Forage, Fish, Feast: A Gourmand Adventure in Norway
Travel writer Sam Walton takes us to Norway’s Arctic Circle, where he joins a gourmand experience called Kitchen on the Edge of the World. Photo: Sam Walton
I’m looking across the mirror-like Norwegian sea. Gnarly rocks jut out of the water, like peaks of mountains above the clouds, breaking an otherwise unspoiled horizon. I’m at the Holmen Lofoten hotel in Søvågen, on one of the islands in the Lofoten archipelago in Norway’s Arctic Circle, where I’ve joined a gourmand experience called Kitchen on the Edge of the World. We’ll dine and learn from some of cooking’s best talents, eating in a restored fishing hut and sleeping in traditional cabins. To understand why three British chefs – host Valentine Warner, and guest chefs Mark Hix and Gill Meller – are holed up in the Arctic Circle, cooking for a group of guests from across the world, I take a walk with the hotel’s founder, Ingunn Rasmussen, who grew up here with her 12 siblings. She describes how she was working in the fishing community from the age of 5, where her father was a fisherman and carpenter, and so, by the time they reached double digits, they were virtually self-sufficient, foraging, catching food and making clothes.
Rasmussen bought the collection of fishing huts in 2001, and began a loving restoration. She knew she really wanted the kitchen to be the heart of the hotel, but needed to find the right person. “I was watching television,” she says. “As I flicked through the channels, I landed on the BBC and here was Mr. Warner with his hair all over the place and wearing a big woollen sweater, in Scandinavia.” Rasmussen had stumbled upon Warner’s 2013 cooking series, Valentine Warner Eats Scandinavia. It was a long shot, but she decided to send him an email. Warner, a cookbook author turned TV presenter, describes how he was charmed by her enthusiasm and vision, and booked a flight to Norway. “As we drove to Holmen, I was thinking, ‘How is it that one gets so directly answered by the things you want in your life?’” Together, they developed the concept for Kitchen on the Edge of the World, gathering great chefs to concoct wonderful food experiences with locally sourced ingredients.
Warner’s work here is a direct response to the surroundings. “When you stand in a place like Holmen, your menu is decided for you. If I’m next to the juniper and the sheep are down by the water’s edge among the seaweed, you steam the lamb in seaweed and then grill it over juniper wood. The natural world dictates the plate,” he says.
While the experience is centred around meals, our days are spent exploring the landscape: hunting, fishing and foraging with local guides. In the kitchen, Warner and guest chefs, Meller and Hix, banter and explore ideas for the ingredients they have caught, foraged and been given. It’s a satisfying scene. I sit down with Meller over a beer to hear how it’s going. “There’s always a friendly feeling, an aspect of fun and tomfoolery, but ultimately we want to make something delicious, and provide an experience for the guests to remember,” he tells me. “Some of the most profound and long-lasting memories are created with food: who you eat with, the conversations you have, the relationships you build.”
While the days are packed with activity, so much of that time is free from the constraints of modern life that you feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Warner relates this to a new definition of luxury: “Luxury is decoded now. You can’t just give someone a mahogany box with a crystal bit on the top and say it’s luxury,” he says. “For me, luxury is to spend time in nature with those who truly understand their skill.”
The night’s seven course feast kicks off with ptarmigan on toast with lingonberries, smoked pollack with leek and crisp rye bread, followed by baked potato with caviar, hare fillet with roasted oyster and reindeer moss, and our catch of the day, coalfish, cooked with mousseline potatoes. The food is evocative, comforting and delicious, as is the atmosphere. Meller puts it simply: “Good ingredients, beautiful landscape, lovely people. I’m in.”
For 2024’s just released lineup of stellar chefs, go to holmenlofoten.no. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has daily flights from Oslo to Leknes, Holmen Lofoten’s nearest airport.
A version of this article appeared in the Oct/Nov 2023 issue with the headline ‘Dinner on the Edge Of The World’, p. 94.