For the second year in a row, a highlight of the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas was the pop-up dinner hosted by the House of Scandinavia. This year visitors enjoyed Lokal, an incredible experience hosted by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) that combined Austin products with Nordic techniques and ingredients to create innovative sustainable plates. The concept was curated by three chefs from Sweden, Denmark and Norway who served an extraordinary feast to support local businesses, sourcing ingredients with an emphasis on those that would be otherwise discarded.
The chefs transformed less-desirable food items into a nine-course gourmet dinner with wine pairings, consisting mostly of plant-based dishes. The chefs, Swedish Paul Svensson from Fotografiska Museet; Norwegian-Icelandic Atli Màr yngvarson, head chef at Katla restaurant and restaurant Pjoltergeist in Oslo; and Danish chef Kamilla Seidler, worked with Austin farms, bakeries, and produce companies to source ingredients to present this incredible dinner, following the well-known philosophy of modern Scandinavian cuisine that emphasizes reducing waste, foraging and sustainability.
Seidler, who was named Latin America’s best female chef for her work at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia, also spoke at a panel during the conference. A young spitfire whose accomplishments include many global and women empowering initiatives, she blends her Danish roots with her adopted home country’s flavors and products of vastly different cultures and cuisines. “New Nordic cuisine is not so new,” she explained. “It’s about seasonality, old methods of preserving food, going back to nature and foraging. It’s based on tradition, but it’s not a museum. It is alive and evolving.”
In Nordic cultures the meal is important, and taking time to enjoy and share it is at its core. Think of the Danish concept of hygge.
The inspiration for my dishes at Lokal was a mix between fresh produce in season and telling a story of ingredients we all love and consider our own, whether you are from Scandinavia or Austin,” says the chef. “Flavors we all have memories with – even though we are so far apart, we still share food memories.We had the good fortune to work with Kevin from Emmer and Rye and Joe from Fairground who made sure the sourcing was done locally, from good people.”
The chefs emphasized the point by using common ingredients, transforming day-old bread into a lovely pasta dish and serving “ugly” potatoes to promote how we all can help in limiting food waste. Where possible, the chefs used products that were close to their expiration date.
Sweden’s Paul Svensson, a pioneer in sustainable haute cuisine, created beautiful dishes with quirky names like “beautiful greens, beastly potatoes” which featured nearly-bolted lettuce usually discarded for its bitter taste, but a cold-smoked sour cream dressing balanced it out perfectly.
As we came to SXSW from Stockholm, we brought our local flavors, culinary techniques and culture and blended it with the Austin community and the businesses we worked with,” he said. “To this end, we partnered with local companies reducing their food waste by up-cycling products that were no longer viable for them into new dishes combining the flavors of Austin and Sweden”.
HausBar Farm, which Svensson described as “an incredible urban farm,” supplied all fresh greens, herbs, edible flowers and some vegetables. Dorsey Barger, co-owner of the East Austin farm, said the chefs were thrilled to walk among the rows, seeing products like greens from cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts as well as plants that most people would consider weeds, like wood sorrel, which they could use in the dishes. Other vegetables came from a mixture of suppliers. Easy Tiger bakery supplied leftover sourdough bread to create an up-cycled pasta dough; Hifi Myco supplied mushrooms – with off-cuts used as “fake truffles” – and chestnut mushrooms found a home on a forest-inspired dessert. Milk and eggs also came from small farms in the area.
To us, locality is more than just physical distance and the regularly expressed local food concept around produce and farms,” says Svensson. “It can also relate to local community, local business, local connections and we wanted to illustrate that in every component of our dishes. With sustainability being the key theme of the dinners, we wanted to present that working locally in all its guises is the ultimate sustainable experience. The aim was to inspire every guest to view food, sustainability and what it means to be local in an entirely new way both on the plate, and in everyday life.”
The concept of Lokal is in line with the ambition of SAS to pioneer the travel industry by enhancing the pre-order service, thus reducing food waste. Pre-order ensures the right amount and type of meals are loaded on board to match customer demands on each flight. Travelers being able to pre-order their favorite menus, including the New Nordic by SAS concept based on locally and seasonally sourced ingredients, is a part of SAS’ sustainability program.
Seider says is no longer just enough to use the word “sustainability” – actions will speak louder. “Sustainability has many faces,” says the chef. “Fair trade, fair pay, accountability and transparency. You must look for the beauty of nature in the dish rather than perfection. Food is only wasted once it’s in the trash.”