I meet up with Martin Moses at his workplace and four-year-old baby, the restaurant SK Mat & Människor on Johannebergsgatan. The final round in Swedish Chef of the year is about two weeks away, and Martin is among the lucky eight who are only a few steps from winning the prestigious title. This spring, about a hundred applicants sent their recipes and photos to the jury and then they have been sifted one by one, through theoretical and practical tests, arrangements and tastings. On September 28–29, eight chefs stand ready for the final part of the competition that will be settled in the Royal Tennis Hall in Stockholm.
– This week we found out that the main ingredient this year is chicken. You can’t really start the creative process until you know that. Before that, you can only practice different techniques and skills, like visiting the fishmonger and cut fish.
To succed in this competition, you need a wide range of skills. One of the elements is a practical test – which could mean anything from filleting fish to cutting a lamb or trimming an artichoke. In short, you need to practice a bit of everything, especially the skills that are not often called upon in your everyday work. Being able to improvise is also important.
– Anyone can practice a recipe for three months until it’s foolproof, especially if you have a group around you who can help with the tasting and development. But in the end, it’s the one who has it all together on the day of the finals who’s going to win.
The Bjäre chicken, which will be the main ingredient in this year’s main course, is delivered to the participants in one piece – with gullet, heart and liver.
"Sustainability is important, you can't just use one part of the bird and throw away the rest"
– It’s important to think about sustainability. You can’t just use the breast when you get a whole chicken, but you also need to do something with the wings, the thighs, the heart … the skin. Both in order to get different textures and to use the entire bird.
This year’s edition of the competition will be directed towards a more diverse audience than before. Instead of a weekday event for the industry and sponsors, there will be a live show which is open to the public on Friday and Saturday.
– There is a huge interest in food and cooking in Sweden, so I think a lot of people will come. The audience will be able to follow the scores on screens which are updated in real time.
Martin’s own interest in food comes from the forest. He always enjoyed spending time outdoors to fish, or gather berries and mushrooms, something he often did with his grandparents growing up in the region Småland. This, in combination with a restless personality, made the restaurant programme a natural choice in upper secondary school. A choice he did not regret.
– Not this far anyway, Martin says and laughs.
The gastronomic Gothenburg has developed a lot during the past years, he claims, with more restaurants at a higher quality level than before. He also appreciates the wider geographical diversity, with restaurants that make it just as well in the areas Gamlestan, Majorna or Hisingen as in the city centre.
– I see many new places with high ambitions and that’s really nice, I think. Everything grows and things are moving forward.
"Too many cooks spoil the broth" is a usual saying, but when it comes to becoming Chef of the Year, the opposite is true. Having a workplace, a team and a family to support him has been crucial to Martin being able to take part.
– My boss, Stefan, has won the competition once, in 1995. So he’s always encouraging anyone here who wants to take part, he helps you with a photographer and ingredients to practice and so on. Not everyone has those possibilities and without support it’s difficult. Many of those who take part work at restaurants where someone else has already been in, or even won, the competition.
And then, as if they staged it, Martin’s manager Stefan Karlsson walks through the door. He hardly has time to introduce himself before he asks if Martin cooked any chicken yet, and it’s easy to tell that he cares. Becoming the Swedish Chef of the Year would bring many benefits.
– It means being acknowledged by the industry and you get a lot of attention in the media. This year there is also a prize of 250 000 Swedish kronor for the winner. Then afterwards there are a lot of commitments, you’re pretty visible, and the recognition from the industry is nice, Martin explains.
There is no trace of nervousness, not yet. Perhaps because Martin has already made it to the finals once, in 2007, and has gathered plenty of experience, ideas and confidence since then.
"It makes no difference if I'm cooking for the king or an ordinary guest"
– When I put the chef coat on I’m comfortable, it’s a situation that I know I can handle, that I’m used to. Then it makes no difference if I'm cooking for the king or an ordinary guest, you should always deliver your best.
His explanation for not making it all the way last time has to do with the recipe, which he had not given enough thought and care. But now, eleven years later, he is more confident.
– When I create courses I tend to focus on structure. To have something creamy, something chewy and something crispy. Then I put it together so that you’ll have a bit of each in every bite, in that way you get a more complete experience in the mouth, and the brain is working harder. Because of that, I like to build a course vertically, in order to have the judge or the guest get all those three in every bite.
So, in two weeks it is time for the big test, and if Martin would emerge as the winner there is only one way to celebrate.
– Champagne! Lots of champagne. Then I need to relax with the family for a few days, I haven’t spent as much time as I’ve wanted with them lately.
The Swedish Chef of they Year was started in 1983 by the dairy companies’ industry organisation Svensk Mjölk in cooperation with Gastronomiska Akademien (the Gastronomic Academy) and Tore Wretman. The goal was to raise an interest in gastronomy, increase the chefs’ professional status as well as improve the reputation of Scandinavian food. This year, the finals are held in the Royal Tennis Hall in Stockholm on September 28–29.