RIYADH: A cooking event in Riyadh on Thursday featured the Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish embassies promoting New Nordic cuisine and sparking gastro diplomacy through their own “MasterChef.”
Michael Jensen, the Danish deputy head of the mission, said: “The four Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway are trying to make a little gimmick out of doing a dish from each country that we will then give feedback to, and give participants an opportunity to try and cook.”
Six teams of two went head-to-head in the competition at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Diplomatic Quarter.
The teams prepared one dish from each Nordic country, starting with a smoked salmon and cream cheese appetizer from Norway and a toast skagen from Sweden.
The contestants then had 15 minutes to create the remaining two courses, including the main dish from Finland called voileipakakku. The final course was a layer cake dessert from Denmark called lagkage.
Participants in each round were timed when gathering their ingredients and assembling the dish for the Nordic envoys to judge.
The embassy judges included the Ambassador of Sweden Petra Menander, the Finnish Ambassador Anu-Eerika Viljanen, the Norwegian Ambassador Thomas Lid Ball, and Jensen.
Menander told Arab News: “We are here for a bit of an experiment in the Nordic cooking contest, in which Saudis are creating something we know very well, and some dishes we don’t, and it is very interesting to see how the dishes are being interpreted.
“We have been laughing a lot and sort of challenging a lot and really had a lot of fun. It’s really good to come together and just enjoy each other’s company.”
The ambassadors discussed the importance of bringing people together in the community to highlight and share Nordic cuisine.
Lid Ball told Arab News: “I think this reaches a different audience than the people we often reach as ambassadors.
“It’s important to us to learn, to understand Saudi Arabia and the different parts of Saudi Arabia, and reach out to many people.”
Jensen said that the aim of the event was to present a glimpse into Nordic food.
New Nordic cuisine promotes cooking with local, seasonal, and natural ingredients that contribute to sustainability.
He said: “We have a lot of focus on sustainability in our countries, and using the ingredients that are close to where we are.
“Trying to limit the carbon footprint and using what is in season and what is in front of us, I think that is very much how traditional cooking in our countries used to be, given the harsh winters.”
Contestants received a list of ingredients and an image of the four dishes from each Nordic country, but not a step-by-step instruction on how to put the dish together.
Menander said: “It can be even better when you do things differently.
“The best toast skagen I have ever had was here, and it wasn’t the original recipe.”
A similar event took place in 2020, led by the Danish embassy in Riyadh.
Jensen said: “We are far away from the Nordic countries here, and there’s not a lot of Nordic restaurants.
“We’d like to present what we can do in the Nordic countries, which is very often quite healthy food.”