—By Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global
You are invited…
SCENE: Christmastime in Oslo, Norway
CONCEPT: Host a Christmas dinner in a quality restaurant for friends and colleagues, a Norwegian tradition
PLAYERS: Twenty-five friends and family members and an award-winning chef
SETTING: A four-hundred-year-old building that has evolved into a restaurant
CHALLENGE: Create an unforgettable gourmet Christmas meal; an epicurean vegetarian dinner
Cardiologist, sports medicine specialist, and dad Erik Solberg became a lacto-vegetarian when he realized how good he felt by eating fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and some dairy. “I wanted my friends to experience for themselves, firsthand, just how fantastic such food can be,” said Erik. To do this, he would create what in Norway is called Julebord (“Christmas table”), but with a unique exception to most Norwegian meals: it would consist mostly of plant-based foods.
Enter award-winning chef Bent Stiansen, a world-renowned culinary artist who welcomes a challenge. Stiansen achieved culinary distinction when he was awarded the prestigious Bocuse d’or award (best-chef-in-the-world) in 1993. To turn Erik’s vision for a vegetarian meal into reality, Erik and Stiansen began to meet and plan the meal months before Christmas. And the extraordinary, unexpected “starter” would be the two reserved rooms in Statholdergaarden, the restaurant in which the meal would be served. Designated as the oldest building in Oslo (built in 1640), by the 1990s, the building had become Stiansen’s top-of-the-line restaurant. When guests arrived, they could immediately sense the special scene that awaited them, both outside and in.
As each of the eight courses was served, Erik and his friends and colleagues were poised to savor and appreciate the ways in which Stiansen had interpreted the vegetarian guidelines he’d been given. They weren’t disappointed.
The courses. The fresh ingredients—purchased in Norway and from other European countries—released a bouquet of flavors that immediately earned the admiration of the guests. A sampling: the first course of melon soup was blended with freshly squeezed juices, garnished with a sprig of green mint. Another favorite dish was the potato soup, prepared with high-quality almond potatoes and slight amounts of citrus and chili. Main dishes were served with an array of scintillating sauces that made each dish immensely appealing.
Between bites. Stiansen called many of the lighter dishes “resting plates,” because they were served between the more substantial dishes. All the while only the chef knew the ingredients of the meal. What didn’t remain a secret, though, was the composition of each course. Throughout the meal, the chef himself appeared before Erik and his guests to explain each dish. During the evening, the explanations became an integral part of the ritual of the meal, a time to honor and bless the food.
As the meal progressed, there was much laughter; some guests gave speeches, while others enjoyed the exceptional atmosphere and company. Such joy and delight infused the evening even though the meal was an alcohol- and smoke-free feast! Instead of these “mood changers,” the food, atmosphere, and other guests provided the stimulation. Indeed, Erik describes the atmosphere as electrifying, a quality he attributes to the enthusiasm for the food that was experienced and expressed by the guests. After four and a half hours, the unforgettable meal ended.
The Gift of Love-Flavored Food
“The ingredients were simple,” says Erik. “It was the chef’s artistry, rather than any unusual ingredients, that created the core flavoring in the food. His creativity, and the regard and care in which he planned and prepared the food, turned potentially ordinary ingredients into a majestic, magical, memorable meal.” Continues Erik: “With no alcohol, the intoxication comes from the inner spirit. When you cook for others in this way, you’re offering a gift of love through the food. It’s always a great evening.”
Wishing you a joyous, health-filled New Year!