By Codelia Mantsebo
With his perpetual exploration of nature and natural ingredients, Chef Esben Holmboe Bang has made a name for himself on the international gourmet scene, firmly putting Norway on the culinary map with Maaemo.
Congratulations on being named the Young Chef of the Year 2016. Our list is voted for by our jetsetting readers (rather than food critics or industry insiders). How does it feel to be recognized by the public in this way?
That’s what it’s all about! We come in early in the morning and we try to do everything we possibly can to give the guests that come through the door a great experience. It’s a very nice testament that we are on the right track to something.
In 2016 Maaemo was awarded a third Michelin star, becoming the first Norwegian restaurant ever to hold Michelin’s highest award. What does this mean to you?
To be honest I don’t think it really has sunk in yet. As a young cook I think three Michelin stars is kind of the holy grail and it’s something you see on the likes of old French masters. To be able to say now that we are a three Michelin star restaurant, it’s surreal and we are extremely proud of that and thankful.
A lot of inspiration for your dishes comes from nature. What is the reason behind this?
I want this restaurant to reflect who we are and where we are and in order to do that it’s very important that we use the Norwegian nature. The vast majority of this country is nature so it’s good. It kind of makes sense; this restaurant couldn’t be anywhere else. It’s a complete reflection of where we are in the world.
Your key technique is to take Norwegian food and strip it back to its bare essentials before recomposing it in an entirely new narrative. How do you tell this narrative through meals?
The menu has a story and we need to communicate something with our food. Otherwise the way I see it, it’s all a waste. So it’s very important for me that the whole meal, not a single dish but the meal as a whole has a strong sense of place and a strong sense of story to tell.
You’re originally from Copenhagen, where did your passion for Norwegian culinary come from?
I came to this country 12 years ago and I actually didn’t like it! It took me a year or so and then I started seeing Norway’s connection to wild nature. You don’t have that much in Denmark. It’s a smaller country and it’s much more flat, whereas in Norway you have this dramatic scenery of fjords and mountains and it resonates with me very well I think.
Do you think your Danish roots have any influence in your cooking?
To be honest it’s only one hour away, it’s not like I grew up in the Caribbean – it’s not that far. Norway and Denmark are in the same region. Of course there are big differences and there are big things we have in common as well but the background is very similar. I think it’s important that we look at things with new eyes. A lot of things I’m using, I didn’t grow up with, but a lot of Norwegians did. So I see things for the first time and maybe Norwegians have seen all their life and I think that might be a strong thing for us.
As the first and only restaurant in the Nordics to receive such a high recognition, do you have any plans to expand your unique culinary experiences globally?
We don’t have any at moment, we are just trying to really connect with what we are doing here. I want to roll deeper into the DNA and identity of what we are doing and really get under the skin of it. I think this takes up all my time. I can’t really see it at the moment; I’ll be spreading myself too thin.
With a playful tasting menu of over 20 courses, what would you say is a must-have/must –try dish on your menu?
We have an oyster dish which has been on the menu here since we opened – one of our signature dishes. This is a dish that has always been a firm thing on the menu. It has followed me now for the past 6 years and I’m very fond of it.
Apart from Norwegian food, what would you say is your favorite dish in the world?
It really depends on who you’re with or where you are. I don’t have a favorite dish per se; it all depends on the company you’re with.
Which restaurant do you think is the best in the world today?
Best in the world?! I don’t know. I can say there’s one restaurant that changed my life and that is Noma. I think to have a restaurant that completely redefines an entire part of the world is quite unique and I think it’s important to recognize that.
If and when you ever get any time off where would you like to eat?
I want to try a really luxurious traditional Kaiseki restaurant in Japan – I haven’t tried that yet. I’ve done all of the two and three star sushi things but I haven’t done the luxurious fine dining where you sit in a room and experience the dishes.