First, Danish Mads Refslund, one of the founders of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma which is considered to one of the best in the world. He asked the question: What is Nordic cuisine? And he answered it himself:
"Is it meatballs from Ikea or smoked salmon? No, it is a way of thinking and using what is in our backyard or in the forest and being proud of that".
Refslund noted that this is something he lives up to, even in New York, where he now works at the restaurant Acme. And then he started to cook three dishes in 20 minutes on the stage.
First, he made a winter salad with spinach and duck's liver followed by a vegetable dish with, amongst other things, onions and carrots called Burned Field. The name comes from a practice at Refslund's summer house on Samsø where the farmers burnt their fields before planting their vegetables. He finished with a dish of slow cooked cabbage and salt herring.
Know your ingredients
Ulrika Bengtsson from Sweden took over the kitchen/stage and made a couple of variations of classic potato dumplings. But first she talked about how locally grown food has been part of her life since childhood:
"I grew up on Småland with large forests and lots of lakes. We used what we found around us such as lingonberries and potatoes. Dad could eat 12-13 potatoes with half a pork chop".
The first recipe she used was from the 18th century and consisted of just grated potato, egg and flour mixed up into a dough with diced bacon and chopped onion. Served with lingonberries.
She alluded to the debate in Europe about food producers not being able to keep track of where their ingredients come from, and emphasised that that was naturally not the way she worked.
Ulrika Bengtsson came to New York 25 years ago and loved eating Chinese and Mexican food. But after a few years she found herself missing Swedish food and opened a restaurant Ulrika's in 1999 with slow cooking as the leading principle.
"It is fun to see how more and more people around the world are embracing this concept". Today she is happy to be working in a restaurant which has its own farm and real control over the raw materials.
Own organic farm
She now runs the restaurant chain Smörgås Chef in New York with Norwegian Morten Sohlberg, who was the last of the evening's three Nordic restaurant gurus. Sohlberg opened Smörgås Chef in 2003 with a strong focus on new Nordic food. Since 2010 he has also had an organic farm in the Catskills Mountains.
"We represent a new way of thinking. We feed our own animals and grow hundreds of vegetables", he explained. As if that was not enough, they also grow chanterelles and lingonberries on the farm.
Morten Sohlberg made a quick preparation of lamb - reared on his own farm, of course - in three ways. He made lamb meatloaf, lamb medallions and lamb steak casserole with carrots and tomatoes accompanied by well-salted potatoes.
"The meatloaf should be well cooked, the medallions should be red inside and the steak should cook for three hours until it separates from bone", instructed Morten Sohlberg.
The mouths of quite a lot of people were watering as they left the Kennedy Center that evening.
Writer: Bengt Rolfer, freelance journalist