friends of lysverket: people meeting people…

On the way to Hardanger

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A leading voice in the international black metal movement.

A high-end furniture designer from Copenhagen.

A Scotsman who dives for a living off the North Sea coast above the Arctic Circle.

An American hardcore punk drummer-turned pastry chef.

A group of Norwegian women preserving the craft of bread making in a remote village in the fjords.

And an Asian-American lawyer who left the firm to travel the world with his camera.

What do these diverse people have in common?  We are all friends of Lysverket.

Since I last wrote about the Friends of Lysverket collaborative series, chef Christopher Haatuft has hosted two more of these dinners at his restaurant in Bergen, Norway.  And, together, we have planned three more of these dinners this year.  I’d like to give you an update on this dinner series now.

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Making krotakake.

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In January, we hosted our third Friends of Lysverket dinner.  Anticipating extreme weather of one stripe or another, Haatuft and I decided it would be wise to focus our weekend’s itinerary on indoor activities.

“Indoor” is a loose term to Norwegians.  Hardened by the harsh weather, Norwegians have a surprisingly high tolerance for the cold.  Ingbjørg Grøtt, for example, runs a small bakery collective out of a log cabin near the village of Herand on the far side of the Handanger fjord.  Although there is a modern kitchen attached to the cabin, with a sheeter and electric amenities, the ladies rely on a wood-fired oven for warmth.  But that oven, used primarily for baking bread, barely gives off enough heat to ward off the cold air that streams through the cracks between the walls.

Grøtt calls her bakery collective “Eikjetunet,” which, loosely translated, refers to an oak tree in the yard.  Here, she and a few of her fellow villagers preserve a vanishing tradition of regional baking. They were kind of enough to spend an afternoon teaching us how to make two traditional, Norwegian flatbreads.  They showed us how to roll the dough out, and, using paddles and dowels, how to move the thin sheets of dough from the rolling board to the cooking surface.

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The Jondal ferry.

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The krotakake (“krota cake”) is made from a grain-based flour dough. This dough is elastic and surprisingly resilient, which gave it a higher survival rate in our inexperienced hands (still the casualties were many, and not pretty).  Krotakake is named after the wooden rolling pin used to flatten the dough.  The pin is scored with crosshatches, making its surface a grid of “teeth” that docks the dough as it rolls.  The dimples created by the krota prevent the dough from puffing (like a pita) when baked in the wood-fired oven.  The krotakake are baked until completely dry.  They become crisp as they cool, resulting in something akin to a round sheet of matzoh. The krotakake are stacked and kept up to six months (we were told that, traditionally, villages would fire up its communal oven twice a year, and everyone would bake their bread together).  Although the krotakake could be eaten as a cracker, it is usually rehydrated.  Traditionally, it is quickly dipped in water and let to sit until it softens.  Treated similarly to a tortilla or crêpe, krotakake is usually filled and either folded, layered, or rolled.

The potatkake (“potato cake”), made from boiled potatoes, was a wetter dough that required more finesse.  Like the krotakake, the potatkake is flattened with a krota. But, instead of being baked in the wood-fired oven, these were finished on an open-top griddle, much like the type used in a crêperie.  The potatkake are larger than the krotakake, and are more dense and heavy.  They also have a distinct potato flavor to them.

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Krotakake

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At Eikjetunet, the Grøtts generously opened their home to us.  There wasn’t enough space in the baking cabin for the entire Friends of Lysverket crew (usually, the restaurant’s entire staff – both front and back of the house – participate in these weekend excursions), so their home – which was just a few steps away from the bakery – served as both spillover space, as well as a warm refuge from the cold.  They kept a roaring furnace, around which we huddled to thaw out between baking sessions.  They also put out platters of krotakake and potatkake for us, served with a gratifyingly stiff, dark coffee.  

The krotakake were filled with sweet butter and served with some of the most amazing strawberry jam I’ve ever tasted. The flavor of the strawberries was so intense and pure, and the color was so vibrantly red that I suspected it might be artificial.  Of course, when I asked them where they got the jam, I was met with a confused look: they made it from berries they picked nearby; just strawberries and a bit of sugar (of course).  The Grøtts’s jam prompted me to start lobbying Haatuft for a dinner based on Norwegian fruits.

The Grøtts also served us krotakake rolled with smoked salmon and potatkake layered with thin shavings of brunost, the famous Norwegian “brown cheese” with a peculiar caramel-like sweetness. (This cheese is, perhaps, more familiar to Americans as gjetost, a version of brown cheese that is made with goat milk)

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Brooks Headley

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With us on our trip to Eikjetunet in January was guest chef Brooks Headley, pastry chef of Del Posto in New York City.  I thought he’d be a good match for this dinner, not only because his work in pastry might find an interesting overlap with our baking expedition, but I thought that his musical background might also dovetail nicely with Lysverket as well.  Headley used to be the drummer for a number of hardcore punk bands. And he remains active on the music circuit today, playing with his band when he finds time to step away from the kitchen

Frederik Saroea, one of the co-owners of Lysverket, is the lead singer of one of Norway’s biggest bands – Datarock.  Every night, Saroea invites a disc jockey to close out the evening at Lysverket with music.  I have to admit, it makes for an unorthodox ending to a “fine dining” meal.  But even I, a Midwesterner who favors calmer dining environs, am astonished by how well it works, and especially by how gradually the dining room is transformed from a restaurant into a cocktail lounge as dinner service tapers.

When Saroea, gregarious and colorful, heard that Headley would be joining us as guest chef, he roped in another musician for this Friends of Lysverket event.  He invited Kristian Eivind Espedal to pair the wines for the dinner.  Better known as “Gaahl,” he is formerly the principal of the Norwegian black metal group Gorgoroth.  He now produces “shamanistic” music with God Seed and Wardruna.  Having known nothing about him (and very little about black metal music) when we met, I was quite frankly startled by the difference between the soft-spoken, extremely thoughtful man with whom I shared a drink for two hours, and his dramatic onstage persona, which I later discovered when I looked him up online. In retrospect, the time I spent getting to know Gaahl embodied the very best of what Friends of Lysverket offers: an opportunity for people who wouldn’t normally find each other in life to cross paths at the dinner table.

There we were, Asian-American and Norwegian, Christian and (self-proclaimed) pagan, photographer and musician sitting at the bar at Lysverket talking about art, religion, music, and his obsession with natural wines.  Afterwards, he took Headley and me to Apollon, a record bar with beer on tap and bins upon bins of vinyl records.  They had everything from George Strait to, well… Norwegian black metal.

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 Friends of Lysverket

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In stark contrast to the dark and enigmatic Gaahl was Silje Heggren, a bubbly and energetic (even by American standards) artist, whose works hang on the walls at Lysverket. She was also invited to be a part of this third Friends of Lysverket dinner.

Heggren’s personality comes across on canvas.  Her paintings are bright and colorful, and, like her, the subject matter is just a touch quirky. Although most of her work focuses on youth in society, the paintings that I’ve seen at Lysverket, and the ones she brought to share with the guests at dinner were a part of an imaginative series depicting what she calls “infinity machines.”

With Heggren’s infinity machines as a backdrop, and with Gaahl’s selection of natural wines to pair, Haatuft and Headley served a multi-course dinner at Lysverket.  Headley, who has a side interest making “veggie burgers,” served a canapé of small veggie burgers wrapped in krotakake.  The result was something akin to falafels in pita.  He also served potato gnocchi glazed in a slightly sweet carrot sauce spiced with berbere and garnished with crunchy potato skins.  I so enjoyed watching the faces of my fellow diners light up as they experienced their first taste of berbere, a spice largely unfamiliar to Norwegians.  It was delicious.

Haatuft served baked pumpkin and king crab wrapped in mini melkekake – another type of Norwegian flatbread made with milk.  Perhaps my favorite dish of Haatuft’s, was a rich spelt “ragú” served with langoustines and grilled porcini.

I have always loved Headley’s apple fritelle dessert (which he lovingly attributes to the McDonald’s apple pie).  I’m drawn to its cider-like quality.  He uses the tartness of the apple to draw a sharp line through the sweetness and creaminess of the ice cream.  For this dinner, Headley made a variation with bananas and cloudberries, using the latter to thin out the the former in a similar way.  It was terrific.

You can see all of the photos from this third Friends of Lysverket dinner here.

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Kelp conference.

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Our fourth Friends of Lysverket dinner, held in early March, brought together another dynamic group of people.

From the cold, Arctic waters near Bødo in the extreme north of Norway, came Roddie Sloan.  A Scotsman, who, a decade and a half ago intended to hop on the Trans-Siberian Railway to seek a new life and fortune in China, Sloan, instead, fell in love in Norway.  And there he has remained since, raising a family with his Norwegian wife and making a living as a diver.  You might know his name from the many, high-end Nordic chefs he supplies with seafood, including Haatuft.

From Copenhagen came Kim Dolva, the furniture designer who outfitted the interior of Lysverket.  Tall and thin, with a surfer’s spray of wavy blond hair, Dolva started his career as a guitar maker.  It was only a few years ago that he stumbled across an affordable warehouse space in an underdeveloped neighborhood of Copenhagen and founded the København Møbelsnekeri (translated as the “Copenhagen Joinery”) with his business partners.  Now, he designs interiors for everyone from the privately wealthy to restaurants and retail businesses around the world.  On my recent trip to Copenhagen (about which I hope to write), Dolva gave me a tour of his workshop and showroom, as well as a couple of local businesses for which he designed.

And, for this fourth dinner, Haatuft invited chef Thorsten Schmidt from Aarhus in Denmark. Schmidt had just closed his restaurant Malling & Schmidt for a year (Malling is his wife, who was the sommelier at their restaurant) and was on a sabbatical of sorts.

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Knut Magnus Persson

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All of us spent a cold, rainy day together off the coast of Sotra, one of the many satellite islands that surrounds the Bergen metropolis.  Our guides were Arne Duinker, a marine biologist who has been a recurring and integral contributor to the Friends of Lysverket series, and Knut Magnus Persson, who, with Duinker, had taken us diving during our first Friends of Lysverket weekend.

Using a yacht that one of Persson’s friends had moored off of a small, rocky island as a warm and dry base camp, we split up into a few boats.  Duinker took some snorkeling, while the rest of us motored from buoy to buoy, checking on traps and nets that Persson had set.   We kept some of what we pulled up, like a beautiful cod that relies on its orange, coral-like pattern for camouflage among the red seaweed, as well as a few, sizable crabs.  But most of it, we threw back: starfish, sea urchins, and undersized fish and crustacea.

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Knut Jørstad

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Mid-day, we met up with Knut Jørstad, a shrimper who led us into deeper waters.  Jørstad has been mapping the sea bed in his area for years.  The next day, at the dinner, I landed next to him and asked what he plans to do with all of the information he’s gathering.  He doesn’t know, he said.  But he’s sure that it’s useful.  This kind of academic curiosity – in some ways, an obsession – impressed me.  And, as it turned out, that quiet, stoic shrimper, who I watched methodically reel in his traps the day before, had been a researcher who spent years speaking about aquaculture at conferences around the world.  I noticed a touch of wistfulness in his voice as we talked about travel.  He missed it, I could tell.

Jørstad had stopped his boat in the middle of open water.   He leaned over the side and, using a long hook, snagged a large, orange buoy bobbing in the water.  Attached to the buoy was a cable, which Jørstad pulled over a mechanized pulley on his boat and began the long process of reeling in a series of cages that he had laid.  The water where we had stopped was about 200 meters deep, far out of the reach of divers without highly specialized equipment (even then, a dive that deep would be an extremely dangerous proposition). He noted that the sea bed there was very soft – mostly sand.  He usually leaves his cages out for a week or more.  These had only been out for a couple of days, so he wasn’t expecting to find much in them.

As he predicted, the cages were largely empty.  Even still, we were able to collect a few dozen small shrimp.  They had luminescent eyes (even in broad daylight, they glowed intensely).  And their shells were so soft that we ate them whole.  They were very tender, and very sweet.

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Stenbider

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We went diving.  The chefs went in with Sloan and Persson.  But the undercurrents were so violent that they surfaced shortly after jumping in.  Plus, it was getting dark.

I got a much better deal.  I returned to Persson’s the next day with Henrik Storland, a friend of Dolva’s who had tagged along on this trip.  (Storland is opening a cycling-cum-coffee shop in Copenhagen soon. I’ll tell you about it when I write about Copenhagen in a later post.)  When we arrived at Persson’s place, he had our dry suits (7mm) laid out for us.  We got dressed in the warmth of his house and headed to the dock, where we strapped on our flippers, SCUBA vests, and tanks.  It was a far more comfortable and relaxed proposition than changing in the cold rain on a rocking boat, as the others did the day before.

The three of us had a leisurely, 30-minute dive in the cold, clear waters off of Persson’s dock.  Because all of us were getting on planes within the next 24 hours, we couldn’t venture too deep.  But, even at 11 meters down we found the sandy floor littered with scallops, crabs, sea urchins, and other bottom-dwelling curiosities.  Persson found a beautiful stenbider (translates as “stone biter”), a round, prehistoric-looking fish with a high, ridge top and rows of spikes.  It is named for the huge suction cup on its underside that helps the fish anchor to rocks in rough currents.  In Scandinavia, this fish is prized for its roe, which is often called “Danish caviar.”  More commonly, English speakers will have seen it on Scandinavian menus as “lumpfish roe.”

When we returned to the Lysverket kitchen with the stenbider, I watched Schmidt cut it open and filet it.  Inside, there was a large, creamy liver, blushing a pretty shade of pink. But the liver was dwarfed by a roe sack bursting with orange eggs.  Like most prehistoric fish, the stenbider was extremely gelatinous.  In fact, the meat – if you can call it that – was jiggly and opaque.  Schmidt reassured me that it was edible – best smoked, he said.

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Soft-shell clams.

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The dinner ended up being a collaboration among three chefs.

Sloan jumped in and presented a beautifully salt-baked cod, which he invited one of the guests to hammer open.  He had also brought some softshell clams that he had handpicked in the Arctic waters near his home. They looked like miniature geoducks, and had a very similar texture and flavor, but were slightly less sweet.  Using a pair of small kitchen shears, he showed us how to trim them, and how to eat them.  Taking an empty shell in his hand, he also showed how easily it could be crushed – hence, its name.

Schmidt served a terrific, cold crab salad with pickled lime.  He also served a warm, comforting mushroom and seaweed broth poured over a juniper-smoked egg yolk.  Both of those dishes were extremely well-balanced in flavor.  There were both highlights.

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1st Course: Shrimp in a Jar

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Haatuft opened the dinner with those live shrimp that Jørstad had pulled from the deep waters near Sotra the day before.  He served them on ice in little jars.

He also served us what he called  “old goat.”  The meat, Haatuft warned, would be tough (and it was).  But what I remember most about it was how rosy and juicy and flavorful it was.  It was terrific.

In between, he let one of his cooks present a dish.  Alex Torres, a young Mexican cook from Benito Molina’s kitchen at Restaurant Manzanilla in Ensenada, sent out pan-seared scallops with capers, a Mexican chile sauce, and spiced chapulines (grasshoppers).  I loved the acidity, and especially the nicely pitched heat, a slow, blooming spiciness that glowed more than it peaked.  It was delicious.

Inspired by all of the seaweed we had found during our day on the water, Sung-Min Trommel, Lyverket’s Korean-born Dutch pastry chef, closed out the night with seaweed ice cream served with almond cake and lemon curd.  I’ll admit, it sounds gross.  But, it was actually really, really good.  The seaweed flavor was very subtle, and blended in nicely with the milky sweetness of the cream.

Paired with all of the courses were sake wines that John Miller, the restaurant’s American beverage director, selected for the dinner.  They ranged from dry and mineral-driven, to sweet and effervescent.

You can see all of the photos from this fourth Friends of Lysverket dinner here.

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Midnight hot dog.

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Christopher Haatuft has an unnatural, patriotic allegiance to the Norwegian hot dog.  When I say “the Norwegian hot dog,” I specifically mean the ones that are topped with mayonnaisey shrimp salad that you’ll find at gas stations, convenient stores, and concession stands (and I’ve had them at all three of those glamorous venues).  No Friends of Lysverket weekend is complete without one.

In January, we had them on the ferry crossing the Hardanger fjord on our way to Eikjetunet.  In March, Christopher rallied the troops after the Friends of Lysverket dinner and we descended, en masse, upon Tre Kroneren, a small sausage stand in Bergen that’s open very, very late.  In the dead of night, in a light, misting rain, in the jaundice glow of street lamps humming with fluorescence, we stood on the sidewalk laughing at each other with foot-longs hanging out of our mouths.  But, as silly and trite as this midnight vignette may seem, in many ways, like my encounter with Gaahl that I mentioned above, it captures the soul of the Friends of Lysverket series: an unlikely meeting of nationalities, languages, talents, and perspectives made not-so-unlikely by a common love of food and drink.

Thank you Christopher Haatuft, the team at Lyvserket, and the beautiful and generous country of Norway for bringing us all together.

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Friends of Lysverket #4

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I am happy to report that the Friends of Lysverket series will continue, once every two months, for the rest of this year.

In early June, we will welcome chef Paul Qui of Qui in Austin, Texas to Bergen.  His visit will coincide with the annual Festspillene i Bergen, a highly regarded international classical music festival, and the city’s biggest event.

In August, Danish chef Esben Holmboe Bang of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Maaemo in Oslo will be our sixth Friends of Lysverket guest chef.

And in mid-October, I am especially excited to travel to Bergen with my fellow Kansas Citians, and fellow co-authors, chefs Colby and Megan Garrelts.  It will be their first trip to Europe, and I am thrilled for the opportunity to introduce them to a whole, new world.

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Photos: The plunging landscape of snowy Hardanger, Norway; two women rolling krotakake at Eikjetunet near Herald, Norway; the Jondal ferry crossing the Hardanger fjord, Norway; krotakake and potatkake served with strawberry jam at Eikjetunet near Herald, Norway; Brooks Headley at Apollon, a record bar in Bergen, Norway; some of Silje Heggren’s artwork at Lysverket in Bergen, Norway; Arne Duinker talks seaweed with Thorsten Schmidt and Roddie Sloan; Knut Magnus Persson shows us how big the crabs can get aboard his boat near Sotra, Norway; shrimper Knut Jørstad surveys the sea from his boat on the waters near Sotra, Norway; Knut Magnus Persson holds the stenbider he caught on our dive off the coast of Sotra, Norway; Christopher Haatuft and Kim Dolva look on as Roddie Sloan shows us the soft-shell clam at Lysverket in Bergen, Norway; the live shrimp served at the Friends of Lysverket dinner in March at Lyverkset in Bergen, Norway; Henrik Storland and his midnight hot dog at Tre Kroneren in Bergen, Norway; the team of Lysverket after the fourth Friends of Lysverket dinner in March in Bergen, Norway.

~ by ulterior epicure on March 25, 2015.

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