Scandinavian Cooking Sizzles

This hot culinary trend is showcased in two new local cookbooks

Looking for the hottest trend in the culinary world? Hint: you’re getting colder.

A recent report from the Center for Culinary Development points to foods from the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway as up-and-comers in the food industry. Chefs from the region call their dedication to fine cooking techniques and to using fresh, local ingredients the “New Nordic” movement, but you don’t have to travel abroad to experience it.  

While Madison’s only upscale Scandinavian eatery Restaurant Magnus closed last year, New Nordic cooking styles can still be sampled throughout the city. Chefs at top restaurants like Nostrano, Graze and Steenbock’s on Orchard share a commitment to the “farm-to-table”
dining approach that is at the heart of Nordic cooking.

To appreciate the New Nordic movement beyond the mere cooking practices, pick up two recent books with Wisconsin ties that highlight the Norwegian gastronomic experience. Gudrun’s Kitchen (2011, Wisconsin Historical Society Press) weaves the story of Norwegian immigrant Gudrun Sandvold, who settled in Fort Atkinson after arriving in the U.S. in 1923. Sandvold brought her traditional recipes to the States, and the elder’s love for cooking inspired her children, Irene and Eddie, and grandchildren, Irene’s daughter Ingeborg Hydle Baugh and Eddie’s son Quinn Sandvold, to write the book. The result is a charming depiction of the impact food can have on families for generations.

With almost two hundred recipes, Gudrun’s Kitchen gives familial and cultural context to traditional Nordic dishes like homemade meatballs, pickled watermelon rinds and rosette cookies. Although the food in this book is more traditional than the contemporary dishes of the New Nordic movement, it gives the reader insight into its roots.

The book contains a glossary of terms to clarify some of the foreign food lingo. One of the more familiar dishes in the world of Nordic cuisine is the smörgåsbord, which translates to “bread and butter table.” The smörgåsbord is a traditional Nordic buffet of both hot and cold foods, such as meats, cheeses, salads, bread and fish.

A second Wisconsin book about Norwegian cuisine is the newest addition in the Eat Smart travel guidebook series. Eat Smart in Norway (2011, Gingko Press) by Madisonian Joan Peterson (other books she’s written or published include The Wisconsin Local Food Journal and nine other Eat Smart guides) seeks to educate travelers about the new and sometimes unusual foods found in the Nordic country.  

The book tells of the history of Norwegian cuisine and provides recipes, useful phrases and a menu guide to give a comprehensive overview of eating in Norway. More than just reporting on native fare, Peterson tells the reader what it is actually like to order in a Norwegian restaurant or shop in one of the country markets.

Peterson also emphasizes the heavy use of local staples in the Norwegian diet. She cites cheeses, butter, fish, bread, berries and root vegetables as the most important components of traditional dining. These are still found within the New Nordic movement, but with inventive combinations of ingredients to make the dishes more appetizing to non-native eaters.

Whether you’re trying to experience the New Nordic cuisine at home or abroad, Eat Smart in Norway will give you the tools to both understand and appreciate the food from this region of the world. This travel guidebook, along with Gudrun’s Kitchen, personalizes this genre of cuisine. And if IKEA has taught us anything, it’s that the folks of Scandinavia know a thing or two about breaking into the American market. Nordic cuisine, foodies worldwide are saying, is here to stay.

Grace Edquist is an editorial intern with Madison Magazine.

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