The Long Tail of Winter
The end of winter in Scandinavia can go one of two ways.
Scenario 1: In February/early March the sun actually shows up. The temperature rises to 5C or 6C and everyone gets excited. Vegetation shoots up and you say to yourself, “Yes, spring is here!!!” Then it snows and everyone freaks out.
Scenario 2: From January until April, the temperature fluctuates between -5 C and 12 C.
Scenario 2 has been the trend over the past few years. I had a friend send me a picture of ramson shoots right before Christmas. Ramsons are not supposed to sprout until the end of March. Before, you used to commit to a menu to get you through the dead of winter. Those days are gone. This winter the temperature dropped below freezing for a total of 13 days. Now cooking in the Nordic regions during the winter is about being able to change and adapt. I think it is safe to say that we can all thank climate change for the variable weather patterns.
We’re used to working like this in the summer, but the main difference is that we don’t have the amount or the variety of products. I always start to stress a little as the colder months approach. The first few dishes seem to be missing something. But the dishes aren’t missing anything. It’s the mentality – you have to switch into a different mode. After a month, a sense of calm comes over you and you embrace the products that you have. You start to look at them for the potential they have rather than what they’re missing. You are constantly thinking to yourself, “How do I make this beet root taste more like a beet root than it does naturally?” and “How do I give this carrot a texture and flavor beyond a normal carrot?” Then right when you make peace with the winter…….it ends.
You might think that early spring comes as a relief. Not really. It’s the time of year that truly tests your capacity to keep cooking seasonally. Others order white asparagus from France and peas from Italy a month before they are ready in Denmark. You could easily give in and take the easy road. Or you can define your terroir and pay the greatest respect to it by listening to what it is saying to you. Last year we changed our menu more times in the months of April and May than we did during the months of July and August. Mother Nature was giving us a run for our money. I cursed her name a few times, but in the end it only made us stronger as a team and as a restaurant. As we enter these challenging and exciting couple of months, I want to wish every chef out there good luck. Let the products talk to you. They know what’s best.