as the San Pellegrino “Worlds Best Restaurant,” and later started the MR restaurant, getting his Michelin star as a pure fish and vegetable chef. Mads is known for his playful, light and feminine cuisine, and his passion for using vegetables, seafood and fish as key ingredients.
From Finland comes Petteri Luoto, who studied at Turku Restaurant College and has worked at restaurants in Helsinki, Turku and Göteborg. He was elected Chef of the Year in 1998 and was Finland’s representative in Bocuse d´Or, twice as a Chef and once as an assistant. He was the winner of the Gold Medal in 2005.
And from Iceland comes Siggi Hall, one of the leading personalities in the Icelandic and Nordic cuisine for two decades. Hall is a popular celebrity chef, thanks to the numerous cooking shows he’s hosted in Iceland and other countries. He has run a successful kitchen and been an executive chef in Iceland and Norway, and been instrumental in most of the major Icelandic official functions. He was nominated as an Ambassador for New Nordic Food by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2006.
This week’s Nordic Food Days launches on June 19 with Nordic Jazz and Cuisine on the rooftop of House of Sweden, followed by a kick-off event with all of the Nordic chefs at the House of Sweden on June 20 (by invitation only). Nordic Restaurant Days will be celebrated this week June 21-26 at various restaurants around the city, with Sweden being celebrated at Masa 14, Norway at DC Coast, Denmark at Birch & Barley, Iceland at Vidalia and Finland at Marcel’s.
On June 26, a Nordic Pavilion will be celebrated at the Rammy’s Restaurant Awards Gala.