travel: farms, fields and fjords along the way….

Sea urchins

~

Chef Christopher Haatuft pulled off the winding road that traces the craggy Norwegian coast near Askøy.  The gloomy sky hung low as we got out of the car and started down a marshy trail that stretched for a while along a creek, before rising over a rocky hill.

We arrived high above a small inlet of water.  There were three cooks with us: a Frenchman, a short Italian, and a Dutchman, who was unbelievably tall in the way that Dutchmen often are.  I only mention the height of these cooks because, comically, the Italian and Dutchman ended up sharing the same wader, which ended badly for the poor Italian, who began hooting halfway out, when his slack suit began taking on the cold, Nordic water.

The cooks fanned out, and began looking for herbs among the low-lying brush.  I followed Haatuft closer to the water, which was incredibly calm and clear, made inky only by its depth.  We were there to meet his sea forager, Arne Duinker.

~

Christopher Haatuft

~

After a worrisome wait with no sign of Duinker, Haatuft reassured me that he was on his way.  Looking for him on the horizon, expecting his arrival on foot by the same trail we took, I was surprised when Haatuft pointed at the water, where Duinker surfaced, wearing a wetsuit and snorkel.

Arne Duinker was made for the sea.  A marine biologist at NIFES (the Norwegian National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research), he is lean and lithe, and has an incredible tolerance for the cold.  Out of the water, he stripped down naked among the rocks, toweled off, and changed into dry clothes, all the while telling us calmly about his small harvest that day, seemingly unfazed by the chilly, late-winter rain that had begun to fall.

From his water sack, Duinker produced a variety of seaweed, pointing out the features of each, noting that some of them were getting too tough to eat.  He also pulled out two beautiful sea urchins, glowing a shade of neon lavender I had never seen on that type of creature before.  Carefully, he lopped off the tops of each (you’ll want to see this video), revealing the creamy gonads arranged in a star-shaped pattern within.  The familiar, orange-colored ones (the ones that we are accustomed to eating) belonged to females, Duinker said.  The other one had milky-white gonads, which I had never seen before.  Those, Duinker pointed out, belonged to a male.  The gonads of both were incredibly swollen, and looked more watery than creamy, a sign that the urchins were in mating mode.

I tasted both. The female gonads were sweeter than the male gonads, which had a saltier minerality.  But both were far too watery to be considered good for eating.

The rain stopped, and we took turns strapping on the waders and venturing into the water to collect more seaweed and sea snails.

~

Bryggen

~

Arne Duinker is just one of the many people with whom Haatuft works to understand and improve the Norwegian food supply chain.  Since Norway’s population is barely over 5 million, the food community there is relatively small, and it’s stretched thinly over a large, and largely unforgiving terrain.  Since the vast majority of Norwegians live along the coast, the ocean is a major source of food.  As such, it has become a growing concern for Norwegians, like Haatuft, who worry about the sustainability of local aquaculture.

In fact, the reason I was in the Norwegian city of Bergen that week was because a good college friend of mine, Solveig, whose family owns one of the largest fish farming operations in the world, was there attending the North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF).  Aware that I’ve attended a couple of international fora dedicated to sustainable seafood, and having toured and photographed her family’s fish farms in Honduras and Mexico, which have an impressive track record for sustainability – both with regard to the environment and the communities that comprise their workforce – she asked me if I’d meet her at one of her industry’s most important events.

~

Lysverket

~

Back from Askøy, Haatuft and I swung by his restaurant, Lysverket, located on the ground level of the Bergen Art Museum, to drop off his cooks and to warm up over hearty bowls of Norwegian fish soup.*  More cream than broth, it was really more like a bisque, with fish quenelles, and some julienne root vegetables.

Afterwards, we picked up his business partner (and co-investor in Lysverket) Fredrik Saroea (who, by the way, not only has the most eclectic collection of Japanese cartoon figurines I’ve ever seen, but is also the vocalist, guitarist and co-founder of Datarock, a Norwegian electronic rock band known for its members’ red jumpsuits), and drove two hours to Voss, stopping along the way at a small apple farm in the sleepy, seaside village of Øystese.  The farm was so small, in fact, that the orchard was in the middle of a neighborhood, tucked in the bend of a switchback with a magnificent view of the sea, and snow-capped mountains beyond.  It couldn’t have been more than a third of an acre at most.  Here, Geir Henning Spilde grows nearly a dozen different varieties of apples, which he presses himself, making single-varietal juices, as well as blends.  We tasted about a half-dozen different juices – my favorite was a particularly fragrant Summerred single-varietal.  Haatuft and Saroea picked up a few bottles for the restaurant, and we continued on our way toward Voss.

~

The view from Spilde's orchard.

~

Over the past couple of decades, large-scale fish farming has arrived to the cold, North Sea waters.  Halibut, trout, char, mussels, oysters, and, to a lesser extent, cod, are all raised in  net cages sheltered in the calm, Norwegian fjords.  Salmon, however, comprise the lion’s share of Norway’s fish farming industry. In fact, when I was in Chile last year, where salmon farming has become a major source of revenue, representatives of the Chilean fishing associations told me that they get most of their salmon eggs from Norway.

This boom in fish farming is having a negative impact on local aquaculture.  The density of fish raised in these cages is increasing the level of pollutants in the water.  It’s also spreading diseases to which wild fish are particularly vulnerable.  Also, the further upstream the salmon cages are anchored in the fjords, the more they interfere with seasonal fish runs.  Wild salmon, disoriented by the large quantity of caged salmon in the fjords, are less able to find their way back to their spawning sites upstream.  Caged fish that escape are also mating with wild salmon, altering the natural gene pool, and not necessarily in a good way.  Wild salmon are being weeded out.

That is why people like Geir Ove Henden are so important now.  Henden works at the Voss Klekkeri, a salmon hatchery that hopes to replenish the falling wild salmon population.  We drove to Voss to visit him.

Henden walked us through the incubation and hatching process, starting with dozens of trays of wild salmon eggs at various stages of gestation.  At some point, the eggs are submerged in a non-toxic dye that permeates the eggs’ membrane and stains the spine of the embryos within.  Together, with tiny, metal tags, etched with an identification numbers, that are embedded in the mouths of young salmon, staining the fishes’ spines helps Henden and his fellow marine biologists track their salmon.  Specifically, they want to know how many of their tagged salmon are able to find their way back upstream to Voss to spawn each season.  Likewise, they also want to know how many of their salmon end up swimming up different streams, or not making it back to freshwater to spawn at all, possibly confused by the caged salmon in the fjords.

I wondered aloud: don’t the salmon have to hatch in the wild in order to know where to return to spawn?  Isn’t there some kind of magical encryption process that happens at birth whereby the coordinates of a salmon’s birth site are coded into the fish’s brain?  Yes and no.  According to Henden, salmon mentally record their maiden journey downstream into the ocean, and rely on this memory to find their way back years later when they are ready to spawn.  So, when the Voss Klekkeri’s young salmon are ready to be released into the wild, they are put into cages upstream and then towed downstream by tugboats into the open, ocean waters, where they are released.  In this way, the Voss Klekkeri’s salmon are exposed to the fresh waters of their “birth,” and able to record their journey into the ocean.

As I left the hatchery, I noticed a black and white photo, decades old, of Henden and his colleagues, with salmon larger than they.  I stopped to admire the size of the fish in the picture.  Henden lamented that salmon that size used to be commonplace.  Now, they’re far and few between.

~

1877

~

Bergen is Norway’s busiest port, and the country’s second-most populated city.  But, it’s not very big.  The city center, parts of which are registered as a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, is easily navigable by foot, although the amount of rainfall this side of Norway gets often makes it a pain to get around.  It rained every day I was there, varying between light drizzle and sheets of rain that moved almost horizontally.

I was only in the city for three, short days, so I didn’t get to explore the restaurant scene much.  From what I gathered, both from online research and locals alike,  it’s not a very exciting destination for dining (yet, anyway).  But a few chefs in town, like Haatuft, and Christer Økland, chef of 1877, are striving to make it a better place to eat.

My first night in town, I ate at Økland’s relatively new restaurant, located in the city’s historic meat market (1877 opened in 2013). The restaurant offered two prix-fixe menus (3 and 5 courses).  I chose the longer one (695 NOK; at the then-current exchange rate, about $110).  Like Haatuft, Økland focuses on cooking with local, Norwegian products.  I had king crab, inland trout, and pork from a pig farmer about whom Økland was particularly enthusiastic.  I also loved the local, Norwegian cheeses he served, especially an unpasteurized blue cheese with a dusty rind.  Overall, I found the cooking to be solid, the flavors bold (the meat broth poured over the king crab might have been too bold – it was awfully salty), and the presentation neat enough. There was a hearty rusticity to Økland’s food that matched the charming interior of the restaurant (which had an Old World beauty about it).  But there were also glimpses of modernity that betrayed Økland’s time in more contemporary kitchens, like alinea in Chicago.

(For those who don’t drink alcohol – and even for those who do – I encourage you to explore 1877’s menu of fruit juices.  I ordered the blueberry juice and it was outstanding – rich and velvety, and full of flavor.)

~

Smoked Salmon Salad

~

I heard that exciting things were happening at Colonialen.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare night to have dinner there.  But, I did drop by its Café and Brasserie, located in the adjacent Litteraturhuset (Literature House), for lunch.  In addition to offering an assortment of baked goods, the café also had a short menu of mostly cold plates.  I had a terrific pig ear terrine (served on a board with mustard and pickled vegetables) and a hearty smoked salmon salad (with beets, walnuts, and tartar sauce as dressing).  Together, with a bottle of water, that lunch cost me $50, which, perhaps expensive to an American, is normal by Norwegian standards.**

While standing – pressed against a building under the eves to avoid the rain – on Østre Skostredet, admiring the psychedelic (and tastefully applied) graffiti on the buildings across the street, there came a knock on the window behind me.  When I turned around, a young man inside was waving at me.  At first, I thought he was shooing me from leaning on his window.  He picked up my misunderstanding and quickly ran to open the door, inviting me to come in out of the rain.

Inside was a curious outfit.  It was a large, one-room studio-slash-museum.  It was completely bare, save the tiny desk at which this young man – the docent, or guide? – sat, and a strange contraption, mostly made of wood, that looked like a pipe organ collided with a victrola and a series of discs that looked like astronomy charts.  I thought it might be a modern art installation.  Attached to this contraption was a crank, and the young man encouraged me to turn it.  When I did, the contraption came to life – the astronomy charts (which turned out to be some kind of perforated sheet music) started to turn, the bellow started to pump, and the pipes begin emitting strange, atonal sounds.  This was Bergen’s Lydgalleriat (“Sound Gallery”), a non-commercial gallery space for exploring experimental sound-based art.  Funded by the Arts Council of Norway, the Lydgalleriet is a testament to   how strange and wonderful the world can be when people, and their government, support the arts enthusiastically.  But, I suppose one’s government must be solvent before it can support the arts at all (more on this in a later post).

My unexpected visit to the Lydgalleriet of Bergen is just one example of the many curious corners of the city that I unintentionally discovered while seeking relief from the rain (the city’s famous fish market was another).  A few blocks away, I ducked into a small boutique that sold magnificent raincoats made by T. Michael, a Bergan-based clothing designer.  Despite the fact that Norwegians tend tall and big, and I am short and small, to my great surprise and joy, his Norwegian Rain coats fit me like a glove.  If anyone out there is feeling particularly generous, I invite you to send me a double-breasted in his smallest size (XXS).  I prefer any shade of blue or grey over black.  Thanks.

~

8th Course: Kraftkar

~

I had two dinners at Lysverket.  The night we returned from the hatchery in Voss, we dropped in for some bar snacks.  The next night, I returned with my friend Solveig for a proper meal.

Haatuft cooked for us, so I am unsure how my meal might have detoured from his menu that night.

Unsurprisingly, his cooking focused mostly on seafood.  We had octopus, langoustine, mahogany clams, and scallops, all from local waters.  Haatuft’s dishes demonstrated good cooking technique, although, since his sauces, like Økland’s, tended salty, I started to question whether the Bergen palate is accustomed to a higher level of salinity than my American one.

The three dishes that stood out the most included a beautiful, alabaster round of cod with cauliflower and sherry gastrique.  There was also a terrific piece of braised veal tongue, served with radicchio marmalade and a rich juniper sauce.  And, towards the end, I particularly liked his composed cheese course: “Krafkar,” a marbled blue, with poppyseed cake, cranberries, and pretty little leaflets of lettuce.  Those plates were clean and neat, and focused on a few, excellent ingredients.

~

Color

~

The next morning, Solveig and I boarded the famous Bergen rail line and took a magical, 300-mile journey through the snowy, Norwegian mountains to Oslo, where I will pick up in my next blog post.

In the months since, Haatuft and I have kept in touch, both of us very much inspired by the conversations we had that day with Duinker on the rocks, Spilde in his orchard, and Henden at the hatchery in Voss.  Recently, Haatuft reached out to me and asked me if I would accompany an American chef to Bergen to recreate that day, and to further our cross-cultural conversation about sustainability and responsible aquaculture.  The trip would culminate in a small, private dinner that the guest chef would cook at Lysverket, using the ingredients that we’d find at the various farms, fields, and fjords along the way.  I happily accepted his invitation and, given Haatuft’s charge, invited Justin Cogley, chef of Aubergine in Carmel, California, to be the guest chef.   Cogley has been a particularly admirable champion of sustainable aquaculture, partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as the Monterey Bay Abalone Co., and other entities and organizations in his region to bring more awareness to this important issue.  For two years now, he has also hosted the Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine dinner series, which brings chefs from all over the country to the Monterey Bay peninsula to learn about and celebrate sustainable aquaculture.  I have attended this event both years, and, like that day that I spent touring with Haatuft, they have proven to be unforgettable learning experiences.

So, next month, Cogley and I will be traveling to Bergen on a cross-cultural exchange and adventure.  (The dinner, I have been told by Haatuft, has already sold out, even before it has been officially announced.) I look forward to telling you about it.

~

Renovation art.

~

* The Bergen Art Museum is spread over a number of buildings.  Lysverket is located in KODE 4.  Next door, is a terrific exhibit of Edvard Munch’s ghostly characters.  It is the second-largest collection of Munch’s artwork in the world, second only to Oslo.

** Like most of Scandinavia, Norway is expensive.  When I arrived at the airport in Bergen, one of the first things I did was let out some cash from an automated teller.  Because I had barely slept the night before, but mostly because I am very bad at math, I selected one of the pre-set withdrawal amounts and ended up with $500.  When I expressed surprise to my Norwegian friends that their cash machines had pre-set withdrawal amounts that hight, they laughed.  They told me that I’d likely go through $500 in a day or two without even trying.  They were right.

PHOTOS: Both male and female sea urchins on the rocks at Askøy; Christopher Haatuft on this mobile in the inlet at Askøy; the famous wharf in Bergen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the interior of Lysverket at the Bergen Art Museum Kode 4; the view from the Spilde orchard in Øystese; the interior of 1877 in Bergen; pig ear terrine and smoked salmon salad at Colonialen’s café in the Litteraturhuset in Bergen; Krafkar composed cheese course at Lysverket; the psychedelic graffiti art in Bergen; the KODE 4, in which Lysverket resides, was partially covered with scaffolding that was decorated with graffiti at the invitation of the local radio station, which invited any and all to come help decorate the museum’s plywood exterior while the museum was under renovation.

~ by ulterior epicure on July 27, 2014.

One Response to “travel: farms, fields and fjords along the way….”

  1. Great roundup of Bergen’s seafood scene. I had been there three or four times to see salmon farms for work – and on a cruise. The Bergen ‘Tourist’ Fish Market had grown tremendously between visits and is well worth visiting for a fish breakfast or tasty lunch….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,197 other followers

%d bloggers like this: