A seafood success story

Bocuse d’Or. Just speaking those words will elicit a nod of admiration and recognition from food experts around the world. The Bocuse d’Or is arguably the world’s most prestigious culinary competition, a demanding test of gastronomic skill and superlative raw ingredients that has yielded high honours for Norway.

Norwegian seafood has shown its quality at this world-famous event by being selected for the competition four times, more often than any other country supplying raw ingredients except France. One would expect world-renowned Norwegian salmon to be featured but in the January 2007 contest held in Lyon, it was farmed Norwegian halibut and both farmed and wild-caught Norwegian red king crab that held the spotlight. Salmon from Norway will have its turn, though, as the featured raw ingredient in the first European regional Bocuse d’Or competition in Stavanger in 2008.
 
Tough Selection Process
It was left up to French Master Chefs Christian Bourillot and Alain Le Cossec to select the raw ingredients for the Bocuse d’Or competition in the seafood section. The pair visited Norway to scout for quality fish and, when asked by a reporter for www.seafood.no why Norwegian seafood has been selected for the competition so many times, the pair answered that “Norwegian seafood holds exceptionally high quality, the industry is fantastically good at following up, and the raw ingredients are available all around the globe.”
 
© Tom Haga/Norwegian Seafood Export Council
The “Oven-Baked Norwegian Halibut with Sherry and Vegetables” dish shown here was created by Sven-Erik Renaa for the Norwegian “Cook of the Year” competition in 2006. His victory here gave him the honour of representing Norway in the 2007 Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in Lyon, France. Norwegian halibut was one of the main ingredients in the competition. 
Previous Bocuse d’Or expert chefs have selected Norwegian fjord trout, saithe, scallops and skrei for the competition. Yves Hunckler, General Manager of Sepelcom (the official organization for the 2003 Bocuse d’Or) pointed out another aspect of Norwegian success in having its seafood selected for the competition. He noted that seafood is as important to Norwegians as gastronomy is to the French, and that is why they pay so much attention to the quality of their fish and shellfish. Hunckler also mentioned that the international aspect of the Norwegian seafood industry (exporting to more than 150 countries around the world) was an important parameter in the choice of Bocuse d’Or partners.
 
Small but Powerful
Perhaps surprisingly for a small nation, Norwegian chefs have enjoyed tremendous success in the field. In all, Norway has claimed top honours in the competition three times – again, second only to France in the number of victories. In 2007 Sven Erik Renaa carried the national colours and placed 4th, while winning the best seafood dish category. In addition, Norwegian chefs have claimed two silver medals and one bronze in recent Bocuse competitions.
 
The opportunity to host the world’s great chefs for the European Regional in Stavanger in 2008 can be seen as a reflection of the growing awareness of the quality and variety of Norwegian seafood and the high level of skill with which native chefs prepare it.
 
Growing Sales
Greater market awareness of halibut thanks to high-profile successes like the Bocuse d’Or selection helped drive exports of the fish higher last year, reaching 756 tonnes in 2006, an increase from 550 tonnes the previous year. The total export value of Norwegian halibut grew from NOK 37 million to NOK 59 million last year, with Great Britain ranking as the largest importer of this fish.
 
The other raw ingredient for the competition, Norwegian red king crab, is little-known in much of Europe, so “registering an increase in exports to these markets is positive”, said Karin Olsen of the Norwegian Seafood Export Council (NSEC) on the council’s website. In 2006, exports of Norwegian red king crab came to 670 tonnes, an increase of 150 tonnes over 2005. The average price saw a five kroner per kilo decrease to NOK 125.67 per kilo, compared with 2005. Overall, the total value of exports of Norwegian red king crab in 2006 was NOK 84.5 million.
 
Japan ranked as the biggest single market for red king crab, purchasing 274 tonnes at an average price of NOK 113.50 per kilo in 2006. This added up to a value of NOK 31.1 million. Second was the European market, which imported a total of 230 tonnes.
 
Campaigns Driving Success
The NSEC saw the opportunity presented by the country’s prominence at the Bocuse d’Or competition as a chance to spread the word about this year’s featured ingredients. During a campaign timed to coincide with the contest, approximately 30 restaurants in Lyon featured Norwegian halibut on their menus and more than 20 had both Norwegian halibut and Norwegian king crab available for diners. In addition, the Council hosted a VIP dinner featuring the creations of two of Norway’s Bocuse-winning chefs, Bent Stiansen and Terje Ness.
 
Not only are such promotions likely to make halibut and king crab more popular in France by exposing diners to their quality and freshness, the chefs in the competition are a key to worldwide sales, as they will return to their home nations with a deeper knowledge of the gastronomic possibilities of these different seafood types to offer to their customers.
 
This Norwegian halibut dish with heart lettuce and truffle sauce was created by 2006 Norwegian “Cook of the Year” Sven-Erik Renaa. Norwegian white halibut is gaining a good amount of publicity lately in kitchens the world over for its white, firm meat and versatility.
© Tom Haga/Norwegian Seafood Export Council
The Holy Fish of the Fjords
Gaining the spotlight at Bocuse d’Or has brought unprecedented focus to Norwegian white halibut, or the “Norwegian Fjords’ Holy Fish”, as it has come to be nicknamed.
 
The species is a large flatfish with a small head and small forked tail, characterized by a white underside with a darker-pigmented dorsal surface. Cooks appreciate the white halibut’s versatility and ease to work with. The filet is white and firm and suitable for a wide variety of creative applications.
 
Norwegian suppliers have created a network of fish farms to breed white halibut so as to make it available year round. The fish is raised in fresh, cold seawater, in farms located along the country’s long coastline. In the wild, fishermen have reported exceptional catches of “monster” white halibut weighing up to 100 kilos. On the more practical side, farmed Norwegian white halibut are harvested between 3–4 years of age, at an ideal weight of between 2 and 7 kilos.
 
Red King Crab
The Bocuse chefs were given two four-kilogram red king crabs from Norway to work their magic in the seafood competition. The shellfish was selected for the superb white meat of the legs and claws, featuring a natural juiciness and sweet taste. The crab’s meat has an open structure, similar to that of lobster, which gives it a strong versatility when it comes to compatible ingredients and seasonings.
 
Around the world, Norwegian red king crab is prepared in a wide variety of methods. Asian chefs often use garlic, ginger, coriander, green pepper or exotic fruits with the crab. Others simply serve it accompanied with a melted butter sauce for dipping.
 
From Cold Clean Waters
One of the suppliers chosen for the 2007 Bocuse d’Or was Nordic Seafarms. The company works in the clear waters off some small islands near the city of Bergen, where it carefully nurtures juvenile halibut before they are moved even further north, to the cold seawater conditions at Averøya. There the fish are grown to optimal size and weight for export to the world. Nordic Seafarms is set on being a total integrated producer of halibut, with a focus on sustainability, traceability and careful control of the production chain.
 
An importance presence in the growing king crab export market, Contrace AS is situated in the Arctic town of Vardø. The company delivers live crabs to restaurants and wholesalers on a year-round basis. Contrace also supplies custom-made isolated crab aquariums for display in restaurants.
© Per Eide/Norwegian Seafood Export Council
Norwegian red king crab, one of the main ingredients at the 2007 Bocuse d’Or culinary contest, was selected for the competition due partially to its white meat’s natural juiciness and sweet taste.   

 

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