Copenhagen-based food writer and lecturer Katrine Klinken, 57, has written more than 30 books showcasing her passion for food, wine and travel. Her latest cookbook, “Hokuo Ryori Taizen” (“The Compendium of Nordic Cooking”), which was published in Japanese by Seibundo in April, introduces the food and traditions of Scandinavia. The book includes classic home-cooking recipes such as “sildemad” — open-faced sandwiches topped with pickled herring and dill — as well as notes on the region’s history and a glossary of ingredients.
1. Congratulations on your new cookbook, how did the project come together? It began with my love for Japanese food. My friend Sachiko Kuramoto, who lives in Copenhagen and translated the book, has a similar background educating Danes about Japanese food, and we’ve always talked about how to teach culture through food. A couple of years ago, I did a book looking at Danish food through the lens of Japanese culinary principles — for example, using the five colors and five cooking techniques. So the idea came from our discussions about this.
2. The book showcases recipes from your native Denmark, as well as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. What’s one defining characteristic of Scandinavia’s food culture? It has to do with cultural history. We live in an area with a difficult climate for growing, especially in the long, cold winters. For hundreds of years people in the Nordic countries have struggled with having enough food in the winter. As a result, our food is simple, relying on staples and preservation techniques such as salting, smoking and drying.
3. Do you see any similarities between Nordic and Japanese cuisine? Maybe in that both cuisines tend to be mild, not so spicy. Generally, there’s not much overlap with traditional home cooking, since everything is served on one plate and so many dishes use meat. You find more similarities with New Nordic cuisine served at restaurants (such as Noma).
4. Which Nordic recipe would you recommend as a starting point for kitchen newbies? One easy meat recipe is kottbullar (Swedish meatballs, found on page 149 in my cookbook).
5. What are three essential ingredients in the Nordic pantry? Rye, potatoes and root vegetables. But dairy is also very important: butter, milk, cream.
6. You started out as a chef. What attracted you to that job? I started cooking for my family at the age of 10 and started training when I was 15. At first, I was horrified by the work because I trained with French chefs who were screaming all the time. But by the time I was 20, I was working for one of the first Michelin-starred chefs in Copenhagen, and he was very mild. What initially attracted me was the fact that you can’t learn to cook just by reading. To become skilled, you have to do it again and again, and that continues to fascinate me.
7. Why did you transition into food writing? My ex-husband had two restaurants, but after my kids were born it was impossible to continue working at the restaurants. I got a bachelor’s degree in home economics and then started doing recipes for The Danish Meat Association and some magazines, and teaching about food.
8. How has your work as a food writer been affected by the COVID-19 crisis? There have been a lot of cancellations. For example, I was scheduled to give some lectures about Japan, travel and food, plus cooking lessons at markets. I was also supposed to be in Japan to do some pop-ups this summer. Luckily, in Denmark, we can apply for government stipends for a percentage of our usual salary.
9. Can you tell me about your work with the slow food movement? I believe it’s everyone’s right to have access to good-quality food, and it’s important to support local producers and preserve traditions. For more than 10 years, I worked with them to build a Nordic network within the global Slow Food organization. Now, some younger members have taken over and I’m busy working with the Danish Beekeeping Association.
10. What’s one thing everyone can do to improve their eating habits? Eat a variety of good-quality foods in season. Michael Pollan said it best: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
11. Denmark is gradually reopening, have you traveled? We spent one night at Falsled Kro, a classic inn on Fyn Island.
12. Do you have any plans to go abroad in the near future? I have tickets to Japan in August, but I don’t know if I will be able to go.
13. You’ve visited Japan on numerous occasions. When was your first trip to Japan and where did you go? In 2005, we visited friends in Tokyo and then traveled around the country.
14. What was your impression at the time? There were not that many tourists then. I fell in love with the food and staying at ryokan (Japanese-style inns). It was so much fun seeing the tuna auction early in the morning and having sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji fish market.
15. When was your last visit to Tokyo? In February, when I led a tour of Japan for Danish travelers.
16. What did they think? Everyone really loved it. We’re scheduled to do another tour next February, and have a few people signed up.
17. What’s a must-eat for you when you come to Japan? One tradition is that I always have onigiri (rice balls) and green tea when I land. Then, I have sashimi, high-end sushi and Japanese-style breakfast. Good sake bars are, of course, a must!
18. Any favorite restaurants? It depends on the season.
19. What changes do you expect to see in the food industry as a result of the current pandemic? A lot of places here have been dependent on tourists, so it will be very different with only local guests for a while. Some fine-dining restaurants are doing cheaper menus and changing their concepts, but I don’t think this will be a good thing in the long run.
20. Do you have any advice for young people who are having to cook more at home? All good cooking starts with ingredients. Get into the routine of planning ahead to buy quality ingredients and reduce waste.