“The river flows in the rear of the towns, and we see all things from a new and wilder side.The fields and gardens come down to it with a frankness, and freedom from pretension, which they do not wear on the highway.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Food Studio is a wonderful and relatively recent addition to the Oslo food scene. Founded by the ever-smiling Cecilie Dawes, Food Studio unites an eclectic mix of designers, photographers, and food professionals to create experiences around natural Nordic cuisine. For this, their third event, Food Studio teamed up with Maaemo, Oslo's stunning two-Michelin starred restaurant (a place you may have heard me mention once or maybe twice) and Norway's 'King of Coffee', Tim Wendelboe, to create the enchanting experience of dining al fresco on the banks of the Akerselva River.
The fun began a few weeks before the event itself, when it was announced that there'd be just 20 tickets available. The tickets would be sold via a roving cyclist who'd be wandering around Oslo on a particular day. Rather cryptically we were told to keep an eye on Food Studio's Twitter feed for clues about where this mysterious cyclist would be. As it turned out, the cyclist only made it to two destinations before all the tickets sold out. I was lucky enough to bag two tickets (cue much stressing as I raced across Oslo to rendezvous with the elusive bicyclist) and, with tickets in hand, a growing sense of excitement started to build. I'm pretty sure this was how Charlie Bucket felt knowing he'd get the chance to experience that magical chocolate factory. I couldn't wait!
|Two 'golden tickets' (and a rather delicious iced Anisetta coffee from Tim Wendelboe)|
Finally, the day arrived and we headed over to Food Studio HQ in Lilleborg. We were welcomed with refreshing cocktails containing tiny wild strawberries and got a chance to meet the other lucky diners. As the sun started its descent to the horizon, we walked the short distance to our table for the night and were greeted with a magical scene.
A long table had been set up on a pontoon right on the edge of the river. Great orbs of light hung from neighbouring trees and a large sail overhead provided shelter against any unkind weather gods (which thankfully never materialised). Next to us was an open fire where most of the cooking would be done, flickering and crackling and giving off that smell so evocative of open-air cooking.
Presiding over the menu for the night would be the team from Maaemo. Head chef Esben Holmboe Bang had put together a six-course menu from local organic produce, while sommelier Pontus Dahlström selected the matching drinks. This would be the first time they cook outside of their restaurant in Bjørvika.
|Esben – Head Chef, Restaurant Maaemo|
|Pontus – Sommelier at Restaurant Maaemo. This was the wine fridge for the night.|
We began our meal with aperitifs made by Anders Bakke from Oslo's Bar Boca. A drink of aquavit, rhubarb, birch and apple was delicious and quintessentially Scandinavian.
Course 1: "Østers" (Oysters). The first course was a Maaemo classic and it feels like it's become a dear old friend. Oysters from Bømlo were served as a silky smooth emulsion covered by a thin disc of oyster jelly with a light sauce of mussel and dill spooned over the top. Heavenly!
Drink pairing: A 1999 Château du Coing de Saint-Fiarce Comte de St. Hubert – a round and full muscadet with hints of minerals and passion fruit.
Course 2: "Sjøkreps med Gran Fra i Fjor" (Langoustine with last year's spruce). Another classic Maaemo dish of pristine langoustine from Frøya that had been gently cooked by the fire in pine butter and brushed with a sweet rapeseed oil, pine and vinegar emulsion. A pine infusion was poured over dry ice releasing clouds of pine-scented smoke across the table.
Drink pairing: A 2011 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett Feinherb from Fritz Haag, an off-dry Riesling with a light and fresh mineral taste.
|Pete preparing the langoustines|
Drink pairing: An elegant and mineralic 2010 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre.
Course 4: "Hvete og Glemte Kornsorter" (Wheat and forgotten grains). Rolls of bread made from wheat, spelt and emmer flours from Holli Mill in Spydeberg were served on warm millstones. The bread is served on squares of traditional Norwegian matpapir (food wrapping paper) with individual pots of whipped salted butter from Røros.
Drink pairing: A refreshing light beer from the fantastic Bøgedal microbrewery in Denmark, which had notes of flowers, honey and almonds. As a special treat Gitte Holmboe and Casper Vorting, the husband and wife team behind Bøgedal, were present to tell us a little bit about the beer and their brewery, where everything is made by hand in the traditional method.
Drink pairing: A white 2006 Chorey-les-Beune from French producer Sylvain Loichet.
Drink pairing: A sweet and light 1995 Vin Santo from Tuscan wine producer Castello di Monsanto that was full of aromas of tropical fruits, raisins, and vanilla.
We were then served coffee. But this wasn't your average cup of Joe. Former world barista champion Tim Wendelboe, who runs his own micro roastery and coffee bar in Oslo, was joined by his head roaster Tim ('the other Tim') Varney to create a truly unique coffee experience.
Wendelboe had selected a Kenyan coffee from the Kapsokisio Cooperative. It's unusual in that it comes from the west of the country, rather than the more common central region. The coffee was prepared by grinding the beans and then sifting out the finer particles to create a more uniformly sized grain. The coffee was brewed simply the old fashioned way with hot water and left to steep in a coffee pot. It was served black and needed no sugar or cream, just a little time to let it cool slightly and allow the flavours to really shine through.
If you've never tasted a lightly roasted single-origin Kenyan coffee before, be prepared to be amazed. The taste of it is so vibrant and crisp, almost juice-like. It's full of aromas of red berries and flowers, with not even a hint of the acrid bitterness that is sadly so often associated with black coffee. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this truly is world-class coffee.
|Tim Wendelboe sifting away the finer grains of coffee to create a cleaner brew.|
|Kapsokisio by the river|
|Boiling water the old fashioned way|
Although all the dishes were familiar to me from my previous meals at Maaemo, what really stood out was how the surroundings seemed to act as the perfect backdrop to the food. The leaves rustling in the gentle summer breeze, the sound of the babbling river an arms stretch away, and the warm smell of smoke from the open fire pit all seemed to awaken the senses and magnified the sense of vibrancy that was reflected in the beautiful plates of food. It really was a very special experience indeed, and one that I hope the Maaemo team will repeat soon.
But the night was still young! After our meal we made the short walk back to Food Studio HQ to join some 100 or so other guests that had been invited for a little celebration. Of course, this would mean more food for the hungry new arrivals. During the course of our meal we had been looking on curiously as 90kg of wild boar was buried in a cooking pit with hot stones and roasted to succulent perfection. This ancient method of cooking in Norway dates back to the Viking times; what a spectacular and primal sight it was.
You can read more about how the boar was prepared on Food Studio's website, but suffice it say that even after six courses of Maaemo's finest I couldn't resist a little taste – it was delicious. It was served to the newly arrived guests with a salad of chanterelles and smoked nuts and cumin & carrot bread.
|Baking cumin & carrot bread over the cooking pit|
|Burying the boar with the hot stones|
|Stick a fork in me, I'm done!|
For dessert, Tim Wendelboe and Tim Varney dished up some homemade coffee ice cream made with a rich and nutty Brazilian Sitio Canaa espresso. It was served in a light and crumbly Norwegian krumkake cone. The recipes can be found here and I urge you to have a go. This is ice cream for grown-ups, not too sweet and full of heady coffee aromas – it was gorgeous.
|Tim Varney dishing up the ice cream|
We spent the rest of the night chatting away to the other revellers and dancing away barefoot in the Food Studio HQ, whose floor had been covered in lush wall-to-wall grass turf. The outdoors had literally been brought inside. Of course, Anders from Bar Boca was also on hand to make some more of his divine Scandinavian inspired cocktails.
|Anders Bakke mixing it up|
And so we eventually headed home, with the sound of the ongoing party getting ever fainter until we were alone in the quiet Oslo night. What a wonderful and inspiring evening it had been. It was a chance to reconnect with food in its natural surroundings, a chance to reflect on the remarkable natural bounty that Norway has to offer, and perhaps a chance to lament that this sort of produce is not more readily available. It's certainly a night I'll remember for a long time to come.
Keep an eye out for more Food Studio projects – they really are a welcome and exciting addition to the Oslo food scene and will open your eyes to new ways of looking at Norwegian food.