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Christina Hjeltnes Grønning.

Head Chef at Sentralen, Oslo

Christina Hjeltnes Grønning.

Head Chef at Sentralen, Oslo

Christina Hjeltnes Grønning

Head Chef at Sentralen, Oslo

In this episode, Danish chef Christina Hjeltnes Grønning prepares one of her recent dishes. At the age of 24, the Danish-Norwegian trailblazer became head chef of Sentralen leading the innovative Nordic kitchen that combines traditional flavors with European favorites. From North Atlantic cod dried by the cold winds on wooden racks on the foreshore to artful new recipes including marshmallows slow roasted on burning gel at the dinner table. According to Christina Hjeltnes Grønning, eating really comes down to one thing: It’s all about sharing. An apprentice of chefs like Michel Michaud, who brought French cuisine to Denmark in the 1970s, and Thorsten Schmidt, one of the founding fathers of the New Nordic Cuisine, this newcomer is making a name for herself at one of Oslo’s trendiest restaurants set in a former bank.

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As head chef at Sentralen, what does your regular work day look like?

A normal day at Sentralen is ten hours plus. I check on the quality and tastes of the produce we use, the dishes that we prepare and I make sure that the people who work with me get the same feeling for the food like me. To me, it’s more about the taste than a pretty looking plate but everyday, we aim to achieve both. Sentralen is a huge place. I need to delegate a lot of the practical work in- and outside the kitchen. During the day I attend meetings, develop dishes and makes sure the team runs smoothly. I’m in contact with our suppliers on a daily basis. When they have new produce, they let me know and I visit them to ensure we get the best quality from them. It’s important to keep in touch, to go there to see, touch, and taste their produce. Thus, chefs and farmers keep inspiring each other. In the evenings, I jump into the kitchen and join the service.

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What does a perfect kitchen look like to you?

I like it when the kitchen utensils and cooking equipment are all at hand but easy to store. I like a nice and clean kitchen desk. Also, I guess a perfect kitchen for me is an open space with a freestanding piece of cabinetry, or kitchen island. I enjoy the freedom of movement in that kind of environment. It’s also important for me to have family and friends around me when I cook at home, so an ideal kitchen design would accommodate for that, too.

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left-com The oven system was really easy to work with. It doesn’t take long to understand how it works and anyone could easily use it. right-com

What lights your fire? Gas stoves or induction?

I would love a combination of the two! It makes for a wide range of cooking. A gas stove is great for flambéing and really nice if you want to put on a little show for your friends while making a special dish or a dessert. I also like a gas stove for Asian cooking, but it requires efficient ventilation. Induction cooktops, on the other hand, deliver superfast heat. I use that for just about anything.

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Now, the kitchen at the Friends Space was a different setup to what you’re used to at Sentralen. What was the overall experience, cooking there?

The Siemens kitchen was lovely and stylish. There weren't a lot of different gadgets; it was straight forward. It was very simple to step in and gain an overview in the kitchen while you're working. It was very easy to move around the kitchen because it was open, large and very bright. I really liked the sink; I thought it was so cool that you had enough space to clean pans, and especially baking pans, which is most often a problem when you’re in a regular household kitchen. It’s a detail, but the little ‘shelf’ in the sink was great, you can put utensils to dry or store so they don’t take up all the space and make it look messy.

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Was there a particular appliance you really liked working with?

The oven system was really easy to work with. It doesn’t take long to understand how it works and anyone could easily use it. Also, it offers a lot of functions that you would find in professional kitchens as well, like the steam function. When I cooked my dish king crab, potato pancake, and fennel espuma, I used it to steam the fennel espuma and it turned out nicely, as did the king crab which I cooked very briefly on the stove.

What did you like about the cooktop?

It's really handy to turn the temperature up and down, and when it was almost at its hottest, it created a perfect caramelization and browning on my king crab.

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What other function did you enjoy using?

It was great to use the Hyperfresh function, which is in the refrigerator, to keep the king crab as fresh as possible.

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left-com I want to keep exploring a creative way of cooking and publish a cookbook about my personal approach to cooking right-com

When working with fresh produce, what would be your favourite ingredient?

I love cabbage. Not just the popular varieties you find in supermarkets. In Scandinavia, we have so many interesting varieties of these leafy greens! There ought to be at least five different kinds of cabbage in any supermarket if you ask me. Most people aren’t aware that such a thing as black cabbage exists. It not only tastes great, it makes it interesting to combine with different colors and textures. I love to bake black cabbage in the oven until it goes crisp and use it for toppings or as a crunchy ingredient in a salad. It snaps like a potato crisp.

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Do you want to stay a full-time chef or what’s your perspective?

I’m at a crossroads right now. On one hand, I want to keep exploring a creative way of cooking and publish a cookbook about my personal approach to cooking. I’d like to influence people to getting back to basics and inquire their local butcher about different kinds of cuts instead of settling for the run-of-the-mill industry poultry, for example. On the other hand, I’m tempted to climb the career ladder and pursue further education as a manager in the restaurant or hotel industry. I haven’t made up my mind yet.

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How do you come up with new recipes?

I often get inspired when I eat out. Or, a local supplier will call me and ask if I’m interested in a portion of local stockfish. That will keep me busy while I try to figure out how to make this very traditional Norwegian food into a modern dish with a playful twist. Last year, I concocted a dessert with marshmallows. I pickled some spruce and ordered wooden sticks and burning gel so people at the table got the feeling they were cooking them at a campfire!