A Taste of Norway with Andreas Viestad
The host of the popular New Scandinavian Cooking chats about Nordic cuisine and life
Taste of Norway Editor
One of the most recognizable faces of Norwegian cooking, at least to American audiences, is Andreas Viestad, host of the television series New Scandinavian Cooking. He’s author of the 2003 book Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking, which is just as pleasurable to read and cook from today, 13 years after its release. His Oslo restaurant, St. Lars, has been open since 2011, and he also opened the Geitmyra Culinary Center for Children that year, with the goal of teaching children where food comes from. I had a chance to meet Viestad at the Nordic Culinary Conference in Seattle this past spring, and I appreciated hearing about his experience with how his new Scandinavian cooking paralleled the rise of New Nordic cuisine—the movement that began in 2004. I asked Viestad if he’d be willing to talk about Norwegian food through the lens of his experience for The Norwegian American, as well as showing readers a bit about what life is like for him in Norway these days.
Daytona Strong: I am interested in the idea of what you spoke about at the Nordic Culinary Conference in Seattle, how your experience in Scandinavian cooking paralleled the rise of New Nordic cuisine but differed from it. Would you talk a bit about that?
Andreas Viestad: When I was living in Boston 15 years ago, I started reflecting on my own culinary heritage. Up until then I had been interested in food as a way to experience the world. Now I had to deal with questions about what the food was like where I came from. And my answer was not the old cookbooks with traditional dishes, some of them quite good, many of them quite outdated and irrelevant. So I started trying to identify the dishes that were a little more modern, but Norwegian or Scandinavian nonetheless. In most dishes there was an historical precedent. Some of it was taking traditional and historical dishes and updating them a little. Some of it was about using our ingredients in novel ways. That was the foundation of New Scandinavian cooking.
When the New Nordic Cuisine was launched in 2004, it had a different starting point. It was closer to the more modernist types of cooking that were in vogue at that time. But I think that over the years the two types of cooking have converged. I certainly do not see any conflict between the two.
DS: I am also interested in hearing your depiction of what represents Norwegian food today, versus what is happening in Sweden, Denmark, etc. Where would you put your country in the bigger picture of the Nordic region? And what defines today’s Norwegian food to you?
AV: We have gone from a period of great uncertainty, where most cooks and chefs in the north felt that they were somewhat unlucky to have landed here, in the outskirts of the world. It seems strange today but only a decade or two ago most chefs cooked only French or Italian food. Today most of us realize that the ingredients we have in the Nordic countries are in some ways better. And if not better, certainly different. And we aim to utilize that difference. More and more Nordic chefs are taking different approaches, and there is not one unified Nordic cuisine. And that, in my option, is a great strength.
DS: It seems like there are a few branches of Scandinavian/Nordic food—old or traditional Scandinavian (what I think of as time-capsule food, the type that Americans might think of), modern Norwegian cooking (what people actually cook at home today), and New Nordic cuisine. Yet they’re all rooted in the place and history. What can you share about the intersections of these branches?
AV: Well I think there are many more. The old or traditional Scandinavian food that is served in the U.S. is very different from the traditional cooking that can still be found in parts of Scandinavia.
I think the important thing is that we realize that cooking has always been a process in movement. In that way New Scandinavian Cooking or New Nordic Cuisine are just terms that can be useful in a certain stage in time.
DS: How would you describe your approach to cooking—the type you do at home, but also at your restaurant and other projects?
AV: Simple. The more I learn about the quality of the ingredients, about the huge variation of flavors, about the richness of traditional ways of cooking, the more I am drawn to one principle, and that is simplicity. Don’t mess it up, I say to myself.
DS: What’s life like for you these days?
AV: I have just spent summer with my family in our farm in Southern Norway, and right now it seems like an eternity since I led a normal city life. The weather is really unpredictable, so we have no idea what we will do the next day. We have been fishing, foraging for mushrooms, harvesting seaweed and shells, and tending to our tiny garden. And now my kids are big enough to participate in all of these things; they were even part of the slaughtering of our pig and some sheep. I hope to impart on them a feeling that the nature and the ingredients here have unlimited potential. And they seem to enjoy it a lot.
You can learn more about Viestad on his website: andreasviestad.com.
Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo), Twitter (@daytonastrong), Pinterest (@daytonastrong), and Instagram (@daytonastrong).
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.