Interview: Young Chef nominee Aleksander Vartdal
What’s your story? When did you start out as a chef?
As a professional chef, I started my career as an apprentice at restaurant Statholdergaarden in 2013 at the age of 18. Still, I got inspired to become a chef at the age of 14 in junior high school. Since I was a kid, I have always had a fascination with food and the creativity it allows, and the real turning point for me was in junior high school when our teacher gave us an assignment to plan a three-course menu that we would have to cook at home. It instantly lit a spark in me, the possibilities, the creativity, and the inspiration that chefs work with every day. At that moment, I decided to become a chef, and I haven’t looked back since.
Describe your position/role at Happolati today.
Currently I am the head chef at Happolati, at the age of 25. I have worked there for almost 4 years. I started as a humble chef looking for new inspiration, intrigued by the exciting challenges that Asian-Nordic cuisine could give me. Eventually, I worked my way up to a Sous chef position, and now I am the head chef. From my perspective, my head chef position, and my role at the restaurant, is to inspire not only the apprentices and chefs, but the entire restaurant team. Creativity and new thinking are, to me, things that allow us as a team and a restaurant to evolve and bring something new and exciting to the restaurant scene. We strive every day to get better as a restaurant, as well as a team.
Tell us about your focus or mission as a chef.
I have been so lucky to work with so many exceptional chefs, but also compete a lot as a chef, both nationally and internationally. It has been a huge part of my career, on the side of working at the restaurant. It has allowed me to be creative and has given me a lot of inspiration in a whole new way, as well as given me a lot of friends all over the world. I am so grateful for all the opportunities and the inspiration this combination has given me. This has given me new purpose as a chef and person, and now I strive to inspire young up and coming chefs. In Norway, the restaurant scene still has a bad reputation for long working hours and bad pay. I want to turn the industry around, the same way it turned me around. Through inspiring the next generation of chefs and waiters, lighting a spark within the youth considering our profession. I believe this inspiration and awareness needs to happen at an early age, similar to the way it did to me. In my eyes, my generation and the next have the mindset and creativity to take sustainability within cooking to a whole new and groundbreaking level. So, I feel that my mission as a chef is to do what I can to keep pushing toward a more sustainable and inspiring restaurant and competition scene. This has become my main focus.
Tell us, when it comes to sustainable considerations, how you want to work as a chef.
There are, of course, tons of different ways to work towards more sustainability. In our restaurant, for example, we are not that focused on biodynamic and ecological food, but rather utilizing as much as we can of the ingredients we use. We use a lot of preserving techniques so that we can utilize the ingredients from top to bottom. Fermentation, pickling, curing, drying, and mold preservation, allows us to keep a lot of ingredients from being thrown away. A big part of our menu at Happolati is using the preserved vegetables, fish, and meats we have stored. It enables us to preserve parts we can’t find a use for at that particular moment and is something I want to keep exploring and expanding.
Being a competing chef, I also strive towards working to change the non-sustainable food scene in a lot of competitions. Especially since competitions often get a lot of national and international attention. In search of perfection in the competition environment, chefs often go through box after box of ingredients to find the few specimens that look exactly alike. I want to show that it’s possible to compete, cook delicious groundbreaking food, and still reduce food waste. All this forms my passion as a chef and makes me want to keep pushing forward.