The association between music festivals and food is not, typically, a happy one. While the bands may be world-class the food, sadly, is often not. No, festivals are for listening to live music at ear-shredding volumes, and if you want gourmet grub then go to a restaurant. But what if the restaurant, a Michelin-starred one at that, came to the festival?
What if one of the world's best restaurants set up camp inside a festival, where people could sit down and enjoy a sublime six-course lunch with proper cutlery and matching wines. And, oh, why not include a critically acclaimed musician to play live at the same time? You'd think I was joking, right? Well as it turned out, for one day only this is exactly what happened at Food Studio's latest event during this year's Øya Festival.
Held on the grounds of Oslo's historic Medieval Park, the Øya Music Festival is known for its boutique feel – compact, safe and friendly with an eclectic line-up of global acts. So when Julie Forchhammer, environmental manager at Øya Festival, got the idea to pair one of Norway's best musicians with one of the country's best restaurants, it was to Food Studio she turned to make her vision happen.
The idea was to have renowned Norwegian electronic music producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm and Maaemo, Oslo's groundbreaking two Michelin-starred restaurant join forces to create an unforgettable culinary and musical experience. At the event, Lindstrøm would play each of the six tracks from his food-titled solo studio album, Smalhans, live, while Esben Holmboe Bang, the young Danish chef/co-owner of Maaemo, would be tasked with coming up with six dishes that are inspired by the feel and sound of Lindstrøm's music. The event would be coined Maaelstrøm.
Food Studio's founder and organiser of the event, Cecilie Dawes, explains: "Maaelstrøm is about creating a totally unique experience of music and food, featuring two leading professionals from each of these fields."
But how exactly do you go about combining the crystal clear flavours of one of the world's best restaurants with music from one of the leading creators of spacey electronic dance beats? This was to be a first for both Maaemo and Lindstrøm and, with no precedents to follow, it seemed like a daunting endeavour.
For Lindstrøm, though, it was clear whom he thought had the bigger challenge: "My music [is] already made, and these guys [are] kind of remixing it."
For Esben, however, it was a project that would prove to be mentally taxing: "I'd been thinking about what we should cook, and listening to the album to see if I could make the food reflect the music, I think it was borderline insanity sometimes!" He goes on to say: "The food basically reflects what we serve in our restaurant. So we try to bring the same kind of idea that we have in the restaurant to the Øya Festival […] We wanted it to feel a little bit like Maaemo at the Øya Festival."
Rather fortuitously, the food-loving Lindstrøm's fourth studio album already gives somewhat of a hint, as each of its six tracks are titled after typical Norwegian dishes. "The thing is, with instrumental music you can basically title them anything. I happen to be a foodie myself, I really love to cook and eat. After finishing the album I was in the kitchen making food and I was thinking maybe this is a good approach to an album title," explains Lindstrøm.
So it was that some 30 guests saw themselves standing outside Maaemo's glass-fronted cube on the morning of the festival's final day, for in Norway lunch is typically an early affair. With glasses of juice made from wild berries, they were welcomed by Maaemo's sommelier and co-owner, the affable Finn, Pontus Dahlström. Maaemo's brand of ultra-local cuisine (over 85% of produce served comes from less than 100km away) uses only organic or biodynamic produce and is full of the vibrant clean flavours of these northern climes. It has (virtually singlehandedly) simply revolutionised the Norwegian restaurant scene.
After a little while, the guests made the short walk to the festival site. The Food Studio team had been busy setting the scene, turning this little corner of the festival into something that would evoke thoughts of a cosy cabin in the middle of a lush green Norwegian forest. As the guests arrived they were greeted by two tables set up in an open marquee adorned with bright lingonberry-laden branches. As we looked across the shimmering reflections of the adjacent lake, something odd stood out. At each place setting, a pair of Sennheiser headphones were neatly placed next to a menu. This wasn't going to be a raucous open air Ibiza-style jamboree; instead it would be more of a silent disco, where we'd each be listening to Lindstrøm play live via the wireless headphones. The atmosphere as the lunch began can only be described as apprehensive anticipation. What on earth was this going to be like?
Over the headphones the thumbing beats of the album's opening track kicked in as the first course was served. Råkost is Norwegian for raw vegetables, and is typically comprised of shredded carrots or cabbage. Essentially Esben's interpretation of this dish was built around just one ingredient: cauliflower. Grown on a local farm (as are almost all the ingredients used at Maaemo), fine grains of cauliflower grated on a microplane were served with cauliflower stem julienne, neat circles of fluffy cauliflower cream, whey and cauliflower sauce, and a sprinkling of vivid, green chickweed. As the heavy bass line of the track gave way to its relaxed meandering electronic melodies you notice that the dish is light, fresh and vegetal in a way that cauliflower doesn't usually taste.
To go with this dish (as well as the next three), Pontus had chosen to serve a dry 2012 Riesling from Germany's Weingut Wittmann, packed with a juicy freshness and scents of apples and subtle herbal notes.
Next up next is lamb, but not as you've ever seen it before. Tiny pickled onions have been painstakingly charred and lay nestled amongst small spheres of a dark caramelised onion purée. The crowning glory, though, was a sauce consisting of translucent tapioca pearls cooked in an onion and lamb stock and mixed with immaculate tiny brunoise of fenalår (a traditional Norwegian dish of cured leg of lamb), produced at Sunnmøre on Norway's West Coast.
It's a stunning, deep and richly satisfying dish. The acidic notes of the sauce cut right through the mild fattiness of the lamb while its flavour was rounded out by the sweetness of the onion. Combined with the bouncing almost joyful synth notes of Lindstrøm's track Lāmm-ęl-āār you couldn't help but break out in a broad smile.
Eggedosis is a Norwegian dish typically eaten on the country's constitution day; essentially a mix of beaten egg and sugar it's a simple but delicious combination. It's also the title of Smalhans' third track – an electrifying progression of richly textured arpeggios played over the rumble of an electro disco groove. Here, Esben took a broad interpretation, focusing mainly on the egg component.
Small almond shaped potatoes had been grilled directly on charcoal in a ceramic kamado grill. Nutty and fragrant, tasting like the very essence of the potato itself, they were served with a tiny poached quail egg from producer Mona Vandres as well as a dusting of grated egg yolks. Crisp shards of potato added textural variety, while a bright green ramson gel brought the necessary sweetness and acidity to the mix. Finally, a frothy chicken cream sauce was spooned over the whole thing. As the track reached its euphoric finale, the feeling was as warm and comforting as a great big hug.
This was followed by a visually spectacular dish. Guests played a little game of find the needle in a haystack, for hidden in a rustic pile of blackcurrant leaves were two cones. The thin, almost see-through cones were made from a mix of flour, oil and water and were filled with a silky smooth chicken liver parfait topped with a spiced gel made from blackcurrant leaves. The slight metallic tang of chicken liver was lifted by the sweet and crisp blackcurrant leaf gel. It's a short, sharp jolt of a dish that seemed to subtly match the staccato, almost crunchy sounds of the keyboard lines in Lindstrøm's track.
Named after Norway's most iconic dish – literally 'lamb in cabbage' – Esben stayed true to the track title and served us exactly that, with a little Maaemo twist of course. Over the headphones we revelled in the anthemic looping beats from this sparkling jewel of a track. Full of climbing melodic steps – chunky and robust and enough to get anyone up on their feet dancing. On the plate were tiny lamb loins cooked 'en sous vide' until meltingly tender and then pan roasted to develop the fat into a satisfyingly crisp and savoury crust. They were served with cabbage leaves, singed on the edges to give them a slight bitter edge, pickled chanterelles looking like they had just been picked from the forest floor, and a cornucopia of wild herbs and flowers (yarrow, wood sorrel, oxalis, ground ivy, and chickweed for those of you taking notes). The dish was finally napped with a hearty malt sauce that brought everything together nicely.
For this course, we were served a more meaty red from Italian producer Fattoria Selvapiana. This vibrantly perfumed 2011 Chianti Rufina is Sangiovese-based with a solid core of red cherry and blackberry that paired really well with the lamb.
And then before we know it, the last course is upon us. As the bending notes of the final track of Smalhans lifted us onto the fluffy clouds high above Oslo, a truffle-sized ball filled with "liquid waffle" was placed before us. It sat on a neat mound of honey-fried waffle crumbs and a dollop of thick smooth butterscotch. Nitrogen-frozen granules of waffle cream had been theatrically added, so the dish arrived at the table still smoking. We'd been highly advised to eat this in one go, as one bite of the truffle released its sweet liquid centre tasting exactly like the heart-shaped Norwegian treat. If anything is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face it's sweet waffles with cream, and as I looked up I could see plenty of happy faces.
To go with this course we drank glasses of cider (this is a music festival after all). Except that this was like no other cider I have tasted. Domaine Dupont in Normandy is the producer of the remarkable Cidre Dupont Reserve we were served. Made from predominantly bitter sweet apples the cider is aged for six months in oak Calvados casks. The result is a gently sparkling cider with complex, yet delicate, flavours of apple, pineapple and lemon.
We finished with Tim Wendelboe coffee, which came from the Gikanda cooperative in Kenya that was full of intense flavours of blackcurrants and blackberries. The coffee had been brewed in traditional Norwegian 'kokekafe' style over a primus stove.
But how do you sum up an experience like this? Wonderful, bizarre, trippy, uplifting are all words that immediately spring to mind. This was certainly a first for Food Studio and I'm guessing pretty much the same goes for all the people there. At times the ears and mouth had a hard time catching up with each other, such is the assault on the brain, but there's something really strange that happens when you listen, I mean really listen to music while you are eating this sort of food. At first it was barely imperceptible, in fact I didn't even realise it was happening until gradually more and more people started to close their eyes with heads gently bobbing in time to the rhythm, slowly chewing their food. Because of course, one of the side effects of using headphones while you eat is that it isolates you from others – you are in your own little bubble. Freed from the worry about what witty things you're expected to discuss with your dining companion or what anecdotes you haven't already told, you're allowed to completely and utterly immerse yourself in just the food and the music. It's quite a remarkable, and dare I say it, liberating experience.
Perhaps, though, the final words should come from Pontus who, with an enthusiastically boyish grin, concludes: "This is a really good way to have fun, it shouldn't just be work all the time. You should have fun. That's what food, that's what wine, that's what music is all about."
A big thanks to the following for all their hard work: Pontus, Esben and the team at Maaemo, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, Tove Svartsund at Det Norske Teatret for the sewing on the tote gift bags, Finn at Fretex for the cotton scarves, Helene at Granit for the tin buckets, Espen Bielke at Åpent Bakeri for bottles and crew food, Sindre Grønli for the wooden coins, Sennheiser for the headphones and Roskilde Festival for lending them to us, Fitjar Såpekokeri for the organic hand soap, and the Øya Festival for asking us to play with them at such an event.