Since Experience Restaurant opened in 2017, its 16-course tasting menu has been prepared and served by a team of just two. Nives Skudar — a Croatian lawyer turned sommelier — is the first to welcome guests, guiding them to a small, all-wood bar inside a 17th-century barn. Here, chef Kim Sjøbakk prepares a raspberry cosmopolitan topped with wildflowers foraged that morning. A meal here takes several hours to unfold, in a dining room with just three tables, where modern twists on Norwegian classics such as fårikål (lamb stew with cabbage) and rakfisk (fermented fish) are served, alongside views of ancient barley fields.
At their 16-seat restaurant, located just outside Steinkjer, a fjordside town in Norway’s central Trøndelag region, the husband-and-wife team strive to create an intimate dining experience, one that tells the story of the area’s ingredients. “I don’t know many chefs who would be willing to serve a multi-course menu without a kitchen team,” says Sjøbakk. “But I do it because I want people to know the story of Trøndelag produce.”
Sjøbakk started cooking when he was 10 years old to avoid having to eat food he didn’t like. His career has taken him to some of Europe’s finest restaurants, but after more than a decade of working in Michelin-starred kitchens in London and Dublin, including The Dorchester and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, he returned to his hometown of Steinkjer, where he launched a pop-up designed to showcase some of the signature dishes he’d perfected in London. But his dream was always to shine a light on Trøndelag.
That dream became a reality when the owners of organic meat and dairy farm Bjerkem invited Sjøbakk to transform their disused grain barn into a fine dining restaurant. “I’ve never liked big restaurants,” says Sjøbakk. “It’s hard to get to know the story behind a dish in a busy room. Here, guests are treated like friends eating in our home. It’s simple and very intimate.”
From Bjerkem Farm, Sjøbakk works closely with some of the region’s best suppliers, which ensures his dishes have a distinct Trøndelag identity — and a very low carbon footprint. The wild salmon, served with fennel and pickled apples from the chef’s garden, comes from the nearby Namsen river, while both the beetroot (pickled and toasted for the goat's cheese mousse) and wild game (served with caramelised shallot puree and black garlic) are from the organic Ner-Salbergin farm in neighbouring Røra. Cheese and milk on the menu are from the Gammel Erik and Orkladal dairies, also in the vicinity, while the mushrooms and lingonberries are foraged in a woodland visible from the dining room.
“When I left Steinkjer 20 years ago, local produce was hard to come by,” says Sjøbakk. “I grew up with fishmongers and butchers, but by the time I left home, they were all gone.” The rise in cheap supermarket food and people’s unwillingness to pay more for good produce made it hard for local farmers and chefs to make a living. “Norwegians used to spend very little per head on food,” Sjøbakk explains. “People saw food as a basic necessity, especially in rural communities. Spending money on high-quality produce seemed like an unnecessary luxury.”