The pioneer: meet the chef enticing food lovers to rural Norway

At Experience Restaurant on a remote farm, chef Kim Sjøbakk takes diners on a 16-course culinary tour of the Trøndelag landscape.

Dishes at Experience Restaurant are products of the Trøndelag landscape in elegant fine-dining form.

Photograph by Rune Carlsen
By Jessica Vincent
Published 16 Jan 2023, 15:00 GMT

Since Experience Restaurant opened in 2017, its 16-course tasting menu has been prepared and served by a team of just two. Nives Skudar — a Croatian lawyer turned sommelier — is the first to welcome guests, guiding them to a small, all-wood bar inside a 17th-century barn. Here, chef Kim Sjøbakk prepares a raspberry cosmopolitan topped with wildflowers foraged that morning. A meal here takes several hours to unfold, in a dining room with just three tables, where modern twists on Norwegian classics such as fårikål (lamb stew with cabbage) and rakfisk (fermented fish) are served, alongside views of ancient barley fields.

At their 16-seat restaurant, located just outside Steinkjer, a fjordside town in Norway’s central Trøndelag region, the husband-and-wife team strive to create an intimate dining experience, one that tells the story of the area’s ingredients. “I don’t know many chefs who would be willing to serve a multi-course menu without a kitchen team,” says Sjøbakk. “But I do it because I want people to know the story of Trøndelag produce.”

Chef feeding chicken

Chef Kim Sjøbakk feeding the chicken at the farm.

Photograph by Kim Sjøbakk

Sjøbakk started cooking when he was 10 years old to avoid having to eat food he didn’t like. His career has taken him to some of Europe’s finest restaurants, but after more than a decade of working in Michelin-starred kitchens in London and Dublin, including The Dorchester and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, he returned to his hometown of Steinkjer, where he launched a pop-up designed to showcase some of the signature dishes he’d perfected in London. But his dream was always to shine a light on Trøndelag.

That dream became a reality when the owners of organic meat and dairy farm Bjerkem invited Sjøbakk to transform their disused grain barn into a fine dining restaurant. “I’ve never liked big restaurants,” says Sjøbakk. “It’s hard to get to know the story behind a dish in a busy room. Here, guests are treated like friends eating in our home. It’s simple and very intimate.”

From Bjerkem Farm, Sjøbakk works closely with some of the region’s best suppliers, which ensures his dishes have a distinct Trøndelag identity — and a very low carbon footprint. The wild salmon, served with fennel and pickled apples from the chef’s garden, comes from the nearby Namsen river, while both the beetroot (pickled and toasted for the goat's cheese mousse) and wild game (served with caramelised shallot puree and black garlic) are from the organic Ner-Salbergin farm in neighbouring Røra. Cheese and milk on the menu are from the Gammel Erik and Orkladal dairies, also in the vicinity, while the mushrooms and lingonberries are foraged in a woodland visible from the dining room.

“When I left Steinkjer 20 years ago, local produce was hard to come by,” says Sjøbakk. “I grew up with fishmongers and butchers, but by the time I left home, they were all gone.” The rise in cheap supermarket food and people’s unwillingness to pay more for good produce made it hard for local farmers and chefs to make a living. “Norwegians used to spend very little per head on food,” Sjøbakk explains. “People saw food as a basic necessity, especially in rural communities. Spending money on high-quality produce seemed like an unnecessary luxury.”

Left: Top:

Chef Kim Sjøbakk transformed the Bjerkem Farm's barn into a restaurant dishing out a 16-course menu each service.

Photograph by Kim Sjøbakk
Right: Bottom:

All dishes at Experience Restaurant celebrate the local produce and are accompanied by the chef personally serving the guests and explaining the dish.

Photograph by Rune Carlsen

But attitudes towards food in Norway are changing. Sjøbakk has been particularly encouraged by the rise of the fine dining scene in Trøndelag’s largest city, Trondheim, which now has a trio of Michelin-starred restaurants, while the region has been appointed the 2022 European Region of Gastronomy. “Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of opening a restaurant here,” says Sjøbakk. “But sustainability is becoming more important to people in Norway, as Trondheim is proving.”

While Sjøbakk leans on French techniques and Italian principles, Norwegian food traditions are at the heart of his menu, with salt-cured meats, fermented fish, wild edibles and ancient grains taking centre stage. “My menu goes back to basics,” he says. “In London, I’d pan-fry a fish fillet and add so much butter and garlic that you’d barely taste the fish. But now I focus on the main ingredient — I want people to recognise what they’re eating.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t been creative with local ingredients. At Sjøbakk’s request, the asparagus on the menu (served with mushroom powder and foraged wood sorrel) is picked early for a more umami flavour. For the onion broth served as a bar canape, locally grown onions are aged in the restaurant’s cellar for nine months before being combined with charred shallots, pickled shallots, onion crunch and chives. “I hate onions,” says Sjøbakk. “But that’s part of cooking. I had to face my demons and see how I could turn an ingredient I dislike into something I would eat.”

Sjøbakk’s celebration of local produce doesn’t end with his ingredients. Despite working alone in the kitchen, the chef serves almost every dish himself, personally explaining to guests that the honey in the yoghurt mousse comes from Bjørka farm, for instance, as well the history behind traditional Norwegian dishes like rakfisk and fårikål. “Storytelling is a big part of what we do here,” he explains. “That’s why we only host a maximum of 12 guests. If I had 40 or 50 diners, I’d never leave the kitchen and the stories would be lost.”

For all his success in bringing fine dining to rural Trøndelag, Sjøbakk admits it hasn’t been easy. “We’re not Trondheim,” he says. “People here need a bit more convincing.” Although a growing number of locals are visiting the restaurant, his guests are mostly international, or from Norway’s larger cities. “I was born and raised here,” he says. “I know it will take five or six years for locals to say, ‘OK, now it’s safe to try it.’ But we’ll get there.”

When asked why he chose Steinkjer over growing Michelin capitals such as Trondheim or Oslo, Sjøbakk explains that the surrounding landscape plays a central role in the restaurant’s dining experience. “It starts the moment you step off the plane,” he says. “When you arrive somewhere new, you want to experience it. That’s what we’re trying to achieve here — for people to experience Trøndelag through its produce.”

Between fishing for wild salmon and foraging for mushrooms, Sjøbakk is planning for the future. The chef hopes to restore a centuries-old stone oven, discovered in an outhouse behind the restaurant, to bring back traditional stone-baked bread to the region. He also plans on building a greenhouse to grow more wild herbs and plants on site, which will be open for guests to explore. “The goal is that people leave feeling inspired by nature and history — and a sense of just how wild and wonderful Trøndelag is,” he says.                                        

Left: Top:

Currant and raspberry soda infused with pineapple leaves.

Right: Bottom:

Cider poached scallop with trout roe and scallop roe powder and cider emulsion.


photographs by Kim Sjøbakk

Signature dishes

A fermented fish dish, usually trout or char, that’s traditionally stored underground for up to a year. Sjøbakk’s version of this centuries-old Norwegian staple involves curing a wild salmon for four months in salt brine, then serving it with pickled cucumber, lemon gel, and apple and bronze fennel from the chef’s garden.

Cured ham with flatbread
Sjøbakk’s opening dish is a 32-month cured ham made from mushroom-fed pigs belonging to a local farmer, Jørgen. The ham is cured in-house and served with homemade flatbread made from an ancient Norwegian grain variety thought to be more than 6,000 years old. Lingonberry jam and lingonberry powder add a touch of sweetness.

One of Norway’s most loved recipes (Fårikål Feast Day is celebrated on the last Thursday in September), fårikål is a comforting autumn dish of stewed mutton and cabbage seasoned with whole black peppercorns. Sjøbakk’s version features a rack of lamb with pickled cabbage, crispy kale, cabbage puree, mashed potato and a rich lamb jus.


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