My choice was between becoming an attorney or a chef," says chef Sebastian Myhre. Bored with the idea of law school, he was lucky to apprentice at 18 with two of the leading chefs in Norway, Harald Osa and Morten Schakenda. On completing his degree, Myhre was appointed head chef at the Norwegian embassy in London, and later in Washington, DC. On returning to Norway, Myhre worked with several well-known restaurants and then started his own company, d’Or, where he is involved in catering, food styling, consulting and several television shows. Myhre was in India recently to oversee a banquet hosted by the Norwegian embassy to celebrate the reopening of their consulate general office in Mumbai. Edited excerpts from an interview.

What were your early culinary influences?

I don’t have any charming stories about how I made sandwiches as a kid. I guess my mother was the biggest influence on me. She is Greek, but she made both Norwegian and Greek dishes, spending time over it and paying a lot of attention to the ingredients. That got me interested in cooking.

How would you characterize Norwegian food?

Our food is very simple. We have beautiful produce, whether meat or seafood. Norwegian food has very clean flavours; we do use some spices but we keep the purity of the produce intact. Some of our dishes have a sweet-and-sour flavour profile, especially the pickled dishes where we use vinegar and honey or fruit as sweetener, but it’s all very well balanced. Curing of ingredients is big, and we salt, dry or ferment lots of things. For example, skrei, or Atlantic cod, is eaten when it’s in season. But we have also dried and salted the cod for hundreds of years. We salt the fish and hang it in the sun to dry for 30-40 days, till it becomes very hard. Then we rehydrate it before use.

What are some of Norway’s popular dishes?

Fårikål (pronounced forry-call) could be considered our national dish: mutton, green kale or cabbage, and pepper all simmered together. It’s usually eaten in the fall. We eat salmon in every possible way. Gravlaks is most popular, where the salmon is cured with sugar, salt and some herbs (usually dill) and then eaten with scrambled eggs. Or we pickle the salmon—we boil water, sugar, vinegar and aromatics, and pour it over cubed or sliced fish, and the fish cooks due to the acidity. We have a lot of wildlife in our mountains and woods, so game meat is very popular, especially venison. It’s either served as fillets with potatoes, vegetables and a heavy sauce, or it may be lightly cured with sugar, salt, thyme and juniper berries. We also smoke the deer heart; it’s a delicacy. We eat a lot of bread too; rye bread is very common. One typical type of bread is called knekkebrød, a crunchy flatbread that is about half a centimetre thick, which replaces sliced bread in our sandwiches, and smørbrød (an open sandwich with meats, spreads, cheese, etc.).

In desserts, we would have either lingonberries and cloudberries with whipped cream and powdered sugar, or something called Veiled Farm Ladies: a layered dessert of apple compote, whipped cream, breadcrumb crust, sugar, butter and cinnamon.

What would a typical daily Norwegian menu look like?

Breakfast would probably be two slices of bread, usually knekkebrød, topped with ham and cheese. Lunch would be something similar, or perhaps a smørbrød of some sort; we don’t have a tradition of hot lunches in Norway. Dinner would be a lamb stew with root vegetables, or braised lamb shanks, or a simple fish dish with potatoes, carrots and a light sauce of some kind.

Are there any distinctive Norwegian beverages?

Well, we have akvavit, which is made from potatoes and is usually had as an aperitif. It has been produced since the 15th century and is a big part of our traditions. It’s also very potent, with a minimum 37.5% alcohol by volume. We don’t make any wines in Norway, but lately the trend is to brew beer at home. The flavour is quite new to Norwegians, so we don’t make any dark, heavy beers like stout, but more of amber ale, even India pale ale.

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