It is a wet day in Oslo. The evening is dimming outside of the Nobel Peace Centre and bypassers are rushing to get home. Coincidently it is Valentines Day and slowly our bunch of 55 guests is filtering through the front door. But tonight is not about staring into only one set of eyes – we’ll be feasting amongst the 25 exhibited families from all over the world, right in the middle of the “What the Word Eats” exhibition.
Inside waits hot apple gløgg and roasted nuts, coated with sumac and curry. Every member of the nut-nibbling crowd is handed a card illustrated with either a fish, porridge or french fries. In the kitchen, chef Diego Virgen from Mexico, currently based in Copenhagen and working with Food Studio friends like I’m A Kombo and Madeleines Madtheater, is pouring subtle tangerine vinaigrette into nifty, industrial-looking atomizer bottles. What on earth is going on?
Food Studio and the Director of Informations at the Nobel Peace Centre, Linda Netland, welcome the crowd. Linda tells about how they were contacted by the artists behind the exhibition, photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D´Aluisio, who requested something fun and social, bringing people and food together, to be done to mark the end of their exhibition in Norway. They found Food Studio especially interesting, and suggested a rather festive collaboration.
And so here we are, ready to dine amongst seven large haystacks displaying the photos of the families. China, Norway, Italy, Ecuador, Chad and the US, to mention a few, are countries represented in the work of Menzel and D´Aluisio which have been captured throughout the last 13 years. Results illustrate vividly what and how much food each family consumes of food and drink in the course of one week.
A community table is stretching through the middle of the exhibition space – a worldly feast is soon about to go down. But before we devour foods from far corners of the world – let’s feed our brains! The guests are divided into three groups. The “french fries” are asked to follow Thor Kenneth, the porridge people Øystein and the fishes Yan.
– This is my grandfather, says Christoffer Johannesen, a third generation shrimp fisher in the fjords of Oslo. Christoffer tells about how times have changed and how they are now the only local shrimp fishers left. People are intrigued, asking when they should be at the harbour to secure themselves a batch of fresh Oslo fjord shrimps. – Thursday from 07:00 in the morning, Christoffer ensures.
– This is the banana family, says Adeline, guide at the Nobel Peace Center. They eat 51 bananas every week. You might have a clue as to who eats all the bananas, she asks. We are looking at a picture of a Norwegian family. Indeed, it is the teenage boy. In total the family uses $ 718.54 dollars a week on food, in contrast to the Chad family who spends just above $ 1.23 each week.
– If you bump into something strange, feel free to taste it, encourages Annikken, also a centre representative. We are in “The Nobel Field”, a digital room with neon lights and computer screens where all of the Nobel Peace Price winners are shown. Three bowls containing sticks of rutabaga are spread throughout the room. Each bowl has been sprinkled with a characteristic spice from different parts of the world.
– Do you know where I want to bring you? Annikken asks. The smoked paprika turns even more interesting in the dark. – Mexico, she confirms. The next bowl brings us to India, tasting of garam masala, quite a strange flavor when not eating it as a part of a dish. The third bowl takes us to the coastal East Africa and Kenya, giving the curious crowd a little surprise: grounded cloves!
The final stop before we are seated at the table is a lively talk on biodynamic and organic life and farming by Linda Jolly. Not only does she teach bioscience at The Norwegian University of Life Sciences, she also grows stunning, biodynamic vegetables in her own back yard. We are served some of these later that very evening. We are also introduced to Sidsel S. Sanberg, who runs Hegli gård outside of Oslo. Her project “Living Learning” invites kids from the nearby school to observe a farm in full operation – seeing for themselves how and from where foods origin.
The candles are lit on our stretched dinner table. Already the guests have so much in common, and the talks are on.
– I liked that young shrimp fisher. He was really charming, says the lady across from my seat. While people meet and greet, our first dish of the evening is being served. A mysterious-looking “surprise salad” wrapped in cellophane and served with chopsticks sticking out of the plastic. Unwrapping the cellophane, it reveals black and green kale, roasted brusselsprouts (from Linda’s garden), pickled savoy cabbage, tangerines, tofu and fragrant szehuan pepper. The industrial atomizer bottles, with the tangerine vinaigrette, are used by the guests to spray over their own salad. We are a bit shy at first, but quickly get in to the groove. – Any spray bottles over there? A woman far to the left asks. All of a sudden bottles are traveling around the table.
Our second course is brought out and introduced by Diego. – This is skrei (arctic cod) in season, marinated in licorice infusion, with grilled organic root vegetables and a roasted leek sauce. Served on large sharing plates, the guests are interacting, like a family. – Would you like some more? Did you try the sauce? Oh, the sauce! And what about the vegetables? So tasteful! Have they only been roasted? The waitress assures us that more food is on its way.
The cod is delivered fresh from Frøya Sjømat, and is just that: mindboggling fresh. The fish melts in our mouths, making everyone swear on cooking more fish at home. – Anybody want more?
For the dessert, seasonal blood oranges are used. This time of year, late winter, they are extra tasty – subtly acidic and splendidly juicy. This orange fellow has the leading part in the dessert; a galette topped with sliced multicolored blood oranges, crème anglaise and rose pepper. Accompanied by neatly temperatured, organic Ethiopean coffee roasted and brewed by Supreme Roastworks, it is a perfect ending note to the meal
The guests look smirkingly satisfied. Some review the food, surprised about how much of the foods that we eat are international and yet feel local, like the cod and the vegetables. Others are over the moon about the unusual natural wines served this evening, heading for the bar to find out more about that from Frederik Kolderup and the wine-importer Non Dos. Tonight’s cooking team, chef Diego and Alisa, receives a warm applause, some guests even greeting them by hand.
The evening is a great example of how people gathering around a table can simply create magic: Sharing ideas and thoughts, talking lively, spending quality time together, eating and meeting new friends. One might even say that love is in the air.
Text by Ingvild Telle
Photos by Asaki Abumi and Ingvild Telle