Take French food, add a Sami chef who exchanges most of the raw ingredients for local produce. Voilà – here you have modern Sami artisan food à la Kristoffer Åström.

Sami chefs are a rarity, not too many of them around, in fact so few that you could count them on one hand. Unfortunately, says Kristoffer Åström, who is of the opinion that there is a need for more. The reason why they are so few is easy to understand after his explanation.

– It is the combination of having been raised on the food, to have a huge interest in food and actually also wanted to be a chef. Put all those demands together and you haven’t got too many to choose from, according to Kristoffer.

Time to experiment

When it was time for Kristoffer to chose his subjects for upper secondary school in Vilhelmina, Kristoffer’s own choice of subjects were a toss up between vehicles, as a mechanic, or becoming a chef. The theoretic alternatives available didn’t sit right with him so he chose the kitchen which, for him, was the right choice.

– The Restaurant path was fun, I soon realised that flavours were something I had a feeling for and this path was easy for me.

In 2008, after several years seasonal work all around Sweden and in Norway, Kristoffer found out about a one-year Sami food education course in Jokkmokk. To apply for the course was an obvious choice as it is almost a must to have attended a year or two at the legendary school at Samernas Utbildningscentrum.

– That year gave me a lot of knowledge and time to experiment. We had access to a Tipi to use as a smoker and I had always a pot on the stove in the kitchen, says Kristoffer.

New raw ingredients in traditional dishes

So then, what is modern Sami cooking? Kristoffer meant that it is firstly about cooking traditional restaurant dishes but exchanging the raw produce with locally caught wild produce, meat, birds and fish. Secondly, it is to create new dishes with this locally caught produce, based upon the old Sami food traditions.

Kristoffer stayed on in Jokkmokk for several years after finishing his education and worked in the restaurant at Café Gasskas. This is where the modern Sami culinary menu blossomed. He, and Malin Strömbäck, who went through the Sami education, created a Sami Christmas smorgasbord with sausages, brawn and pate’s are made with the typical Sami raw produce. This is a good example of how to convert classical recipes to something new. It is, for instance, not a Sami tradition to prepare the typical Swedish Christmas fare, yet it is what they did.

Success was not far away. Kristoffer came second in Sápmi Awards, the Sami equivalent to Chef of the Year, in 2012 as well as in 2013.

– I like it to be a bit rough with simple flavours and few ingredients, he says and explains that he likes the food to look nice, yet it doesn’t have to be perfect. That he’d rather concentrate on the flavours than trying to hide them.

Traditional Sami with a twist

Kristoffer prefers to make everything from scratch. He has mastered the traditional ways of conserving, souring, drying, curing and smoking and pick berries and herbs himself. If he’s got to choose he’ll change his dinner menu every day. He’s happy to serve four or five courses, with two of them being desserts. One of these can be a little bit of souvas, a bit mesost (cheese made on mountain cows-milk), topped with a parsley cream.

– I like it to be a bit rough with simple flavours and few ingredients, he says and explains that he likes the food to look nice, yet it doesn’t have to be perfect. That he’d rather concentrate on the flavours than trying to hide them. That’s why the only spices he’ll use are salt and black pepper.

A traditional Sami dish is a dried-meat soup. Kristoffer will, every now and then, serve this as a small dish. Since the soup is made with dried meat that has acquired the piquant rancid taste, goastte, which gives it that special flavour.

– Everyone thinks the soup has an interesting taste, however, not everyone appreciates it.

Kristoffer embraces the real Artisan food science by making everything from scratch. He cooks a fair amount of food with blood, like his own black-pudding and of course the blood-kamsen, part of a traditional reindeer cook up, together with boiled reindeer tongue, meat and a marrow bone.

It is a rarity for Kristoffer to serve up renskav (very thin slices of reindeer meat), an almost classic dish at every food place around. He would rather invite you to taste meat from a proper “long-boil”, preferably made with the neck, back, or chest of reindeer or moose.

– It is delicious. I also like purées of carrot, cauliflower, or parsnip.

Creates new dishes

Birch leaves, another favourite of Kristoffer’s, is a fantastic and fresh raw ingredient that can be used in soups and dressings, preferably in a smoked state. He has been experimenting with birch bark rolled potato and is quite happy to garnish his dishes with wild flowers. Mountain sorrel is another favourite. The Sami dish juobmo is a delicacy, which can be eaten as a type of spinach with fish or perhaps stewed with double milk and cloudberries. The variations are endless.

In autumn 2016 Kristoffer launched the business ‘Samiska kocken’ (The Sami Chef). His preferred missions are small exclusive events where he can cook menus with eight to ten dishes for smaller gatherings.

– It is a lot of fun to be able to serve a menu with eight dishes, one dish for each Sami season, and to focus on smaller quantities. This will always give a better result, therefore better quality, says Kristoffer.

For dessert, we may have ice-cream with smoked cloudberries and dried meat, an unexpected combination that will surely be remembered.

– It is a lot of fun to be able to serve a menu with eight dishes, one dish for each Sami season, and to focus on smaller quantities. This will always give a better result, therefore better quality.

Inspiration is around the corner

Just like Kristoffer, other Sami chef’s are also innovative. They all started off in the Sami way with the traditional French and Italian kitchen as a base, this has then developed into something else, depending on where they work. The raw produce around the corner is the base. The ones working in Norway use, for natural reasons, more of the produce from the ocean that Kristoffer does. To him, it is the raw produce from the forest, mountains and the mountain lakes that give the base for his cooking. He’ll plan a menu in his head where everything, but salt and pepper, comes from Jokkmokk.

Jokkmokk’s raw produce, in particular, is a gastronomic source of inspiration for an Artisan food creator. Sápmi ren och vilt, Utsi Ren, Jokkmokks Korv & Rökeri, Jokkmokksbär och Polcirkeln Gårdsprodukter are just a few of the reliable raw produce suppliers and skilled food processors contributing to the fact that Jokkmokk was chosen as The Food Capital of Sweden ( Sveriges Matlandethuvudstad) in 2014.
Kristoffer’s choice and favourite food, all categories, is a little special meat-soup made with dumplings, cooked on the leg, back or neck. No root vegetables. No potatoes.

– At least not the first day. Meat-soup can be eaten several days in a row, you can add potatoes and a few other things each day. The soup just keeps on getting better and better, says Kristoffer Åström.

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