Over the past five years, a wind from the north has swept through the top kitchens of the world, guiding the direction of haute cuisine toward a region that had previously been largely unknown to most gourmands. New Nordic cuisine, a movement spearheaded by chefs like René Redzepi (of Copenhagen’s Noma) focuses on embracing food traditionally prepared in Nordic lands (among them: wild game, fish, conifers, and root vegetables) and utilizing traditional Nordic cooking styles (like canning, drying, curing, and pickling), all the while easing them into modernity without sacrificing their integrity. Moreover, New Nordic defines itself by working seasonally and locally, as defined by the 2004 Kitchen Manifesto, which pledges dedication to “purity, freshness, simplicity, and ethics.”
As people from Nordic countries will tell you, there has always been good food there, as well as a culture that takes Nordic cooking seriously. However, now that the rest of the world is in on it, Nordic Food and the ethos of the New Nordic movement are being explored by creative and gifted chefs both within and beyond the Nordic region, creating a global community of Nordic food crafters and Nordic food lovers.
This past week, that community was celebrated at the First Annual NORTH Nordic Food Festival. The Festival, which was capped off by a fabulous cocktail reception at it’s pop up space in the Old Bowery Station, included cooking classes, special restaurant offers, pop up dinners, tastings, panels, and a street food festival, with a participating crew of over 25 chefs from the US, Nordic countries, and abroad. Joonbug happily attended a number of NORTH events, and we properly got our Nordic on. Here’s a recap, if you missed it.
Culinary Safari Through Sweden with Chef Ulrika Bengtsson
Held at one of the International Culinary Center’s decked out teaching kitchens, this cooking class was a hands-on journey through the cuisine of Sweden. Chef Bengtsson, who’s from the Swedish Southwest, holds “culinary safaris” on which she takes Nordic food lovers to Sweden and explores the various places where food is grown, cooked, and served throughout the country. Chef Bengtsson, best known as the owner and Chef of New York Nordic culinary institution Ulrika’s, has worked in top kitchens in Sweden and the U.S. She is smart, lively, and warm, and brings a signature combination of personal anecdotes, skilled culinary know-how, and deep passion for Swedish food to the table. In this informative, expertly led hands-on cooking class, she took us through the country in three hours from the comfort of downtown Manhattan.
We started in Skåne, in southern Sweden, cooking Lerpotta: warm matjesherring (herring cured in vinegar), served with potatoes, egg, onion, dill, chive, and brown butter. Chef Ulrika used Russ and Daughters matjes herring, which in her professional opinion (and those of many others in the city) is the best herring in town. She should know--she’s consulted with the head of Russ and Daughters on a number of their signature herring flavors, like their curry herring and their ginger and lemon herring. Even if you’re not a herring fan, the Chef recommends this dish as a cured fish primer, since the egg, potato, and onion make the herring milder. The Chef, of course, was right. The herring was toned down but still had all it’s good flavor notes left intact.
We then travelled north along the Swedish west coast, towards Gothenburg and the western archipelago. Our seaside dish was a Pickled Mackerel, served on toasted Swedish Crispbread. Though we were made slightly nervous by the very pungent smell of the mackerel curing in a vinegar, sugar, and vegetable solution, the end result was refreshing and meaty, with hints of the sea. The crispbread, specially brought in by the Chef from Sweden, was a perfectly crunchy, whole-grain compliment to the fish.
Crossing the country and heading off-coast to the island of Gotland (known for it’s lamb and sheep), we ventured into a famous Dillkött, lamb with dill sauce. Simmering throughout the class, the lamb was perfectly tender when ready, served steeped in a buttery, creamy dill sauce that was almost reminiscent of a thicker, less cooling raita or a fresher, less cheesy alfredo. This might have been the best thing we made all day!
It was soon time to head northward, where we went starch-mad with Pite Palt, traditional potato dumplings filled with pork and onions. We made our own potato dough (with anecdotes by the Chef, who said that until he was in his 80’s, her father wouldn’t eat any starch but potatoes), which we filled with delicious bits of cured ham. They sat boiled in water, and floated deliciously to the top, ready to eat with some browned butter left over from the Lerpotta.
Capping off a wonderful tour of Swedish cuisine was the traditional Prinsesstårta : Princess Cake. Though Sweden is not traditionally known for it’s deserts, this is their signature sweet dish. It’s a layer cake, with layers of not-too-dense sponge cake, raspberry jam, and whipped cream, all coated with a layer of green marzipan. The engaging combination of flavors and textures was a great way to end a great day on a sweet note.
Here were our favorite tastes of the night:
Richard McCormick’s Food Truck, New York (originally Helsinki): King Crab and Lobster Beetroot Tostada with fennel slaw, garlic beet salsa and smoked avocado guacamole. The tostada was a perfect taste and texture combo, and was lent a unique sort of richness my the smoked avocado in the guacamole.
VRA, Gothenburg: Cured Salmon with Mustard, Miso, and Soy Sauce, served with pickled onion, dill, and seaweed, served on crispbread from Grebbestad. Brightness and tartness defined this dynamic dish, which cut the fishiness of the cured salmon and the seaweed to great effect.
Chef Bart Vandaele, of Belga Cafe and B Too in Washington, D.C.: Push Pop of Raw Norwegian Salmon Belly Marinated in Kelp, served with blackberries yogurt, and oyster Sauce. One of the most visually creative offerings of the evening perfectly incorporated potentially disparate ingredients into a lovely, harmonious bite.
Chef Greg Hozinsky of The Strand House, Manhattan Beach, CA: Norwegian Halibut “Tataki”, with yuzu, green apple gelee, grapes, and celery espuma. The delicate “tataki” (in quotations because it was seared with citrus rather than with fire) was paired wonderfully with the early fall fruits and the hint of crispness from the celery foam.
The street food fest also premiered brews from Nya Carnegiebryggriet, Brooklyn Brewery’s Swedish sister brewery.
Nordic Hot Dog Championship
Quite like with Nordic street food, we were originally baffled by the pairing of “Nordic” with “hot dog.” It turns out, however, that all Nordic countries have a unique version of hot dogs, and, especially within the past few years, the gourmet hot dog trend has become pretty serious up north. This hot dog championship, also held at Brooklyn Brewery, is the culmination of several semi-championships, during which contenders from all across Scandinavia have been going head to head to see who’s hot dog game is most on point.We were in hot dog heaven at the championship, trying classic and innovative twists on the traditional meat-in-bun set up. In keeping with the theme of much of the NORTH Festival, we enjoyed two really interesting fish-based hot dogs: a Norweigan Salmon, Scallop, and Halibut Hot Dog with Dijon Aioli and Sauerkraut from Chef Neal Fraser (who ultimately took the Judge's title of Best Hot Dog), and a Smoked Trout Hot Dog with Birch, Cauliflower, Dill and Trout Roe from Chefs Paul Backer and Steven Brown.We also enjoyed a surprisingly satisfying, deconstructed Carrot Dog, served in a Kale “Bun” with Sorrel, Porcini, Fried Onions, Toasted Sunflower Seeds, Radish Sprouts, and Sea Salt Mayo.
We also went crazy for the dog which won the People’s Choice award, which was served by none other than Revolving Dansk, New York’s own Nordic transplant. The Copenhagen Street Dog, traditionally served from polsevogn (hot dog wagons) is extra-long, beechwood smoked, and spiced with smoky Scandinavian flavors.