A food artisan: meet Astrid Nässlander
Culinary Ambassador on our Norway’s Coastal Kitchen menus, Head Chef Astrid Nässlander explains her food philosophy and why fewer choices is actually a good thing.
On the island of Steigen opposite Lofoten, Astrid Nässlander surveys her domain. This beautiful stretch of the Norwegian coast features dramatic mountains and hundreds of islands and islets in turquoise water. It is also where the 30-year-old freelance chef and small-scale sustainable meat producer sources all the ingredients she needs or wants.
“There are endless amounts of berries and mushrooms and perfectly chilled spring water in the summer”, says Astrid enthusiastically. “Steigen is also home to many farms, and I love meeting the sheep and the cattle on the road or in the mountains”.
Path to the Chef’s Award
While the 30-year-old mother-of-two has always had a love for cooking, her path to success and recognition wasn’t a straight shot. “I spent five years being confused about educational choices and working part time in cafés and restaurants”.
Once Astrid admitted her true passion was cooking, then came five years of what she describes as “surrendering to cooking professionally, exploring my own creativity, and developing”.
Those years paid off. Astrid was a rising star, claiming the position of Head Chef at the prestigious Manshausen Hotel. She was subsequently the first person to ever be bestowed Norway’s Chef’s Award, and only at the tender age of 26.
"It's almost like the less I have, the more creative I get.”
Limitations as inspiration
It was during Astrid’s tenure at Manshausen, fishing the fish herself and foraging in the nearby forest, that she began to develop her particular “less but better” cooking philosophy.
“I’ve gotten really good at being adaptable with ingredients, and also not wasting anything,” she states proudly. “Cooking three-course meals daily for three years on a remote island with a once-a-week delivery makes you extremely creative. It’s almost like the less I have, the more creative I get. So, I can easily do my work without imported vegetables.”
She thinks for a moment and remembers. “Once, I made a dessert of literally everything I had. This was when I was working on a small island with no possibility of getting anything extra. It ended up being a pear poached in blackcurrant syrup, served with salted caramel sauce on a chewy meringue. It turned out very well and the entire restaurant went completely quiet whenever I had that on the menu!”
“Old-fashioned common sense”
Complimenting her “less but better” approach to cooking is what Astrid calls “old-fashioned common sense” in sourcing ingredients sustainably. For milk, she’ll call in at a dairy farm. For meat, she’ll contact local hunters to see which animal is in abundance.
Astrid says that what compels her “old-fashioned” mindset is “to show people what we have around us, and that it’s possible to source food in a different way than the supermarket way”. She herself is particularly proud of the high-quality produce available in Steigen and the people behind them who she likes to chat to.
Her passion is clear when it comes to locally sourced meat. At a time when many see meat as unsustainable by default, Astrid wants to challenge that thinking. She instead asks people to “dig deep into how you source your meat, make conscious choices, educate yourself, get to know your local farmers, and maybe go meet their animals”.
A recipe for “the right direction”
For Astrid, part of the satisfaction she gets from cooking is the people she connects with through her food. Her collaboration with our Norway’s Coastal Kitchen concept is a way to connect to even more people, whether that’s the guests on board our voyages who experience her dishes or fellow chefs Halvar Ellingsen and Øistein Nilsen who share her love of local ingredients.
“I’m very excited about this new partnership with Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Express!” she beams. “I’m also curious to see what happens when an old established brand meets a young ambitious brand like mine in its start-up phase.”
Old-meets-young is a theme that Astrid feels is reflected in many aspects of what she does. “I like to describe it with the term "retrovation", meaning looking back when developing the future. With the plate as a canvas, it can get lead us to very creative places, giving old knowledge and techniques a young and daring expression.”
She concludes with a smile, “I definitely interpret this new opportunity to work on Norway’s Coastal Kitchen as a sign that I’m headed in the right direction.” We agree!