Oslo

A Film-Producer Turned Chef in Oslo

Oslo, Norway
Henrik Henriksen
Norwegian Tacos

The Place: Oslo, Norway… Again

“…if you’re going to bother coming to Norway, Oslo is just the tip of the iceberg. If you make the journey North or West, you’ll see mountains so dramatic they’ll be etched into your memory forever, ocean so clean you can almost see the fish looking back at you from beneath the waves, and nature so untouched it feels like no one has ever been there before you.”

Read About Oslo

Wait, this is where the last Place, Person, Plate article was from, wasn’t it? Well, yes. Oslo is a colourful, thriving, and diverse capital city, and since this is our last interview from Norway (*Gasp*), we thought why not speak to more than one person in the most populous Norsk city? We’ve already sold you on Oslo’s river, the fjord, and all it’s cleanliness. But what we didn’t tell you is that from the centre of Oslo, you’re just 25 minutes by tram from a hike in the woods, and in winter, an alpine ski resort is just as accessible. Ferries regularly make trips to the fjord’s islands, where in the heat of summer you can feel like you’re in Greece, and a universe away from a country capital. But, as today’s interviewee would tell you, if you’re going to bother coming to Norway, Oslo is just the tip of the iceberg. If you make the journey North or West, you’ll see mountains so dramatic they’ll be etched into your memory forever, ocean so clean you can almost see the fish looking back at you from beneath the waves, and nature so untouched it feels like no one has ever been there before you. If you visit Norway and only see Oslo, you’re missing out on some of the most spectacular natural beauty the world has to offer.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Henrik Henriksen, 44, Food Writer and Restaurant Owner 

“I grew up in a very academic environment, so my first rebellion was to become a chef. so I thought I’d call my other producer friend who was also a chef originally and said “why don’t we just do it. We’ll open a restaurant.” So we quit our jobs and I started writing and running restaurants full-time, working at 200%.”

Read More About Henrik's Background

 

I grew up in a very academic environment, so my first rebellion was to become a chef. After a while I realised the chef’s life was going to kill me, so I went back into a more academic and artistic approach – or something in between – and that was film-making. I was a film producer for 13 years before I suddenly realised that I hated it. I especially hated the producer role, being this ‘daddy’ figure; I like getting along with people and have specific ideas on how I think things should be done, so I had to go back again to being more creative. I had been doing food all along on the side; I was writing more and more about food so I thought I’d call my other producer friend who was also a chef originally and said “why don’t we just do it. We’ll open a restaurant.” So we quit our jobs and I started writing and running restaurants full-time, working at 200%. It’s hard work but it’s easy to work hard when it’s something you like and know how to do. For me writing had been something I wanted to do for a long time.

 

   

What is home to you?

Now I have kids, so they relate to me and my wife and wherever we are as home, whereas if they were to move to another town, we would be home there. Where I go to bed and where I cook for my kidshome would be better described from my kids point of view; where Dad is cooking.

See Henrik's Full Answer

It’s an interesting question, and it’s something that has changed for me, because my parents went away a long time ago, so it’s not related to them. I have always moved around, and I consider Norway as being a home, I always come back here, but I guess now… Home is where I decide home is going to be at any given point. Now I have kids, so they relate to me and my wife and wherever we are as home, whereas if they were to move to another town, we would be home there. Where I go to bed and where I cook for my kids, that would be – I always hope that if I could get one thing, only one thing that I really want to achieve in my life: if I can end up being old and my kids and grandkids want to visit me, then that would be complete success. Because the alternative is very dark and means you haven’t been a very nice person.

 

So home would be better described from my kids point of view; where Dad is cooking. It’s also very much about where you can make a living. It’s easier for me to make a living and have success here than it would be in London for instance, and I had to do everything from scratch. If everything here collapsed, and suddenly the oil was worth nothing and the economy went into the trash, I would probably have to redefine what home is.

How did you discover your passion for food?

“I can still picture a lot of meals from when I was a kid. I can break them down and I can probably still make them. My grandad on my mother’s side was a great cook… He had a family but he was gay and was open about it… he was a great chef at home, because he was usually unemployed, so while his wife was working and making the money as a teacher, he had a lot of time at home to practice.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

I can still picture a lot of meals from when I was a kid. I can break them down and I can probably still make them. My grandad on my mother’s side was a great cook. He was an actor, and he was gay. He had a family but he was gay and was open about it. He was a communist and he was a great chef at home, because he was usually unemployed, so while his wife was working and making the money as a teacher, he had a lot of time at home to practice. He was a great guy – completely crazy and a great cook. My grandmother on my father’s side was totally traditional and stayed at home. Grandad used to come home with wild fish, drop them on the table and she would cook them. He was a fisherman and used to be a whaler. My Dad travelled a lot and we went with him, so I got around the world – Latin America, Europe, Eastern Europe before the wall came down. Everything was about food all the time, so my passion for food was sort of given to me in that sense. I remember when I was seven eating snails in Stockholm, classically French garlic and buttery, and I loved them, but I also remember that I liked the idea that I liked them, because I didn’t think that I would; it was kind of a victory.

After that everything became a victory. Raw fish -ceviche – in Mexico, which is not really raw. I was 11 and I fished the fish myself. There was a beach restaurant and they cooked it for me and came back with one fried part and the other part was just chopped up, marinated in lime and some chilly, which is really simple, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. The flavour is still in my mouth, and that’s 34 years ago.

What is special about Oslo?

“…the tininess and the fact that it’s situated so close to both mountains and sea and forest, as soon as you realise that it becomes fantastic”

See Henrik's Full Answer

It’s the closeness to nature. As a city it’s kind of boring because it’s very tiny. But the tininess and the fact that it’s situated so close to both mountains and sea and forest, as soon as you realise that it becomes fantastic. It took me years to really see that, and I thought when I had to go to the ocean to fish I had to do it outside of town where my grandparents came from. And for skiing I thought I had to go all the way up into the mountains. Now I have a boat 15 minutes from here, and I can go out whenever I want to. You can take a tram for 15 minutes and go skiing for miles and miles. And if you go for one-and-a-half hours, there’s proper mountains. You are surrounded by nature that is pretty clean in a way, and that’s hard to find. I was surprised in Upstate New York – it’s closer to nature than you would think. I was visiting a friend – some wine producers – and I took the wrong way over Manhatten and within 5 minutes it was lush, clean. I was like “what’s just happened?!”

Film-Producer to Chef is quite a jump. Was it an easy transition?

“In many ways, film production is run pretty much like you would open a restaurant. You have to find a narrative, find a red line going through the whole thing – a path – and some idea that people can believe in. It needs to be cast with people, and it needs to make sense.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

It looks like a patchwork with the film-making, the writing and the food, but in the end it fits very well together. In many ways, film production is run pretty much like you would open a restaurant. You have to find a narrative, find a red line going through the whole thing – a path – and some idea that people can believe in. It needs to be cast with people, and it needs to make sense, everything has to come together. You have to finance it, which is similar. It’s expensive; you might lose all your money. You have to find some people crazy enough to believe in you. And then when you open it, you have some time to prepare, but to execute you have almost no time. Everything needs to prepared down to the last detail; everything that can go wrong is planned for. So the way you secure quality in every detail, that’s a very similar way of thinking as in film making. Then there’s the whole idea that to run a restaurant, you have more in common with cinemas and theatres than you have with other people that produce food. Because you sell more of a story than the food itself. It’s a more important part of a restaurant – the stage part of it. Because that’s the part where you convince people to make different choices. For instance, whether I cook vegetables or meat in the restaurant doesn’t really matter on a global perspective, but what people do at home really makes a difference. So if I cook more with vegetables in the restaurant, and I can inspire the public to do the same, that’s where you make an impact, not the choice that I make locally in the restaurant. That’s why I say there’s a link to the story-telling; the writing and filming. When you look at it, it fits together very well.

What have you learned from living in Oslo and Norway?

“…living in Oslo and Norway, you don’t really risk anything. It’s almost impossible to end up losing everything… I think a lot of people forget that, because that should inspire more innovation…”

See Henrik's Full Answer

I lived in Italy and Mexico for a while. That inspired the taco restaurant. At some point some people said the best Mexican food is in the U.S., and I thought “if that is what people think, then we really have work to do because that’s not the case!” The Mexican kitchen is one of the best kitchen’s in the world. So for me ‘Taco Republica’ was some justice. Here the most popular Friday meal is something people refer to as “taco”, which is not Taco. It’s not even close, it doesn’t even resemble it. So I thought “We have a mission to do it here. We can make a difference so that people know a little bit about the fantastic Mexican culture.” And it’s been f****d over by the U.S. so many times it’s the least we can do.

 

I guess, living in Oslo and Norway, you don’t really risk anything. It’s almost impossible to end up losing everything, because you’re so taken care of by the state that you can pretty much wander around and be completely irresponsible and you’ll still probably be ok. I think a lot of people forget that, because that should inspire more innovation, because you can take more risk, but it doesn’t really happen. I don’t know why. For me, if I don’t produce and if I don’t make anything exciting, it’s just self-contempt and I have to regard myself as a passive person. For me to be passive is darkness. For some reason in the last 10 years, stuff has started happening. We’re more well off in Norway than we were 10 years ago. The art scene is very interesting and productive, and music-wise too. The restaurant scene has exploded in the last 5 years, it’s fantastic. Quality is something that happens in one or two out of a hundred in restaurants. Same with film. So in order to produce one good restaurant, you need to have 100, and because of the big numbers, there are many that are really good here.

Where is your favourite place outside of Norway?

Beirut is something else. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist or it’s in a parallel universe or something… In spite of everything they’ve been through, it still goes on… that spirit is amazing. There are seven or eight minorities all coexisting and finding their way. And the food scene is great…”

See Henrik's Full Answer

It tends to change a little depending on what I’m into at the time. I’ve been to Beirut a couple of times and I love Lebanon – I think it’s a fantastic place and Beirut is maybe the coolest city on earth. But if you asked me three years ago it probably would have been Mexico City, which is still one of my favourite places in the world. Beirut is something else. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist or it’s in a parallel universe or something. You can ask people “how do you survive, you don’t have fresh water?” “Well what do you mean?” They rely on generators for electricity. “What’s the problem?” We have existed for thousands of years, we will still exist tomorrow. In spite of everything they’ve been through, it still goes on. And that spirit is amazing. There are seven or eight minorities all coexisting and finding their way. And the food scene is great, and the night-life is just amazing because they party like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a really cool city and it’s still fairly safe. It’s just south Lebanon that can be a bit… We travelled into the South last time which is basically Hezbollah area. Then you have to go with somebody who is Hezbollah, so we got a driver who was. You could see where all the rockets into Israel came from.  Our new restaurant is a Mezze place so we went there for research. It’s the only reason I travel; food. I always do some pieces when I travel for the paper.

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Oslo?

“The first thing that comes to mind is the huge demonstration as a reaction to the terrorist attack in 2011… ‘Let’s just grab some roses and go outside.’ It was really nice. Made me cry.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

The first thing that comes to mind is the huge demonstration as a reaction to the terrorist attack in 2011. It was a very quick response and it was very synchronised. And it felt, even though there wasn’t a movement behind the attack – the guy was crazy and deranged – so there wasn’t a reason for the demonstration other than expression. And that made me so happy to see. “Let’s just grab some roses and go outside.” It was really nice. Made me cry.

What is your main concern or worry about Oslo?

The biggest problem here is that we struck oil, in many senses, and we didn’t really work so hard for it. And what you see is a lot of seriously nouveau riche people with heaps of money, and that’s exactly how they behave.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

 

I don’t believe much that people or countries can trigger their own change. The biggest problem here is that we struck oil, in many senses, and we didn’t really work so hard for it. And what you see is a lot of seriously nouveau riche people with heaps of money, and that’s exactly how they behave. You lose the contact with reality that almost all Norwegians are part of the 0.1% richest people in the world. If you just have an apartment here you’re on that list. I think people tend to forget that. And they get consumed, emotionally impaired and brain dead. You have a nation that is totally well-off that still complains about the prices of gas and taxes. And it’s not even high taxes here.

How would you convince a tourist to visit?

The closeness to natureparts of the west coast and North are some of the most beautiful places on the planet… So if you were to go here and miss out on that, that would be a tragedy.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

The closeness to nature, but I would also say if someone went all the way to Norway and did not go to the west coast or the North… that would be really missing out on something truly beautiful. It’s a nice area and everything but it’s nothing compared to those places. Lofoten, for instance, is particularly beautiful. I’d say some parts of the west coast and North are some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and they are still so fresh. So if you were to go here and miss out on that, that would be a tragedy. I was on the North-western coast a couple of weeks ago and was diving – I love to dive and do underwater fishing, spear fishing – and we had 25-30m visibility underwater which is kind of rare, and it was just amazing. And then you come up from under the ocean and see those mountains. You probably took the Atlantic road down here? I was on one of those tiny islands near it, and rented a house there with some friends. We were diving under the bridges because the current there is so strong! It’s amazing, like five knots current, so when you dive there… Boom. You’re moving with the fish.

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of People from Norway?

“Most people… drink way too much alcohol and ruin other places on their vacation… We act like Vikings with a lot of money.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

That’s difficult because you would want, and this sounds bad, all Norwegians to be well-educated, vote for the right parties, read the right books and so on, but it’s not true. 70% of the country may be people that you don’t relate to or don’t want to know. We have a very strong right and brownish-blue political movement here. Most people complain about gas prices and taxes and drink way too much alcohol and ruin other places on their vacation – invade islands and countries – because we are well-off and we act like Vikings with a lot of money. But then again it’s growing. People are evolving and so is the country, in the right way I hope.

What is the best thing to ever come out of Oslo?

“There are a quite a few things from Norway that you’re not proud of. We invented the multipurpose bullet… then again, some great artists like Gibson and Munch, are from here. Munch in particular because he inspires almost more and more.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

I think Edward Munch is probably it. There are a quite a few things from Norway that you’re not proud of. We invented the multipurpose bullet, which isn’t our proudest moment. It became a very important weapon for nations around the world. Even though it came from the best of intentions – protecting yourself from helicopter invasion – it’s not used in that way today, because it was meant to be towards materials in cars and helicopters, not towards people. Now it’s used against people. We invented the hand grenade, the antipersonnel mine. So in many ways you can be glad there’s not more than 4.5 million Norwegians! But then again, some great artists like Gibson and Munch, are from here. Munch in particular because he inspires almost more and more. You still rediscover things about him today.

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

I always buy a whole pig. From the head, I make ‘head cheese’. You call it that in English. ‘Fromage de tete’ in French. It’s basically boiled head, and you press it together with spices and stuff, and it becomes like a cured meat that you sliced thinly.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

At Christmas tims, my wife is from the West coast originally, so there is something from there and something from here. I always buy a whole pig. From the head, I make ‘head cheese’. You call it that in English. ‘Fromage de tete’ in French. It’s basically boiled head, and you press it together with spices and stuff, and it becomes like a cured meat that you slice thinly. And there’s so much gelatine in the head that you don’t need anything to bind it together, just add salt and spice, and put some pressure on it and it becomes wonderful. That’s something I always make. And we cook the ribs and I make sausages out of everything else. My wife cooks Pinnekjott – dried salted lamb ribs – and Raspeball, which is potato balls, you grate them. And then obviously salted and dried cod. So I am a traditionalist. I love the idea that it’s so robust. You can have it for a week, but after that you just want to go to Vietnam and have something totally light.

What is your favourite Norwegian Dish?

Rømmegrøtit’s very Norwegian. It’s sour cream porridge, basically. You cook flour and sour cream and then you add sour milk and fresh milk to balance it, and some salt, and it becomes a very creamy porridge. “

See Henrik's Full Answer

Rømmegrøt. It’s a very weird thing, it’s very Norwegian. It’s sour cream porridge, basically. You cook flour and sour cream and then you add sour milk and fresh milk to balance it, and some salt, and it becomes a very creamy porridge. And then you eat it with cured meat. Sometimes you can add grated cured meat on top of it or if you have the proper, heavy brown cheese, you can use that. Some people also use sugar and cinnamon in Norway, but that’s a very new idea, because sour cream porridge is probably at least a 1,000 to 1,500-year-old recipe. From the ingredients you can tell. Then in the 1700s-1800s, sugar and spices came. And then they added sugar to everything. Same thing in Sweden. Maybe because maybe the food wasn’t all that good so… “Oh, sugar helps!”

And your least favourite?

“Tacos… to me it’s darkness. Total Darkness. Everything comes out of a package or a bag.”

See Henrik's Full Answer

That would be Tacos. It’s very Norwegian, but to me it’s darkness. Total Darkness. Everything comes out of a package or a bag. There is nothing homemade about it. It’s completely – even calling it Mexican. No, it’s not Mexican. No Mexican would feel at home if they tried that. There is nothing good about it.

Recommendation:

“Norway, inspired by the Danish and Swedish, is rediscovering it’s traditional food…To get a good taste of Norway, what it is and what it might become, is actually the most expensive restaurant in the Country, “Maaemo”.”

See Henrik's Full Recommendation

In Oslo, and Norway in general, it’s difficult. This is the long answer to a simple question. The whole part of Norway first being a very, very poor country, then striking oil and becoming a very rich country – a poor country will never develop a very strong food culture. If there is no food to develop it from, you’re more focused on security than taste. For instance, Ireland and Norway have been food backwaters for ages; just stuck in the Middle Ages, and we hadn’t really moved forward. Sweden and Denmark are richer than Norway food culture-wise; from the outside people consider the Nordic countries as being one thing, but really it’s very different. Sweden had nobility, but we never had that. They had great agriculture. So what happens when you strike oil and suddenly have money? “Forget that porridge, man!” The little you had becomes forgotten. So Norway, inspired by the Danish and Swedish, is rediscovering it’s traditional food. Now there’s traditional cheesemakers. The problem is there was never any good, aged Norwegian cheese, because to have a good aged Norwegian cheese you would have to have some point in history where you had too much milk! So you have to sort of reinvent something that could have been, which I really like.

To get a good taste of Norway, what it is and what it might become, is actually the most expensive restaurant in the Country, “Maaemo”. It’s run by a Danish chef ten years younger than me, fantastic chef. Completely crazy – it had to be a Danish guy who taught us what Norwegian food could be. Sometimes you need that perspective from the outside. Wim Wenders is the only one who managed to portray Texas in film. No one had really portrayed Texas in films before the Germans, and then people were like “Oh, that’s Texas!” Sometimes you need the look from the outside. If you can get the 10,000NOK that you need to eat at Maaemo, then you must try the best the best edition of rømmegrøt that is made in Norway.

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The Plate: Norwegian Tacos

“…sitting around a table with a Norwegian family, you can enjoy the camaraderie of collectively joining in an inauthentic and cheap Friday night meal. Don’t try them and expect quality Mexican food. Instead, try them to understand a culinary phenomena that has somehow developed in modern Norway and seems like it shouldn’t really be there.”

Read About Norwegian Tacos

Henrik, I’m afraid we have some explaining to do. Rest assured, we definitely wanted to follow your advice and go to Maaemo for rømmegrøt, something that is now on my bucket list, but 10,000 kroner was slightly out of our price range. So, we were left with no choice but to instead review your least favourite Norwegian dish, the “total darkness” that is Norwegian tacos.

For Americans, when they ask themselves why Mexican food is so popular, it’s a no-brainer, right? Sharing a boarder with Mexico, and with so many immigrants especially in the south, it makes sense why so many Mexican restaurants line our streets. It’s the Norwegians, however, that make us question it all. Taco Friday (much like Taco Tuesday in the ‘States) is a tradition enjoyed by 8% of the Norwegian population each week; that’s 400,000 Norwegians. When I heard they were on the menu in Norway, I assumed they were some Norsk-Mex fusion in the form of fish tacos. But when the table was filled with ground beef, soft flour tortillas, shredded cheese, guacamole, salsa, lettuce and more, I was surprised at how similar these tacos were to what I was used to.

To be fair, we understood why some people, especially the renowned chef behind “Taco Republica” don’t approve of Norwegian tacos. The very fact that we’re implying this is “Mexican Food” means Henrik has probably stopped reading by now. Most of the ingredients do come out of a can or a bag, and they certainly don’t feel fresh. But sitting around a table with a Norwegian family, you can enjoy the camaraderie of collectively joining in an inauthentic and cheap Friday night meal. Don’t try them and expect quality Mexican food. Instead, try them to understand a culinary phenomena that has somehow developed in modern Norway and seems like it shouldn’t really be there.


Thoughts? Leave a comment down below!


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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