In the episode airing Sunday, July 19, on National Geographic, Ramsay takes a December trip to Norway to explore the country, brave its frigid temperatures and gather native ingredients for a Christmas feast. To do this, he dives for shellfish in a fjord, herds reindeer with the indigenous Sami people and ferments fish and eats sheep head before facing off with local chef and restaurateur Christopher Haatuft in a cook-off.
Along the way, Ramsay gets a master class on Viking food, which Haatuft defines as “make-sure-you-don’t-die-through-winter cuisine.”
“Imagine living in a wooden hut in six feet of snow for four months,” he explains. “Like whatever you have in your pantry is what you’re going to survive off through winter. And this is not the Garden of Eden in summer. It’s far north, the growing season is very short here so our cuisine is not based on vegetables and honey. It’s dried and salted fish and meat. And then maybe if you’re able to cure some dairy product over winter like some hard cheese or some stuff like that … . That’s the Viking food.”
And the seafood here, Haatuft argues, ranks with the best in the world. A confluence of warm and cool waters results in an increase in algae, which supplies nutrients that support marine activity and gives the seafood its abundance and flavor.
“That’s why you get some of the best fishing banks in the world off this part of the coast,” he says. “You have the same, I think, off the west coast of Japan and above the north coast of the U.S. – Alaska and Canada and those areas. So I like to say it’s like the best seafood in the world but there’s also other areas where you can say the same. You can’t say that anyone has better seafood than we have.”
As for the reindeer, Haatuft equates it with venison, though he says, “it has like quite a bit of blood in the meat, which gives it an iodine-y, almost like acidic flavor. And it’s super, super lean and the flavor is super-clean.”
In the cook-off, Haatuft embraced the opportunity to work opposite a world-class chef creating gourmet-quality meals on the fly from unfamiliar ingredients. The experience, he says, stretched him as a professional.
“At the end of the day he is a multiple-Michelin-starred chef and you don’t get to that position by coincidence or luck,” he says. “You get it because you know what you’re doing. So you can definitely tell that he’s taken to that experience. And even if he’s cooking kind of off the cuff with ingredients he doesn’t know, there is so much skill and experience behind everything. So that’s fun to see.”
George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.