Nordic cuisine is all about using seasonal ingredients in a variety of ways to titillate tastebuds with simple and fresh flavors. Danish chef Kasper Elmholdt Pedersen, who heads the team at New Nordic dining restaurant, Pelikan, does that and more, adding his own unique twist with local ingredients. We sat down with Kasper at his restaurant on Xikang Road to discuss how he discovered his passion for cooking, what makes their food special, their new chef’s table, and more.
Hello Kasper. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a chef originally from Denmark, and I arrived in Shanghai last year. I grew up on the west coast of the country with my family- just my parents and one younger brother who is also a chef now. The majority of my chef training came from close to home, at a small place called Henne Kirkeby Kro, which has 2 Michelin stars.
Henne and the chefs there changed my outlook on cooking through the importance they placed on quality products. Henne’s garden is the heart of the restaurant – we used this as the entire building blocks to create the menu based on what was in season that week. Of course, in Denmark we have an abundance of produce in the summer, but nothing in the winter. It’s only by preserving (pickling, salting, drying) everything from the summer that we can make it through the winter. Henne gave me the skills for the Nordic traditions that I use at Pelikan today.
How did you get started cooking and when did you know you wanted to become a chef?
I was studying business and realized that it was not my passion; that I needed to change paths and be creative with something that I loved. When I was 18, I finally made the decision to go to culinary school, but food, cooking and service have always been a part of my life. Every family get together at my great grandmother’s house had a minimum of four rounds of food servings, and it took days to prepare. During those times, instead of going outside to play, I would just stand in the kitchen and help out. My great grandma started my journey into the world of food; cooking was a way of life for her. Their home was centered around the garden which had chickens running around on one side for meat and eggs, and a vegetable garden on the other half. To take care of others and be service minded is something that I learned from her and my grandmother. Hospitality isn’t a just a word in our family, it’s common sense.
What was it like reuniting with Marc Stockmarr at your recent pop-up? I understand you worked with him at Geist, the one Michelin-star restaurant in Copenhagen, under the Danish celebrity chef Bo Bech.
Marc and I worked closely together for almost a year at Geist. Marc coming to Pelikan felt natural because we were friends and coworkers back in Denmark. We had good chemistry, and we both share a passion for food that makes it easy for us to bounce ideas off each other, so it was a lot of fun to have him here. Marc is a talented chef, and he looks at things differently. He cooked a cured halibut and smoked it in front of the guests to showcase our methods in Denmark. This type of thinking inspired the cooks and myself in the kitchen for future dishes at Pelikan. The next pop-up with another chef will be in September, and I’m already extremely excited about that.
What exactly is New Nordic cuisine? And how is Pelikan doing it differently?
Nordic cuisine is about using what we have growing around us, seasonally and locally, and using ingredients in a variety of ways. It is a return to the pure ways of sourcing locally, and preserving (pickling, drying, salting, smoking) for use throughout the year. In Scandinavia, we don’t just use traditional vegetables, but also edible flowers, stems, herbs and other over-looked ingredients that add interesting new flavors and textures to a dish. In Shanghai, I need to bend my craft and the term Nordic. I’m certainly not using purely Chinese ingredients, but I have been really successful at finding local farmers who can supply amazing products that fit my needs and style.
The food at Pelikan is casual Nordic food where I work with some ingredients that I know, and am playing with some Chinese ingredients like bamboo shoots or water chestnuts, and mushrooms. What I’m finding is, that although they can be challenging to find, some of the products are even better than back home. One of the things I love most is the pork in China – it’s a bit fattier, flavorful, and it cooks perfectly. The reasons it’s a Nordic restaurant is because it’s not much different from what we would do back home in Copenhagen. The food is prepared with ingredients we have here around us, but also products that you would find in Scandinavia because that’s my expertise. We are also careful to source with the seasons of China in mind. Our summer food is light and balanced out, and we love making products fit into our dishes by finding the right fit with Chinese and Nordic ingredients together. For example, we love to cure our halibut with some of the citrus fruits from China. It’s always exciting to work with the Chinese cooks to see what they think would fit with the Nordic ingredients. We are constantly creating and playing around with new combinations.
It’s probably just not possible to import all ingredients from Scandinavia. How do you make the decision of what to source locally and how do you screen their quality?
I have to admit that it was difficult to navigate the suppliers when I first came to Shanghai. Now, I simply use the best that I can find. Sometimes that means I have to import, and sometimes that means we use local ingredients. We have had a ton of success finding incredible local vegetables, and are working with farmers who are growing heirloom varieties of tomatoes, sprouts, leaves and edible flowers. At the moment, our seafood is imported from around the world- I’m loving our fresh oysters flown in from France, and king salmon from New Zealand. We order one day, and its pulled up from the ocean and arrives here 1-2 days later. It’s not easy, but the hunt for the best of what we can get in China and imported in is a welcomed challenge, and a never-ending search with thousands of amazing farmers and people who want to show the products that they have put their hearts into.
Tell us about your new chef’s table. What can diners expect?
Firstly, you will dine at the chef’s table – a cozy and intimate area with a view straight into our kitchen. If you opt for this, it is a night with your friends and me, your private chef, cooking my favourite dishes of the moment. I’m plating the food right in front of you, telling the stories about the ingredients and dishes, and sometimes even doing certain steps at the table such as adding an extra smokiness to our current favourite dish – the smoked lobster. During your visit, you will get 10-13 dishes with some luxury ingredients such as grilled lobster, and aged beef. This is our project to play with new dishes, and to invite people who are looking for a one-of-a-kind culinary experience with Nordic food in Shanghai.
Do you actually still cook at home? And if so, what?
Like many chefs, I practically never cook at home since I cook every day at Pelikan. Shanghai is also a great place to be a chef because there are so many amazing restaurants to try. If I had more time, I would put up a BBQ, and grill up some fresh fish and veggies from the market to make a “hygge” meal for my girl and myself.
What’s your ‘Last Supper’ meal?
Always my girl’s french toast.
Enjoy 11 amazing Nordic-inspired plates with Kasper at Pelikan’s chef’s table experience, now open for dinner for a minimum of 4 people and a maximum of 6 people at ￥595 per person. There is an optional surcharge of ￥300 for wine pairings and ￥120 for juice pairings. Reservation needs to be made 2 days in advance.
Pelikan is located at 225 Xikang Road (西康路225号). To make reservations, call 62667909.
Grilled Bodeuse Oyster with Cold Green Asparagus Foam
Daikon with Oyster & Dill
Butter Braised Pork Belly with Confit Onions, Sage, Apples & Smoked Celery Root Purée
Charred Beetroots in Warm Pickle Glaze
Grilled White Asparagus with Poached Shrimps & Radish