British-born Jonathan Howell is head chef at Le Canard in Oslo and, at 29, recently became the youngest chef based in Norway to gain a Michelin star. He told Kerstin Kühn about life in Scandinavia
Caterer Why did you move to Norway?
Jonathan Howell My wife is Norwegian and wanted to be closer to her family, so that was one reason, but another was the quality of life, which is so much better here. We have a baby on the way now and Norway is a much better place to bring up a child than London. I moved last May - before that I was working at the restaurants of some of London's top hotels, including the Dorchester, the Lanesborough and the Ritz.
Caterer How different is the restaurant scene in Oslo compared with London?
JH Probably the biggest difference is the size of it. Oslo has a population of only around 500,000 people, so the client base is much smaller. Norwegians are much more family-focused and don't go out much for food, which means there are lot of quiet times. For instance, we're only open for dinner and close the restaurant over holidays such as Easter, Christmas and New Year. Norway places a lot more attention on seasonal ingredients and the seasons are much shorter. We only get asparagus for a few weeks of the year and foreign produce isn't as easily available as it is in London.
Caterer How easy was it to settle into the Norwegian way of life?
JH It was a lot easier than I thought. Norwegians are really good at speaking English, so I haven't had any major language problems, except that once or twice I've ordered something from a supplier and ended up getting something slightly different.
Caterer Tell us about Le Canard. What sort of menu do you cook?
JH It's a French menu with a Norwegian slant to it and, because of the nature of the market here, I predominantly use Norwegian ingredients. The menu changes on a weekly basis and the only constant ingredient on it is duck, which I source from a great local farmer.
Caterer Do you feel like an ambassador for the UK?
JH I guess I do wave the flag in a way just because of the way I have been trained. Things in Norwegian kitchens are very different from the UK. There are strict rules on the hours and you can't do a Gordon Ramsay and swear at your staff.
Caterer Norway won this year's Bocuse d'Or. How big is the competition there?
JH There's a huge fascination with the Bocuse d'Or in Norway, it draws a lot of media attention and, compared with the UK, there's a great deal of support from sponsors. The competing chef tends to take a year off work before the event to solely focus on the competition and gets most of the ingredients supplied by sponsors. This year's winner Gier Skeie's plates alone were worth £20,000.