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Hardy master is this year's Trondelag Food Festival chef

Just like the locally sourced ingredients of Trondelag become the world's best in hardy weather conditions our Trondelag Food Festival chef Christopher William Davidsen has weathered his challenges to become one of the world's best chefs.

By Silje Kolaas Photo: Wil Lee-Wright and Silje Kolaas

- I have fond memories of us all gathering around the dinner table and having food together. I was responsible for making dinner once a week. When I look back on it now it was a bit tricky making dinner on a Thursday, because I didn't know what to make. My dad loved pancakes and it was something that was easy and fun to make. Dinner was supposed to be ready around 4-5pm. We were four siblings, so there were a lot of pancakes. I became a whiz at pancakes, says Christopher Davidsen with a smile.

Davidsen is Head Chef at Speilsalen, a restaurant that has been awarded Norway's best restaurant. In February of 2020 they got their first Michelin star after having been open only for ten months. In 2015 Davidsen became World Champion Chef. In the two subsequent years after that he won silver in the European Chef Championship and in 2017 he achieved silver in Bocuse d´Or in Lyon. This year's Trondelag Food Festival chef is a true master and one of the world's best chefs. But it didn't always look like it would turn out that way. 

The contrast between family pancake dinners and a Michelin star restaurant on one side to the first six years of Davidsen's life on the other side, is big. The start of his life saw the presence of alcoholism, short term foster homes and child welfare services. He moved 19 times before finally finding his permanent foster home outside of Stavanger. To this day they are his family.

After the success of Bocuse d´Or, Davidsen’s personal story got the attention of the prime minister herself. Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, shared the story of Christopher W. Davidsen in her New Year’s speech in this way;

«Christopher Davidsen won silver in Bocuse d’Or, the world chef championship. His mother was a drug addict. At the age of six he was the one changing his little sister’s diapers. We have a lot of these success stories. We must create even more of them». Prime minister Erna Solberg’s 2019 New Year’s Speech.

When Davidsen looks back on it now, he can see why he became a chef. He was six years old when he moved into his new family home outside of Stavanger. Here he got to experience a lot of great foods and develop new culinary habits.

Watch and learn. Cristopher W. Davidsen grew up in the country outside of Stavanger. This is where he got to go hunting and fishing and help prepare and cook foods for family dinners. Here he is 7-8 years old observing his father barbequing a deer. Photo: Private.

Dad was a rabbit butcher and grandpa was a fisherman

- My dad had Norway’s first rabbit butchery and supplied rabbit meat to restaurants. He also went hunting for game and great cormorant. He would stand over the cast iron skillet without my mother knowing anything about it; the pan was very hot and he would fry small pieces of liver. These are some of my best memories. When my father had been over to grandpa’s house he would always come back with eggs. That was big for him. My grandfather was a fisherman, and he also supplied crab. I learned that you have to be up early for your summer job if you wanted to get paid.

 

Davidsen clearly remembers his first summer job.  
- When I was ten years old, I was a strawberry picker. In the spring we weeded the carrot fields and, in the fall, there was hunting and potatoes. All the various foods were right there in front of us and became a part of my childhood. I believe it has shaped me as a chef today. I think my mother and father believed that if we were part of the entire process from helping to butcher animals to serving dinner, we would get respect for the food and value it more, says Davidsen.

Christopher had a phase in his teens that could have shifted his path entirely. But the discipline and creativity he experienced in the kitchen, where he worked as a dishwasher, led him to decide to work in the culinary arts – and become the world’s best chef. Photo: Private.

Deciding to become the world’s best chef

- I have always enjoyed being the best at some sort of sports. I wanted to be a professional football player, as it didn’t seem like a natural thing that I would become a chef. I was creative and enjoyed making things and took art classes in school. But after a while sitting on a chair got to be boring. When I was in high school the stipend I got didn’t cover my expenses, so I started working as a dishwasher in a hotel. This is where I experienced that it was easy to climb the ladder and after a few weeks I was working the breakfast. I liked it a lot, says Davidsen. He was allowed to try new things and create the daily menu. This is where he decided to go to culinary school.

- When I started culinary school, I realized I wasn’t going to become a football professional. But I needed something that would trigger me a little extra. That’s when I decided to become the world’s best chef, says Davidsen. This is when he started practicing. He spent 4500 hours practicing for the 2017 Bocuse d´Or.

- I was doing well when it came to taste and flavors, but I had to also become technically skilled. You can be a good composer of flavors, but the food is also supposed to look good for competitions. In terms of flavors, I learned a lot about myself; what I liked and what other people liked. You’re supposed to hit the taste buds of all the 24 judges from 24 different countries. If you can get yourself up on the podium you’ve made it, Davidsen says with a smile.

Crab is one of the signature dishes of Head Chef Christopher W. Davidsen at Speilsalen. Photo: Wil Lee-Wright.  

Life is best in the kitchen

For the master chef the competitions have been a hobby. Now he is where he likes it he most; in the kitchen, and he wants to continue being there until he retires.

- At the back of my head I always knew that when I was done competing, I would be back in the kitchen. Carrying cases with vegetables into the fridge, organizing the food on the shelves, frying up some scallops, walk into the restaurant and talk to guests. That’s why I became a chef, says Davidsen. And he is still fond of foods from the sea. 

Why Trondelag?

As many other good stories this one, too, has a dash of love. Love is what brought Davidsen from the south west coast of Norway further north to the region of Trondelag.

- My wife comes from Stoksund in Åfjord, a place all the way out on the coast. Since the first time she took me here on vacation I was completely spellbound by Trondelag. I went out fishing with my father-in-law, and I wasn’t deterred by the weather, even though in Trondelag you could experience all four seasons in the month of May. I had come here in my work shoes from sunny weather in Stavanger. My father-in-law smiled when he saw me and said I had to put my long johns on – in May. And then we went out fishing, says Davidsen, who very well remembers his first meeting with seafood from Trondelag.

 

- There was a fisherman who brought langoustine to the restaurant, and when he pulled it out of the box the tail rose up like a scorpion. I had never seen that before. It shows how fresh the langoustine is, and in addition to that it was the size of my forearm. I had never seen a langoustine of that size before. And the structure of the flesh and the sweetness, it’s entirely unique. I was captivated by the experience in that moment, says Davidsen. 

There is something special about the food up here. If you take a langoustine from Frøya and compare it to a langoustine from Stavanger, the langoustine from Stavanger looks like a little shrimp. Christopher W. Davidsen

- Here the langoustine is a lot bigger and of much better quality, the master chef says and explains that it has something to do with the ocean in these parts.

- In Trondelag it’s not far out to the big and open ocean, and we have deeper fjords and more rough weather.
Davidsen’s passion for seafood doesn’t stop at langoustine, an ingredient he used in his menu for Bocuse d´Or.

A proud local of Trondelag when abroad

-- Frøya is a mecca for scallops, with its 1000 small reefs and islands. The ocean floor is perfect, and it’s abundant with large and beautiful scallops. This is what we have gotten known for. When I’m out traveling to gather inspiration, I see scallops from Hitra and Frøya down in Europe, says Davidsen, who becomes a Trondelag local when he is representing Norway as a culinary nation.

- When I’m out and about traveling and visiting my chef colleagues and those I have competed with I tell them I’m from Trondelag. Then they start talking about these ingredients, langoustine, fish and shellfish. It shows that Trondelag has become a brand when it comes to fish and shellfish. This makes me proud. When I’m in these situations it makes me feel that I’m from Trondheim and the region of Trondelag, Davidsen says.

 

Speilsalen is representing Trondelag

- If you have solid ingredients, it’s easy to make food. And if they are of really great quality you want to do as little as possible with them. Fantastic carrots are best when you take them straight up of the earth, rinse them and eat them. This is something I work by in the kitchen, and I always treat the ingredients in such a way that they can shine. Scallops, for instance, are at their best when they are a hundred percent fresh. They will have a wonderful sweetness and consistency. You can just peel the veil off and eat it by itself. In summer I want scallops to be marinated raw and served ice cold. Instead of lemon juice you can use the juice of rhubarb. In my opinion scallops are an explosion of flavors, Davidsen says.

As the Head Chef of Norway’s best restaurant, he does what he can to source the ingredients locally.

He explains that the guests are very interested in learning about where the foods are sourced.

- Telling the stories of our locally sourced ingredients is very important. I would like everything in the restaurant to come from Trondelag. But I will never compromise on quality. 70-80 percent of our menu is organic and local. I would like us to represent Trondelag. Speilsalen is situated in Britannia Hotel, which has 150 years of history, and this is what we want to convey to our guests. It makes a difference that we use foods and ingredients that are sourced right outside our doorstep.

The master chef tells people he’s from Trondelag when he meets with his colleagues abroad. Scallops from Hitra and Frøya have become internationally recognized and are of world-class quality. Here is Christopher W. Davidsen in Hitra together with Hitramat’s Head of Sales Erlend Christiansen. Photo: Silje Kolaas

Read about Britannia Hotel's 150th celebration

A chef’s search of unique foods

The Trondelag Food Festival chef was recently traveling in the region to make promotional films for the new regional offshoot of the food festival; Trondelag Food Festival – A Place Near You, happening two weeks after the Trondheim-based foor festival, on the weekend of August 12-14. This weekend will offer over 300 different kinds of food events all over the region of Trondelag. Davidsens’ travels around the region made him want to experience, taste, and learn more of the food region.

- I am so impressed with all these small food businesses here in Trondelag. I see all these amazing ingredients transforming into the best products in the store. I really want to be one of the first ones to find the good ingredients and put them on our menu. I like to be ahead, that’s why I’m out traveling a lot, to find the unique foods that really stand out.

The master chef’s favorite is parsnips from Frosta.  
- Hallelujah, is all I’m gonna say. Parsnips have become a huge favorite. They are juicy. They create insane sweetness. Parsnips are very unique. They are the bomb! says Davidsen, who is impressed with the way the farmers are collaborating in the area.


Janne Valberg of Valberg Slektsgård in Frosta is a parsnips farmer. Photo: Silje Kolaas

- Frosta as a brand has become all of Norway’s vegetable garden. In season you’re eating vegetables grown in Frosta in restaurants all over Norway. Frosta is a unique place in and of itself. They have hundreds of years of experience with growing vegetables. It’s not just anybody who can sow a parsnip in this way. There is a lot of work and passion behind it, Davidsen says.

Christopher Davidsen enjoys meeting the local food producers and he likes to be ahead and put new foods and products on the menu. Here he is meeting cattle farmer Maren Stene of Stene Farm in Frosta. She is also the coordinator for the Frosta stand at Trondelag Food Festival. Stene Farm’s liver paté can be enjoyed in Britannia Hotel in Trondheim. Photo: Silje Kolaas


A meeting of masters in Namsskogan

In an old community center in the town of Namsskogan all the way north in Trondelag is cheesemaker Carlos Helguera of Elvekanten Ysteri. He is the maker of the world’s best cheese, Gammel Erik.

- Imagine that, that way up in the middle of nowhere in Namsskogan is a man who is making the world’s best cheese in an old community center. It’s incredible, Davidsen says. During his visit he was very impressed with both the flavor of the cheese as well as the maker behind it.

With a passion for good flavors. Both Carlos Helguera of Elvekanten Ysteri og Cristopher Davidsen have world champion titles and share their passion for good food and unique flavors. 

Gone fishing

To gather inspiration, discover new food products and relax, the master chef likes to travel around the region to meet the farmers and artisans. Or, preferably, go down to the salmon river.
- To stand on the bank of the river; it is completely silent and all you hear is the river, the power of the water and the singing of the birds – that helps me relax completely and it charges my batteries. This way I can fully perform when I am at work. When I’m cleaning the fish, having a drink of aquavit and making sashimi with my buddies – there’s nothing like it, Davidsen says. He was part of the start of salmon fishing season on the river Namsen on the property of Jenny På jørem i Grong Here they also have their own brewery and bakery.
Davidsen’s hunt to always excel in his craft brings excitement to the restaurant Speilsalen and anticipation of how many Michelin stars he will acquire.

- We like working under pressure, it makes us perform even better. We’re continuing to climb, and then we’ll have to see if there will be more stars. Who knows, Davidsen says. He is looking forward to meeting this year’s Trondelag Food Festival artisans and seeing what they have in store for him and his creative ideas. 

Big cheers when Christopher Davidsen finally caught salmon during the salmon opening on the river Namsen at Jørem in Grong. Here together with boatsman and owner Sven Åge Domås

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