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A Q&A with P&O Cruises Food Hero, Kjartan Skjelde

Get a taste of the new Norwegian kitchen with Kjartan Skjedle

Published on 08 Jul 2024

P&O Cruises Food Hero Kjartan Skjelde was born and raised in Stavanger, Norway. He places his focus on produce and provenance, good ingredients and cooking from scratch. He uses seasonal produce, making the most of the wilds of Norway and he is keen to bring Nordic fine dining to the world stage. Here, we chat with him about the influence Norway has on his cuisine: 

What sets Norwegian cuisine apart from other cuisines of the world? 

Historically, this is a land of ice and cold. So, our food traditions lie in salting and preserving and smoking to survive the long winters. It’s what we’re really good at - think about our salt cod, trout and salted and smoked lamb. 

But now, there is a new wave of innovation in the kitchen and we’re realising the importance of creating a strong identity. France and Italy, for example, have such strong traditions and ways of working with ingredients. That’s what the new Norweigan kitchen is now doing. We’re creating new food traditions and food culture using old techniques and native ingredients. 

How does Norway’s landscape shape its cuisine? 

Norway is a very long country with an incredible range of climates. Our coastline is enormous, and we also have all the mountains and fjords. Overall, only about 8% of the landscape is cultivated. 

The climate influences what you can grow. In the south, we grow vegetables all year round and can farm livestock. In the north, it’s much colder so these things are much harder, but you get the best fish. 

Where we can grow and cultivate, producers and chefs are doing so much more and getting better with a wider variety of native produce. We’re much more focused on what the wildness of Norwawy can give us. And we respect the seasons and nature. 

Here, the season for vegetables, wild berries and fruit is short. Seafood has a short season, too. The best cod, skrie, isn’t available all year round. The high season is for two months in spring, when the young cod migrates all the way up to the faster water of the Finnmark coast and towards Russia. It’s probably the best fish in the world.

Why is it important to work with local ingredients? 

As a chef, flavour is the most important thing. I realised this 16 years ago when I first tried a mango fresh from a tree in Brazil. I’d tried mango before, but not like this. It was so juicy. It had such a fresh, beautiful flavour. It was totally different. That’s when I realised you can’t fight nature when it’s about flavours. 

Local ingredients are key. Take Jerusalem artichokes: there’s a huge difference in flavour if I get them from Israel versus if I buy them from Gydas Jordepler, a little farm located in Hommersåk outside Stavanger. Local food gets on your plate faster and the aroma and flavours are totally different. I have my own picker and he brings in fresh mushrooms every day. That’s how I’m sure I have the best flavour.

What are your favourite ingredients?

I love Norwegian asparagus - it has a fantastic texture and the flavour is sweet and concentrated. And I love Norwegian seafood - skrie is beautiful, and we have amazing crayfish, lobster and shrimp. Everything has its season and I love that. You really look forward to things. 

Right now, I can see the small wild herbs starting to grow outside. I’m so excited to bring local Norwegian flavours to guests on Iona through the dishes I create in The Epicurean on Deck 17

How do fish and meat influence your work?

Because our coastline is so long, fish is something that is readily available. But you need to understand fish and how to prepare it. Fresh fish is something that we chefs have been developing over the years. 

As a nation, we have grown up with dried fish. Now we are seeing the possibilities of fresh fish and different ways of preparing it. 

With meat, I’m working closely with a co-operative of small local producers to produce lamb for the dishes for P&O Cruises. The lambs graze on the salt marshes for a long time, eating the salty grass that is full of minerals. This gives the meat a special complexity of flavour. 

What makes you most proud of Norway’s food culture?

As a chef of the new Nordic kitchen, I see the possibilities of what nature gives us. I’m conscious of how we are using our knowledge to do things in a different way. There are so many great ingredients that inspire Norwegians to eat well. 

People are conscious that you can go out and eat fresh produce. And chefs and producers are joining forces to create a food identity that is inspiring. It’s hard to explain. It’s like there is a national consciousness. I’m very proud of this. 

Read next: Cuisine around the world: Norwegian food

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