For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

May 15, 2014

A Love Letter 

Love letters are private. Sometimes they are even better left unsent. Having said that, the endlessly curious romantic in me finds great pleasure in reading love letters that haven't been written to me at all. Both a personal favorite and an important Finnish literary classic is the collection of the Finnish national poet J. L. Runeberg's correnponce/love letters (Runbergs brev till Emilie Björkstén) to his young mistress Emilie between the years 1804-1877.

I've obviously written countess love letters ever since I thought I knew what love is at the age of seven. Yesterday however, I wrote my very first love letter to a restaurant and its incredible staff. The silly me wants to share this personal confession with you. It's not 19th century prose but it's written straight from the heart. 


*     *     *


Dinner for one. Randomly. 

Dear Relæ,

This is an email to thank you all. The kitchen: Niklas, John, Jacob & Co. (Sorry, I’m horrible with names). The floor: Ale & Mathias. I just came home, stomach perfectly full, all senses satisfied. Happy as a puppy in spring. Before I tell you why I felt the urge to write this little love letter to you all, let me tell you a bit about my day today.

I had a fine day at work. Debriefing our Sunday’s Dinner No. 2. Sending thank yous to guests. Catching up on emails. But on my way back home from Malmö on the train, I felt awfully dreary. I sought a free seat in the silent section. Turns out, it wasn’t silent at all. Two very loud, very obnoxious Russian men in their late 50s sat there talking loudly. Great. I gave them my best “I’m gonna kill you if you don’t shut up” -eyes – totally in vain. At Copenhagen Airport, they left me in peace. Finally! Finns are never very fond of Russians, but those two seriously pissed me off. Just as I was ready for a silent 5-minute power nap, two Spanish ladies stumble in. Have you ever heard of silent Spanish women? No, I didn’t think so. Fucking great. No silence. My blood was boiling. Who invented silent sections any way???

I came home hungry and tired. Always a delightful combo. To the fridge: One soft boiled egg from this morning, two Romaine lettuces and hummus. Fine. I devoured it all in a split second. I had made a deal with myself earlier today about going to the gym in the evening. Burping hummus, I wondered why I couldn’t just slouch on the couch and take it easy like normal people would do. So much for that thought. To the gym! In the end, it wasn’t that bad. Sweating is nice. And you know what they say about physical exercise releasing endorphins, bla bla bla. I felt pretty good compared to my urge to kill Russians a few hours back.

I decided to make a little pit stop on my way home. Relæ. Mathias was working so I thought I’d blow him a kiss through the window and rush home to take a warm shower. It didn’t quite go as I planed though. In fact, it went in a way I definitely didn’t expect it to go. It went in such a way that now, almost two hours later, I find myself sitting on my bed, ecstatically happy and very well fed writing to you guys.

Alessandro lured me in with his Italian charm (I love my Viking like no other, but Italians just know how to get a woman to do things she otherwise wouldn’t do). He gestured something that meant, “come sit down, have a glass of wine”. I tried to resist. I pointed at my horrendous gym outfit, flexed my muscles and lip-synced “I smell, I need a shower”. Let’s just say he didn’t take no for an answer.

One of the many reasons I’ve been having a love affair with your restaurant ever since I first ate there is because it’s honest and unpretentious. Sitting there as a guest even before knowing many of you, I felt relaxed and comfortable, like being at a friend’s place just with some of the most talented chefs around working hard to serve me and other guest with delicious food. This time though, I felt that I was pushing the feeling of comfort too far: A salmon pink O’Neil sweatshirt from the 90’s, shiny black cycling tights, striped violet socks and a pair of ugly running shoes. My hair was glued to my head and I could feel the sweat running down my neck. Classy. Embarrassed, I formally presented my apologies and did as I was told. Sit. Drink. A glass of La Matta suddenly appeared in front of me.

What followed made my day and probably my whole week. Shit, it might even go down in history as one of my most memorable restaurant experiences. You guys welcomed me at the restaurant with food and wine, smiles and kindness (Even though I looked liked Prince of Bel Air gone bad). Not only did I get to taste a snack, which truly warmed my heart, but you guys also served me one, two, three of your beautiful dishes. I’m rarely speechless (I always talk too much like I’m doing right now) but there I was, speechless.

Of all the dishes the dessert, once again, touched me the deepest. Not only did it taste fucking good, you guys know that, but it brought me back memories. Memories I thought I had forgotten. The dehydrated rhubarb compote slices leaning against the velvety ice cream reminded me of this childhood favourite, red “candy tape” with sour sugar sprinkled on the surface. Oh what a joy! And what beautiful flavours! Early summer meets Christmas, glögg and grandma’s rhubarb pie. Subtle and clean yet very powerful and showing clear intention. In the fear of embarrassing Mathias in public like I very often do with my child-like reactions, I had to tone it down and instead rush home to write you this letter.

Thank you all so much! I truly appreciated this unexpected dinner for one. Kiitos!
With these words I will shut up for now. Mathias might dump me otherwise.
I hope this email doesn’t get anyone of you in trouble by the way.


Heaps of love,
 Edith

April 26, 2014

How To Be A Fool


In the name of food, insanity, brilliance and love.

I clearly recall the day I first held it in my hands: Finally! I had to feel its weight for a while, thoroughly embrace it before inhaling the smell of freshly printed paper. High quality, indeed. And the weight! 477 grams to be precise. Magnus Nilsson in a huge fur coat, his Iron Maiden t-shirt peeping out. It felt like an invitation to cuddle, to get intimate, pledging juicy details. The four-word oath had already been met and I had yet to turn the cover page.

Back to 477 grams. Did I actually weigh it? Would that be such bizarre thing to do? Fine, I admit, I did in fact weigh it. However, this seemingly meaningless yet noteworthy piece of information is absolutely vital because here I am, a fool – literally.
.   .   .

FOOL was the magazine I so desperately had been longing for. Real stories, real people, real food. All nicely wrapped together with gorgeously provocative photography. No god damn recipes, no cooking tips from half-herated middle aged woman portrayed wearing a perky apron and a wooden basket hanging from her arm with "a ravishing Tuscan landscape" in the background. No bullshit. Only gastronomy served at its purest. 

Self-centeredly I though, these people understand me. They must have come to relieve my frustration regarding contemporary food writing and magazines. The infamous and dreaded foodie food bloggers had ruined my appetite. In fact, they had so thoroughly repulsed me that I feared there was no return. My love affair with food writing was rotting. The only food writing I nibbled on was my own. On the other hand, my own voice had started to make my stomach turn too. I continuously reach out to good old good olds, Brillant-Savarin, M. F. K Fisher & company, to save me from starvation, but the neophiliac in me was raging. I needed something fresh and organic. Along came FOOL. Love at first bite!

"If only one day I'd get so lucky as to work with these people..." I mused sucking each story and photo to the bone. 

Last summer, with Fool #3 in my back pack, I was in search of an oasis to calm my nerves after a 70 hours work week in the kitchen. I found a tremendous secret spot at the harbor in Helsinki. Craving for the good stuff, I ripped open the plastic wrapping. Sean Brock's charismatic face spoke a thousand words. With the fresh sea breeze caressing my skin, I found a piece of heaven in some damn fine food writing. This time reading, I was particularly emotional as I had a week ago sent an email to the founder couple Lotta & Per Anders Jörgensen expressing my eagerness to collaborate. Would I receive an answer? Could this possibly lead to something? Could we be a good match? My mind was bursting with thoughts and questions. I kept on reading. And hoping.

.   .   .

Seven months later, I find myself exactly where I dreamed about being as I humbly accepted chef Nilsson's inviting embrace. This morning from across the room, I see Lotta & PA immersed in the process of making Fool #5 even more exciting and outrageous than the precedent. A pinch. Yes, I am here. I can't help but feel proud of never letting go of my principles and hopes for something better, more real. Let this foolish journey lead to more food, more insanity, more brilliance & more love.

Amen.

April 13, 2014

On A Saturday Night

My viili with a generous, fucking fat and delicious layer of Geotrictum candidum mould.

At the end of Saturday’s dinner service, after a long week of hard work in a two Michelin star kitchen, the chefs at restaurant noma in Copenhagen are encouraged to present each other with new, creative and though-provoking “projects”: a technique, a flavour combination, an ingredient, or a full-blown dish combining all three. Some chefs work on their respective projects for weeks, some for days; some simply end up pulling it together at the drop of the hat. At around 11.30PM, when the last guests linger to leave the premises, the polished kitchen sees yet another prepping: It’s time for the Saturday Night Projects. 

Since the Nordic Food Lab is docked literally at the entrance of noma and has a common history with the restaurant in question, the crew members at the Lab sometimes end up prepping late Saturday night too. Joining the Projects is a way to cherish the "family bond". Also, as the Lab stands for an open-source of knowledge, the Saturday Night Projects is a great way to showcase the work done at the Lab for some of the world’s most talented chefs. Above all, it’s a great encouragement for the many interns and permanent staff at the Lab to think more like chefs and present concrete, hands-on and delicious results. Presenting a project pushes us to think differently, less scientifically.

For me, it was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have noma’s sous-chefs, chefs de partie, the stagiers and of course René Redzepi himself scrutinize a flavour and texture I had spend so much time and energy on. On top of that it made me look at a very common, rather banal and traditional ingredient in whole a new light.

Since I started my internship at the Lab I had been playing around with this yoghurt-like product very close to my heart called viili. Josh, the project manager and researcher at the Lab became the number one viili-fan and encouraged me to participate at the Projects. The modest and shy Finn in me wasn't convinced – it's noma for god's sake. Josh remain affirmative. It was set. And I was shitting my pants. I got lucky to have started brainstorming on my project right in time when the latest arrival to the Lab Roberto – a talented chef with great gusto from Sardinia – arrived. After the formal hellos he promptly told me he wanted to help.

Together with Roberto, we wanted to tell the story of viili, the mesophilic, mould-fermented ropey and slimy milk product from Finland.

(To read the story in my report on the Nordic Food Lab research blog, click here.)

The elements we wanted to be present in the final dish were sauna and spring. We also wanted to embrace our two very different food cultures. We needed our dish to be delicate and subtle, yet expressive and effusive. After a few days of twisting and turning, tasting and savouring, we ended up choosing elements and techniques that would pay homage to both Roberto’s Sardinian heritage and my Finnish roots.

We are on to something! Happy team, Roberto and I. Photo by Alicynn Fink.

We chose to keep the protagonist – viili – as such. Viili is Finnish: simple, modest and pure by definition. Sometimes an ingredient just won’t get any better by applying advance cooking techniques to it. We chose to accompany it with a personal favourite, the parsnip. Roberto had a brilliant idea to cook the charismatic root vegs in ash – an old technique much used in Sardinian, “an old school sous-vide” as he calls it. We would only use the peel though, dehydrate it into a crispy, sweet chip. The juicy inside would be incorporated elsewhere.

Turned out, the parsnip skin looked exactly like tree bark. Ashes and bark. Sauna. Bingo! Baby nasturtium leaves rising from icy nasturtium granite would speak for rebirth and spring. Another genius idea by chef Roberto. The dish just wouldn’t be complete without some salmiakki – Finnish salty liquorice – that marries incredibly well with parsnips. We wanted the liquid salmiakki to look like the thickest, deepest traditional balsamic vinegar. Done! A few shiny drops of it on the parsnip bark made it resemble sap, yet another sauna allusion.

How to plate? Photo by Alicynn Flink

After selecting the right plate for our masterpiece, we needed to make it look as beautiful as it tasted. Trials and errors. Splashing, drizzling, dripping, painting, gently placing tiny leaves with a millimeter focus. Intense all right. For Roberto this is his job, he does it for living and has nerves of steel. For me, each step along the way was almost like a miracle and yes, extremely nerve-wracking. It made me relentlessly emotional. Roberto made fun of me, but in the most loving way. He understood, he’s Sardinian after all.

On D-day, the 10 minutes before we were to enter the culinary dragons’ den, I felt confident. We were ready, we had been working hard. Still, I needed a good luck charm. Fast, Edith, think. A week earlier I had been curious and ordered a viili seed all the way from the States. It came with an adoption certificate in dehydrated for. That would work perfectly. I placed the tiny plastic bag with dehydrated viili in my pocket: “Showtime buddy” I whispered to my dried Finnish-American friend. With the support of all the crew members, we stepped on land and entered noma.

The final dish. Photo by Alicynn Flink.

“Who would fucking love this a dessert, raise your hand!” said Chef René Redzepi himself looking around at his platoon.

                                                                               At the dragons' den. Photo by Alicynn Flink.

Grazie Roberto, I couldn't have done it without you.

March 4, 2014

Publication in Est Elle Magazine March -13

Read about my adventures as an research intern at the Nordic Food Lab November 2013 to March 2014. In Swedish, unfortunately.



February 6, 2014

Hanky-panky Coffee


I’m barely awake, barely sleeping. The air in the room is moist and cold. I should get up. He’s almost up, I should be too. He’s up. Damn. Should I follow? Nah. What’s two more minutes? He has to shower first any way. I pull the duvet over my matted bed head.

Was it two minutes, or was it a week, I can’t tell. I come back to life to the sound of coffee beans bursting in the grinder followed by that luring scent: one of the few things that make me get out of bed before 9 am. Or could it be that I’m longing for his warm body against mine? Probably both, in no particular order. In fact I’d like them together, at the same time. Pretty please. Here goes hoping. One more minute.

Telepathy? He's back. The bounce of the bed as he sits next to me invites me to sit up too. Puffy face, morning breath. He kisses me regardless. A smile. Okay I’m up.

He hands me a steaming cup with a broken handle. Freshly brewed coffee: Berry-like, fruity, slightly acidic and light; long lasting flavours and aromas. And then this tune.


Could I stay here, forever? Would that be a dreadful crime against humanity? The rest is history and some damn fine hanky-panky coffee.

January 17, 2014

The Larva-man

A longer, more in depth version of this text was published on the Nordic Food Lab research blog February 4th 2014. Click here to read it.


When a fellow researcher at the Nordic Food Lab asks me whether I’d like to give him a hand doing field work, meaning feeding random Copenhageners bee larva soup, I say “Ja tak!” Could there possibly be a better way to spend an afternoon?


Meet Jonas, the Larva-man – a 27 year old, very tall and very charming Dane passionate about sensory experiences and gastronomy. Jonas is a wanted man these days, requested to address various more or less tendentious food related topics on Danish national TV and radio. Ever since November, I’ve been sitting across from him at the Lab watching him meticulously busting his brain for his master thesis on how people perceive and accept novel foods, bee larvae to be more precise.  When he’s not busy doing public appearances that is, Jonas is an almost graduated Master in Food Science and Technology at Copenhagen University and is keen on discovering how neophobic or neophilic Danes are in their foodways. The Lab – as for us all – is both his playground and safe-zone for experimentation. (He also makes delicious and beautiful artisanal bread that I can’t have, but that’s another story.)


“If we manage to feed soup to 70 people today, that would be great”, he says with his signature simper as we started prepping the vegetable and bee larva soup this morning. “Let’s make one with visible larvae, one with invisible larvae and one with no larvae at all”. By now, almost two months in on my internship at the Lab, I’ve learned to recognize the very distinctive smell and flavour of the fatty little creatures: nutty, buttery, much like liver, quite delicate after all. I’ve only had them deep frozen in Jonas’s soup, but Josh, the Project Manager/Researcher at the Lab, describes fresh and alive bee larvae as something close to fish roe in texture, very delicate and “fucking delicious” in flavour. Listening to Josh’s description I got the oddest urge to pop one of those alive babies in my mouth. Deranged? Totally, yet far from it. Who would’ve thought I’d one day find myself on a houseboat in Copenhagen, surrounded by the damn most intriguing and talented people in the field of Nordic gastronomic research, talking about how bee larvae burst against ones palate… I can but smile, stir the soup and see how the little tasty suckers float around in creamy stock together with carrots, celeriac, leek and onions. The whole place smells of sautéed bee larvae. Yup, very distinctively bee larvae indeed.

Of course I’m here, where else would I be!

The Larva-man has chosen to do his semi-guerrilla soup tasting at a suburban mall in Valby, a 15minute bike ride away from the centre of Copenhagen, “That’s where we’ll find normal people”, he explains. “Normal people” are a rare breed here at the Lab where the next person stepping on board this mad houseboat is probably somehow loonier than the previous one. We often forget about “those other types of people” who might not attack a container filled with what essentially is the mashed and rotten edibles with immense appetite and lust for umami. Jonas and I head to the mall with the car loaded with our three steaming soup pots right after lunchtime. I wonder how many Danes will choose a side of larva over a kanelsnurrer with their afternoon coffee? Remains to be seen. As my Danish is not quite there yet, I told Jonas I’d do the people hunting and lour them in for him to feed them larva soup. Game on.

How hard could it be?



“No thanks, I’ve got a chewing gum in my mouth”, “I just ate”, “I’m vegan”, “Why would I eat bugs”, “Are you crazy”, “ I have no time for such nonsense”, “No thanks, I’ve got a girlfriend” were some of the reactions I got approaching the potential targets. Women especially didn’t like the idea of doing a bee larva soup dégustation on this crisp winter afternoon in Valby. Rather interesting. I wonder why? When I as a woman challenged young and middle-aged men to have some of Jonas’s soup asking them if they’re man enough, they obviously couldn’t say no. It proved to be a good strategy. Nevertheless, my utmost respect goes out to a mother of two boys, I’m guessing 4 and 7 year olds, who didn’t hesitate having a fun and educational pit-stop at Jonas’s soup shack. What a cool mum! And the boys loved it too.

Close to forty people accepted the challenge, keen on the trying “the future source of protein”. Unfortunately, at least the same amount, if not more, declined.


Jonas decided to call it a day when he felt like people weren’t thinking of anything else except for getting home for dinner a.s.a.p. Not even the best of simpers made a difference. We stood there for a while, warming our hands on the hot pots of larva soup… “I’ll get the car, we did good”, Jonas uttered. Before packing the larva-mobile to head back to the Lab I served myself a bowl of soup. “I’m eating juvenile insects in Copenhagen”, I thought to myself. Completely normal.

Next time: next week – new location. Way to go Larva-man!


November 12, 2013

Third Publication in Est Elle Magazine + Cover
(November 2013)