Chefs love to travel — for inspiration, to experience the cuisines of other cultures or just to get away from the heat of their own kitchens. When they return, we hit them with some questions — where'd they stay, what'd they do and WHAT DID THEY EAT?!
As Executive Chef of New York City’s Oceana — a seafood haven recognized with a Michelin Star annually since 2006 — Ben Pollinger has always possessed a profound respect for fishermen’s devotion to their day’s catch. It wasn’t until a recent trip to a small village in Norway, however, that the chef was able to experience this devotion himself. Pollinger’s storied culinary career has included stints alongside the likes of Alain Ducasse, Michael Romano and Floyd Cardoz, and has spanned multiple continents, but never before had it taken him Skrei fishing. He writes in to us to talk about the thrills of little sunlight and big fish in Norway.
Where were you traveling?
Norway. I spent time in the fishing village of Myre, the town of Stokmarknes and Oslo. Norway is such a beautiful country, but it’s dark in the Arctic Circle in January. We only had a few hours of dim light a day, and even at high noon the sun barely broke over the horizon.
Was it business or pleasure?
Mostly business. I was a guest of the Norwegian Seafood Council, who brought us over to learn more about Skrei, a migratory Norwegian cod. I also visited a salmon farm and processing facility.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Fishing for Skrei in the Norwegian Sea was an incredible experience. I caught two big ones! To catch the fish that I am serving in my restaurant is a very rewarding experience. Also, having the opportunity to cook with several great international chefs and learning from and sharing with each other. It gave me an opportunity to brush up on my French and Spanish! Another very special highlight was dinner at the home of a local couple outside Myre.
What did you eat there?
We were served a very traditional Skreimølje, a dinner of poached Skrei, boiled Skrei roe, simmered Skrei liver and boiled potatoes. We had caught the fish we were eating that morning, and ate its most traditional preparation, cooked by a local man who learned the recipe from his mother, mere miles from where we caught the fish. It doesn’t get any more special than that.
Having to dodge the pushers on the streets of Oslo late at night. It was surprising how open and aggressive they were. It reminded me of the streets of New York City’s Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen in the very early 1990s.
What airline(s) did you fly and how was it?
SAS and Widerøe. Both had wonderful hospitality, comfortable seats and were pretty much on time.
Where'd you stay and what's your mini-review of the place?
Myre Hotel in Myre, a small village, but large fishing port in Northern Norway. The hotel was cozy and the breakfasts were very good. I also stayed at Rica G20 Hotel in Oslo. The hotel is in a great location in Central Oslo, has great Scandinavian-chic styling, nice staff and good breakfast. I love Nordic breakfasts — the different breads, fish, meats and cheeses. I don’t touch the traditional American breakfasts overseas.
What was your best meal on the trip?
Dinner at Ylajali in Oslo. It was delicious, but also perhaps the most interesting dinner I have ever had, and one of the most creative and thoughtful. The meal focused on Norwegian ingredients in very natural preparations, but also in very creative ways. It was some of the warmest hospitality of any restaurant I’ve been to and perhaps the best technical service as well, which was so good you didn’t even notice it. I also had a wonderful lunch of local fish at Lofoten, a great seafood restaurant on the port in Oslo. It evoked the feeling of what Oceana would be like in Norway.
Will you incorporate anything from your trip on your restaurants’ menu?
I’m currently featuring Skrei, Norwegian ocean trout and a small farmed halibut that I have custom-raised to the perfect size. The Skrei and halibut are featured as whole grilled fish for two on the menu at Oceana.
Where do you want to travel to next, and why?
Japan. I have never been to Asia. I have learned a lot about Japanese cuisine and it intrigues me greatly. There is such a different mindset and focus than in Western cooking. I’m sure it would affect me tremendously as a chef.
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