Food & Drink

Questions of Taste: Martin Berg

Head chef and creative director at ARKET Café, Martin Berg, discusses his new seasonal menu founded in the New Nordic Food movement

The New Nordic Food movement’s manifesto – a ten point document, developed in association with the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2004 – promoted several key goals in a fortuitous and prescient probe of contemporary trends: modern knowledge of health, animal welfare and a safe production process, whilst working in close dialogue with local producers and improving the overall quality of their food.

Martin Berg’s propensity for sustainable cooking lies in his close professional relationship with Mathias Dahlgren, one of the six founders of the manifesto, championing seasonal, ethical and locally sensitive cuisine in Nordic kitchens around the world. Berg found his beginnings within the movement when he began working with Mathias in 2007, becoming executive chef at the Michelin star Mathias Dahlgren restaurant in Stockholm. He later co-founded the Green Rabbit Rye Bakery, a café working with organic and sustainable grains, in 2014.

Embarking on his first solo culinary endeavour in 2016, Berg collaborated with sustainable lifestyle brand ARKET to develop the ARKET café – devoted to collaborative and creative cuisine, drawing from the Nordic philosophy of respectful, sustainable and ethical food. Introducing a new entirely plant-based, vegetarian menu across all ARKET cafés, he has unveiled an innovative and modern take on traditional Swedish dishes and pastries.

Following a delicious lunch, Port talked to the head-chef on cooking with common sense, local creativity and a democratisation of the culinary landscape.

What do you most enjoy cooking now, in the Spring? 

Nettles are my favourite. I get so happy every time I see the first tiny shoot come up. Nettle soup is a great Spring dish.

There are middle eastern influences with some of the dishes e.g use of chickpeas – where else in the world did you take inspiration from? 

I think it’s important to always be open to new ideas or influences, you never know when or where you will stumble upon them. It starts with a little seed in my head and then a creative process starts. The important thing is that you don’t do a copy paste but try to make your own thing with it. Like our hummus, it is a twist on a traditional way of making it.

Why is seasonality such an important aspect of your cooking? 

To me, it comes naturally to follow the seasons. It is usually what tastes best and inspires me most.

Can you give an example of innovating or modernising a typically Northern cooking tradition / technique?

Pickling is a good example of something that was kind of forgotten. A technique used to preserve food during long winters. Nowadays more used for spicing up dishes and giving them an extra layer of taste. You see it in almost every restaurant.

How have you / ARKET worked with cafés and suppliers to create locally specific menus? 

We have created this seasonal guideline for all cafés. It’s a guide for what’s in season and suggestions of how you can take that and use it to make our menu. For example, how a salad is built with the spread, base mix, seasonal hero and then the topping. I guide them in how to keep all parts seasonal but still leave space for local creativity.

What are the key components of the New Nordic Food Manifesto / Movement? Have there been any notable updates since it was published in 2004?

I often refer to the manifesto as cooking with common sense. Respecting the land, sea, animals etc. It’s about doing good with food. Then of course you can interpret the manifesto in different ways. What has happened lately is that not only fine dining restaurants are using it as a guideline but other businesses too. The 10th point of the manifesto is to join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing, food, retail and wholesale industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries. It is really exciting to see this happening now. 

It’s crucial that people consume less meat for the sake of the planet. How can the public be better encouraged to reduce their intake? 

You have to offer good alternatives. You have to offer delicious products. People will always want food that tastes good.

Why is it important to ‘democratise’ foods and tastes mainly associated with fine dining? 

Historically, creativity within food was almost only associated with fine dining, but that is changing. There is so much going on in cafés, canteens and other kitchens that makes good food available for a broader audience. Maybe the modern luxury is to be able to eat a sustainable product in a café that is really delicious and yummy.

ARKET launches their new Spring menu in cafés this March, 2019