A few weeks back, I was invited to explore what all the fuss is about over the Scandinavian food scene at Cool Nordic 2014. Yes, there is a scene and yes, there is a lot of fuss. Most people have at least heard of Noma, René Redzepi's Copenhagen boîte, which has topped Pellegrino's World's Best Restaurants list four out of the last five years, only dropping to #2 last year. Nordic establishments have also dominated the Bocuse D'Or for the last decade. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, if you'll pardon the pun.
In 2004, Claus Meyer, along with a few fellow chefs and the Nordic Council of Ministers, put forward a Manifesto that proposed a cuisine that was pure, simple, healthy and ethical. It would also be locally sourced and be a reflection of the land and the people it came from. This has led to a rise in national and regional pride, as well as a good-natured rivalry between each member country's representatives.
The ribbing was out in full force at the culinary presentation at The Spoke Club, especially on the panel featuring Toronto food writer Amy Rosen, Newfoundland-born chef Jonathan Gushue (Queen Margherita Pizza), Norwegian chef Tommy Raanti (Gastronomisk Institutt AS) and Swedish chef (yes, I went there) Gustav Trägårdh (Sjömagasinet). Even the Finnair team got in on it.
"Tradition evolved with knowledge and inspiration from other cultures we weren't exposed to 50 years ago." - Chef Tommy Raanti
But the sense of community and cooperation was evident as well, not just regionally, but internationally. All the panelists agreed there is much in common between our landscapes, and the resulting types of produce and wildlife, so there is a natural kinship there that we can all gain from. Gushue believes, for example, that the rise of Nordic cuisine has started to give courage and inspiration to Canadian chefs to try new ways of using native ingredients that have been traditionally ignored.
"Going local expresses our soul and terroir." - Anders Kissmeyer
Even on the beverage side, there is collaboration between Canada and Scandinavia. Kissmeyer brewmaster, Anders Kissmeyer, has collaboration with Ontario's own Beau's All Natural Brewing Company before and they plan to continue that fruitful relationship. Their current co-pro is the Nordic Pale Ale, which shows an incredibly peachy nose, gentle sweet and sour interplay and a hoppy finish. Utilizing relationships like the one with Beau's, Kissmeyer wants to create whole new styles of beer and sees collaboration as the means to that end.
After the presentations, we were treated to a cooking demo by Finnair's executive chef, Juha Stenholm, and now I want to fly Finnair business class. A seriously scrumptious gravlax preparation gives one something to aspire to when it comes to airline food. Chef Gushue repped Canada with an inventively smoked tataki lamb heart hors d'œuvre.
To cap off the day, there was a five station, 10-course dinner created by Chefs Raanti and Trägårdh on the Spoke Club's beautiful rooftop patio. Check out the photos of the insane spread below and start planning your Nordic getaway now. FYI, Finnair will be launching direct service between Toronto and Helsinki this June.