In this edition of Terra Viva, we are going to talk about Nordic cuisine. But not the traditional liver pate or caviar. In Scandinavia, a growing number of chefs are seeking inspiration in the nature around them, offering particularly inventive dishes. One of them, Danish chef Thorsten Schmidt, opened up the doors of his kitchen to us.
He takes on an unusual kind of shopping trip.
The forest is his favourite vegetable garden.
“So this, you see, is my mushroom place,” he tells us, with a wave of his hand.
Thorsten Schmidt is part of the new generation of Danish chefs who have rehabilitated Nordic cuisine in the world of gastronomy.
It’s a cuisine that is close to nature. It is local, seasonal and uninhibited.
“When we realized what we were working with we suddenly said: ‘hey, we don’t have a big classic cuisine weighing us down, telling us you cannot do this’. So we are free now, we can do whatever we want,” says Thorsten.
He finds the secret ingredient he was looking for – a handful of sorrel. But he only takes what he needs.
“Sometimes, the apprentice who is making one of the dishes says ‘oh chef, I think that we should put ten or twelve strands of sorrel in the dish’, and I tell him ‘hey, look, it’s me who is collecting it, so there’ll be three.”
Two years ago, Thorsten and his wife Rikke Malling opened their own restaurant in a beautiful mansion on the outskirts of Aarhus, Denmark’s second city.
The open-plan kitchen is located at the heart of the restaurant which has room for up to 40 guests.
Thorsten says his inspiration comes from the elements all around him.
“We have just been in the woods… let’s take this impression and bring it into the dish,” says Thorsten.
The magic unfolds in just a few minutes. Today’s recipe is based on a combination of blood sausage and Jerusalem artichokes.
Add a lashing of smoked oil and a pinch of some secret ingredient…
“Nordic cuisine is more a way of thinking locally, using what’s in front of you, taking very good care of seasons, because in the Nordic countries, what’s very distinctive is seasons, there is spring, there is winter… In other countries, the seasons are more warm throughout the year,” Thorsten tells us. “By having these very distinctive seasons, you have to think ‘what am I going to use now and what am I going to preserve (smoke, salt, dry) for the next season, especially for the winter’.”
The strength of this new generation of Nordic chefs is their curiosity and their creative force. They are continuously breaking the rules to achieve a cuisine that speaks to all the senses, where the keywords are nature and season.
“In the beginning, I took classic French sauces which I learned, that’s my background actually, French, German and Danish, and I switched, I looked and thought: ‘ok there’s red wine, what can we use instead of red wine? What is red wine: sour liquid, 300 aromatics, red in color. Hum, ok, (so here’s my recipe): red berry juice from wild berries, aromatics with herbs, sourness can be from the juice, alcohol… hey, put in some beer, some mead, some aquavit, some fermented juice, you have an alcohol!”
Nordic cuisine, like its big sister molecular gastronomy, could easily go out of fashion.
But there is every chance a cuisine rooted in common sense and everyday life will always be to someone’s taste.