Heidi Bjerkan, a Michelin-starred chef, makes the connection between producers, fishmongers and fishermen in the middle of the fjords at her table which is a culinary landmark in Trøndelag. Motivated by the sharing of knowledge, she aims to highlight the tastes and products of a region with a fragile ecosystem, shaped by its harsh and cold winter nights as well as its unique northern lights.
Your upbringing is the root of your identity as a chef. Since you were young, you learned a lot about local Norwegian produce, especially Norwegian fish, and its frail ecosystem. What exactly led you to cooking?
Cooking is all about curiosity, and the desire to learn. When I was a young chef, I wasn't even close to seeing what I am discovering nowadays. I think it’s a pleasure to experience more, to search for more and to keep on learning. It is not always linked to cooking directly, but to the interest in your cultural legacy. Understanding you can have an impact as a chef is always interesting. We interact and exchange with a lot of customers, people with different paths of life. Through cuisine you can be part of an unlimited community, we all have the same need to eat, which will inevitably bring us together. I used to travel a lot when I was younger and I couldn’t speak all languages, but I could count on food as a way to understand others.. Handcraft matters, to repeat the same techniques is mandatory to be better. Without ever forgetting to care about the taste.
What are the quirks of Trondheim’s culinary environment?
We have everything around us: mountains, sea, fjords and very fertile lands. It is a blessing to be able to cook in this environment. Seafood is exquisite, the meat is delicious, and everything changes along the seasons. For example, seafood is best in winter. When you get to know your producers, you allow them to guide you and surprise you, you keep on learning about different products. Our vegetables grow very slowly, which gives them a unique flavour, and thanks to our extraordinary daylight, the temperatures also allow a good maturation. This light is so unique that it brings out the flavours, it is almost like a secret ingredient…
How can you describe the culinary experience at Credo?
We know everything about the products we serve, and we also know the people who work to grow them. Credo is a place where you can get a taste of our region. I would say that it is a very grounded and down to earth restaurant who likes to serve high quality products. You need at least 3h30 to fully experience Credo. It is a long meal, as you need time to truly understand what you are eating. But, similar to going to a theater, it needs to be stimulating. The best feedback I could receive is for the customers to become inspired at the end of their meal. For them to be motivated to eat better at home, to understand our lands, to start composting or similar but impactful acts…
You care a lot about durability in all its aspects. You have even built a place dedicated to bettering the food system. Could you elaborate on your vision?
I have been a chef for thirty years now, and things are slowly moving forward, we are changing our eating habits. But most people still don’t put a lot of thought in what they consume. Processed, unhealthy food is still the norm. We created the Credo Competence Center in the middle of the Covid pandemic. It was created in a time of need. Our goal is to get children to learn about and love real food, and most importantly, how to make it. We have kids who learned how to make fishcakes, bread, how to whip up mayonnaise… They’re aged between 7 and 14 years old and are amazed by cooking, and then they will be able to recreate and enjoy it at home. We are currently welcoming children who are learning Norwegian as we believe the center helps them create relationships through food and cooking, it allows them to create a form of equity.
Transmission is one of the Bocuse d’Or core values, what is your approach of your role as the honorary president?
I still haven’t got a clear picture. It is such an honour that I have yet to realize! It is a renowned contest where chefs draw inspiration from each other. It makes sense to me to firstly think of their potential impact. Transmission, knowledge, they are the recipe for our future as we use passed down expertise to make tomorrow a better place. I also think it is very important to never forget that cooking is and should aim to be fun.
Interview by Hannah Benayoun
© Geir Morgen