Dirty Work: Making Nordic Magic with Esben Holmboe Bang of Maaemo
When the three Michelin-starred chef showed up at the MUNCHIES rooftop garden, he showed us that where the wild things grow (in our own garden) is where the magic begins.
"Whatever I make from this garden today, I want it to be the essence of MUNCHIES terroir: I want it to taste like hangovers and stale burgers. Just kidding."
On a late summer afternoon, chef Esben Holmboe Bang is standing in the middle of a patch of wildflowers in the MUNCHIES rooftop garden at VICE HQ. Like a pig in shit, he's in his element in the middle of what looks like overgrown weeds. The Nordic chef is no stranger to wild produce. At his three Michelin-starred restaurant Maaemo, located in Oslo, Norway, Holmboe Bang and his team focus on highlighting the relationship between raw nature, produce, and Nordic history. "There's too much out here!" he says as he snips dill pollen from a flowering bud. He scales the bachelor button flowers, daisies, and red poppies. He cuts a few for good measure and places them into a container. "Oh my god! You have rat tail radishes growing out here randomly." (A confession: We had no idea what these things were before Holmboe Bang showed up today, let alone consume them without poisoning ourselves). He snips a few of the crisp pods and places them into another container. We haven't even made it to our vegetable patches yet.
"Halaigh what have you found over there?" Holmboe Bang asks his sous chef, Halaigh Whelan-McManus. McManus has discovered our flowering patch of strawberries and blueberries—many of which are unripened. "Look at these lovely little green ones," says McManus. The two take a bite into the tart, sour berries. "This will work," says Holmboe Bang.
With enough produce to woo any forager, the two head into the kitchen and quickly assess at their haul: blueberries, strawberries, dill pollen, flowers, and some assorted herbs—rosemary, thyme, and pineapple sage—that McManus has gathered. After surveying the ingredients for a few seconds, the two get to work.
First, Holmboe Bang creates a sweet, tart vinegar by heating sugar and white vinegar over medium heat. He pulls out a mortar and pestle and throws half of the blueberries, the flowers, and the cooled vinegar together. "It's as if we're making a berry pesto," he says with a laugh. He scrapes the mixture from the container and it with the strawberries and remaining blueberries.
He transfers the berries to a ceramic plate and adds a splash of vinegar. He places the fresh radish pods, fennel pollen, and blue bachelor buttons on top. He adds one more dollop of the flower "pesto" for good measure, and steps back.
The two take a bite. "I think we just made summer on a plate," says Holmboe Bang.