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Food styling by Michael Elliott/Judy Inc. Prop styling by Alanna Davey.

Viking quest

Scandinavia has led haute cuisine for a decade, but now a more wholesome approach to Nordic cooking is taking hold. Chris Johns offers up a fall menu that skips lichen foam and foraged leaves in favour of a good helping of hygge. Photography by Liam Mogan

Anyone who's ever encountered a plate garnished with foraged ingredients, covered in edible "soil" or that featured something cooked over a pile of burning leaves has tasted the influence of New Nordic cuisine. The influence was practically inescapable in recent years, but now food trend watchers are wondering if the cuisine's success is hastening its demise as chefs and diners look to a heartier and more rustic approach to traditional Scandinavian cooking.

The global fascination with Scandinavian cuisine started with the publication of the Nordic Kitchen Manifesto, a document signed by chefs from across the Nordic countries in 2004 that declared their intention to emphasize seasonal ingredients and establish a culinary approach focusing on purity and simplicity. It was in 2010, however, when Copenhagen's two-Michelin-starred Noma topped the influential San Pellegrino World's 50 Best list as the best restaurant in the world that the cuisine hit the mainstream consciousness.

Rene Redzepi, Noma's chef, became an international culinary celebrity, published three cookbooks, founded the influential MAD Symposium that brings together chefs, farmers, academics and artists to expound on the relationship between food and culture, and was the subject of the full-length documentary Noma: My Perfect Storm. Before long it seemed that every chef with even a modicum of ambition was out there foraging for tubers and plating dishes amid a jumble of sticks and stones. It got to the point where cookbook authors were publishing recipes with instructions to acquire things like "the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree" and "one lavender petal from last year."

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Beet-cured gravlax. WHERE TO BUY IT: Dibbern pure white dessert plate, $50 at Hopson Grace (www.hopsongrace.com). Pasi Jaakonaho Lapland Reindeer antler Puukko knife, $1,640, Sami Kallio chair, $850, Gotland sheepskin, $475 at Mjolk.Beet-cured gravlax

Beet-cured gravlax. WHERE TO BUY IT: Dibbern pure white dessert plate, $50 at Hopson Grace (www.hopsongrace.com). Pasi Jaakonaho Lapland Reindeer antler Puukko knife, $1,640, Sami Kallio chair, $850, Gotland sheepskin, $475 at Mjolk.Beet-cured gravlax

Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

Recipe Give your gravlax some kick with this
beet-cured take


Inevitably, it started to feel like the food, as practiced by its most renowned proponents, had lost touch with the way people really cook and eat. Over strong coffee at Toronto's Karelia Kitchen recently, Leif Kravis and Donna Ashley, the shop's owners, along with Leif's father Janis – the man who was largely responsible for bringing an appreciation for Scandinavian design to Canada back in the 1960s with his shop Karelia – and I discussed this change. "I can't help but feel like what started as an appreciation for the simplicity found in humble ingredients became too fancy," Ashley says. "They started with simple things, but the amount of work that they were putting into them sometimes made them unrecognizable," says Kravis. His father adds, "They were transforming the object rather than letting the object speak."

Karelia Kitchen opened at the end of 2012, during the height of the New Nordic culinary movement, but always focused on a more traditional, simpler style of Nordic cooking than what was fashionable at the time. They may have been ahead of the curve as there is now a movement towards rediscovering Scandinavian cooking that looks more to the past for inspiration – sometimes deep into the Viking era – to bring the food back into the home kitchen and make it relevant to the way people eat every day.

Noma, the standard bearer of the more laboured approach, will close at the end of 2016 and re-open as an "urban farm" in 2017 in a space that is currently a graffiti-covered skateboard park. In the meantime, the team has opened 108, a new restaurant with a more accessible menu and price point. It features hearty, comforting plates like roast lamb and pumpkin with goat's cheese. New restaurants like Raest, in the Faroe Islands' capital of Tórshavn (a region touted as the next culinary hotspot), are building their menus around ancient, rustic ingredients and techniques such as aged ocean perch and fermented lamb intestines. In New York, Swedish chef Gabriel Hedlund's highly anticipated N'eat restaurant is expected to be fit for a Viking. His preview pop-up at the Surf Lodge in Montauk featured dishes like lamb tartare, fermented carrots and a massive short rib, all served without cutlery.


Skibberlabskovs (Skipper Stew). WHERE TO BUY IT: Frosted sake decanter (3-piece set), $24.95 at CB2 (www.cb2.com). Etched sherry glass (set of 7), $195 at Cynthia Findlay Antiques (www.cynthiafindlay.com). Sällskap bowls, $3.99 each at Ikea (www.ikea.com). Abbeyhorn spoon, $92 at Hopson Grace (www.hopsongrace.com). Masanobu Ando silver glazed tea container, $400, Yoshinori Yano hand-carved chestnut tray, $520, Jurgen Lehl copper-and-silver-lined oval pan, $825, Akiko Ando Momogusa double-gauze towel, $25, at Mjolk (www.mjolk.ca).

Skibberlabskovs (Skipper Stew). WHERE TO BUY IT: Frosted sake decanter (3-piece set), $24.95 at CB2 (www.cb2.com). Etched sherry glass (set of 7), $195 at Cynthia Findlay Antiques (www.cynthiafindlay.com). Sällskap bowls, $3.99 each at Ikea (www.ikea.com). Abbeyhorn spoon, $92 at Hopson Grace (www.hopsongrace.com). Masanobu Ando silver glazed tea container, $400, Yoshinori Yano hand-carved chestnut tray, $520, Jurgen Lehl copper-and-silver-lined oval pan, $825, Akiko Ando Momogusa double-gauze towel, $25, at Mjolk (www.mjolk.ca).

Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

Recipe A hearty Danish stew that's perfect for the Canadian cold


Some of the enthusiasm for old-school Scandinavian cooking is being driven by the lifestyle craze for all things hygge. The term is as all-encompassing as it is hard to define. Cozy and snug are words that are often evoked in an attempt to capture the essence of hygge. Sharing a candlelit meal with a group of friends in a warm cabin with a snowstorm raging outside is hygge in the extreme. This fall sees the release of a stack of new books celebrating the concept, which is very much in keeping with a more traditional, simplified view of Scandinavian cooking. Already we've got The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen and next month brings Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge by Trine Hahnemann. (Wiking will be speaking at Cool Nordic, a day-long celebration of Nordic culture, design and cuisine in Montreal on Nov. 23.)

One of the most visible proponents of the move toward rediscovering a more traditional style of Scandinavian cooking is Nevada Berg, an American-born writer and cook. Her blog, North Wild Kitchen, was recently named Food Blog of the Year by the readers and editors of Saveur magazine and her posts from her 17th-century mountain farmhouse in remote Numedal, Norway strongly evoke the essence of hygge.

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Over email I recently asked her what has surprised her the most about her study of the traditional foods of her adopted homeland. "My view of Norwegian cuisine went from a plate of meat and potatoes to berry-infused moose sausages, salted potatoes, rakfisk, nettle soup, rhubarb juice made from birch sap, homebrewed beer, and traditional cheeses and porridges made on the farm," she wrote.

"The more I study and read about Norway's food culture, the more I understand the complexity and simplicity of its cuisine," she adds. "Norway has a rich historical heritage with influences from other Scandinavian countries and European countries. The cuisine has evolved and continues to evolve while holding on to certain traditional dishes. Flatbread, for example, was an important part of the Nordic diet during the Viking era and flatbread is still made at home and used to accompany soups and other dishes today."


A recipe for eplekake. WHERE TO BUY IT: Dibbern pure white dinner plate and dessert plate, $95 each, Richard Brendon single Old Fashion glass, $105 at Hopson Grace (www.hopsongrace.com). Frank salad plate, $7.95 at CB2 (www. cb2.com). Sockerärt vase (pitcher), $12.99 at Ikea (www.ikea.com). Oji Masanori brass and silver Ihada fork (3-piece place setting), $240, Sami Kallio chair, $850 at Mjolk (www.mjolk.ca).

A recipe for eplekake. WHERE TO BUY IT: Dibbern pure white dinner plate and dessert plate, $95 each, Richard Brendon single Old Fashion glass, $105 at Hopson Grace (www.hopsongrace.com). Frank salad plate, $7.95 at CB2 (www. cb2.com). Sockerärt vase (pitcher), $12.99 at Ikea (www.ikea.com). Oji Masanori brass and silver Ihada fork (3-piece place setting), $240, Sami Kallio chair, $850 at Mjolk (www.mjolk.ca).

Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

Recipe: A cake that celebrates nordic cooking's love of apples


While it's safe to say that New Nordic cuisine at its most esoteric extreme will continue to inspire chefs and thrill diners, there's little doubt that warm soup, Viking flatbread and dinner shared with friends beats a plateful of lichen any day.


Birch, caraway and dill-flavoured spirits from Nordic countries are enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the fact that the world has fallen hard for the region's cuisine and design. Many of these spirits would have been bar staples a hundred years ago, writes Christine Sismondo. Now, they're back, though in some cases, still a bit tricky to track down. Read more…

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