Questionable Tastes TM_BZ_AQUAV_FI_001

I acquired my taste for aquavit over numerous visits to Copenhagen, sipping it ice cold in small frozen shot glasses, accompanied by smorrebrod, the traditional open-faced, rye-bread sandwiches piled high with smoked salmon, pickled herring or smoked eel. When I returned home, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for aquavit with others. But I’ve been met with a response that frankly irritates me: “Isn’t that stuff rocket fuel?” people ask.

What is it about strong foreign spirits, served in tiny glasses, that scares so many Americans? It feels a little xenophobic to me, and I get impatient with those who dismiss the world’s great aqua vitae (“water of life”) with the rocket-fuel label. Aquavit is a lovely, complex spirit, and I have made it my mission as a spirits writer to spread its gospel. MORE

Dispatches TM_DI_OYSTR_FI_002

When Denmark realized a few years ago that it had an oyster invasion, it turned the problem into a tourism opportunity, inciting people to gather up the pests and eat them. It wasn’t too difficult: Danes and oyster-eating go way back, at least to the Stone Age, as evidenced by ancient heaps of discarded shells called kjökkenmödding. In 1587, King Frederick II made oyster fishing a royal monopoly—those who broke the law three times risked the death penalty.

For most of their history, Danes ate the Ostrea edulis, a flat species indigenous to Europe that also goes by the name Belon (though this appellation is normally reserved for those that come from an estuary in France). But overfishing, pollution and disease have driven the flat oyster nearly to extinction, so the Pacific oyster, or Crassostrea gigas, is now the type most people eat the world over. Introduced from Asia to the United States in the early 20th century and to France in the 1960s, the Pacific is more resistant to parasites and variations in temperature. However, in some places—including the western coast of Denmark—it has become an invasive species, blanketing the sea floor like beds of concrete. MORE


The Swedish Chef

Trying to cook from the year's most inspiring and frustrating food book


When it comes to cookbooks, I am typically willing to do whatever the writer asks of me. Order obscure ingredients online and pay more for shipping than the product? I’ve done it. Visit seven specialty and international markets to make a specific pan-Asian noodle dish? No problem. Start a dinner three days in advance to allow gels to set and flavors to meld? I am ready, willing, able.

So when I got my oven mitts on Fäviken, a new cookbook by acclaimed Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, I looked forward with pleasure to the rigors of what I had heard was an ambitious, challenging cookbook.

Before glancing at any of the recipes, I read the long introduction by Bill Buford, author of one of my favorite culinary memoirs, Heat. He dedicates numerous paragraphs to describing the stark remoteness of Nilsson’s restaurant (also named Fäviken). According to Buford, a visit there requires employing the services of the region’s single cab driver. He tells the restaurant’s origin story, explaining how difficult it was for Nilsson to hire anyone to work at his new restaurant due to its isolated location in the northern part of snowy Sweden. Though Nilsson’s ambitious daily hunting and foraging is reverently described, I was no less confident I could cook from this book. MORE


Old Nordic

Even the most contemporary cuisine is built on traditions


A smörgåsbord dinnerI looked down at the array of dishes on my “Swedish Sampler” during this year’s St. Lucia Festival at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia. As I did, I thought of how little the food in front of me resembled the art-on-a-platter photos of trendy New Nordic cuisine I’ve seen everywhere in food magazines lately. Carefully placed elaborate foams and meticulously designed dustings of local dirt didn’t adorn the food. And there weren’t foraged mushrooms, bunches of fresh moss, or just-caught seafood anywhere to be found on the plate.

No, there was nothing “new” about my festive dinner. But it looked exactly like what most people think about when they think of Scandinavian food–a homey hodgepodge of old Nordic cuisine.

With foreign names like köttbullar, rödbets sallad, and knäckebröd, the food both intrigued and intimidated me. No traditional Swedish smörgåsbord buffet would be complete without herring, pickled salads, boiled potatoes, or lingonberry jam either. Having never had a taste of anything Nordic, I approached the meal cautiously. I knew that pickling was used frequently in the cuisine, so I expected vinegar to dominate and taste too unfamiliar for my American palate. MORE

Cooking TM_NN_NNHOME_FI_001

Raw shrimp, moss foam, pine oil, and unfamiliar herbs. These are the hallmarks of a bigger trend currently sweeping Nordic-inspired restaurants all around the world. As a Dane I tend to ask myself: are these really the only things people should associate with the New Nordic Cuisine?

I say, emphatically, no. In fact, I am on a mission to show the world what New Nordic Cuisine can mean to a home cook. I’ve been teaching cooking classes on the topic for several years, and I’m surrounded daily by the research and development of the New Nordic diet and cuisine at my home university in Copenhagen, where I’m a graduate student in Food Science and Technology. The research underway is mainly focused on the potential nutritional benefits of the New Nordic diet. MORE

Questionable Tastes TM_DI_JNOMA_FI_003

Few consider the faith of the food writer. And this is probably a good thing. I won’t say that to worship food and drink is to pray to a false god. But even with all the high-minded talk of farm-to-table or Slow Food movements, of molecular gastronomy or urban gardening, of locavorism or fruitarianism or whatever-the-latest-ism, in my experience it rarely leads one down the shining path of enlightenment.

Or at least that’s what I believed until this past spring, when I spent one of the most glorious weeks of my life eating my way through Copenhagen, capped off by a 25-course, five-hour lunch at Noma, considered by many to be the best—and most thought-provoking—restaurant in the world.

“Some people see going to Noma as a religious experience,” said Michael Bom Frøst, a food scientist and director of the nonprofit Nordic Food Lab, which was established by Noma’s owners. This was several days before my own meal at Noma, and we stood in the lab’s shiny test kitchen, inside a houseboat moored across the canal from Noma. The brilliant Nordic sun shone in the bluest Nordic sky as we ate a pink ice cream made from seaweed and looked across the cold water toward Copenhagen’s center. MORE