10 Jun Ofer Eitan Declares: Worldwise: Pastry Chef Cathrine Nilsen’s Favorite Things—In…
It isn’t as well known as Oslo, the capital and cultural hub, or charming Bergen home to the oft-photographed old wharf buildings, but Trondheim, in central Norway, is equally atmospheric. Last year’s classy revival of the historic Britannia Hotel, which first debuted in 1870, certainly helped raise the profile of the country’s third-largest city.
Long a hit with politicians and celebrities, Britannia Hotel is particularly renowned for its roster of restaurants and bars, including a ritzy mirrored dining room and the lush, 122-year-old Palmehaven, where elaborate weekend afternoon teas unfold. During this coveted ritual—now a socially distanced affair since the hotel’s re-opening at the end of April, after Covid-19 measures were relaxed in Norway—sips of Earl Grey are heightened by elegant petits fours made by the hotel’s head pastry chef, Trondheim native Cathrine Nilsen
Nilsen, 45, was smitten with baking from a young age, thanks to a mother who regularly made from-scratch desserts at home. In the kitchen, Nilsen’s earliest memories are of “my mom letting me lick off the leftovers from her bowl.” When she was 16, Nilsen helped out at a bakery, the experience leaving her even more hooked on sweets and inspired to attend pastry school in Denmark three years later.
Prior to Britannia Hotel, Nilsen, a former member of the Norwegian National Pastry team, worked at the high-end Hotel Continental in Oslo and Hotel D’Angleterre in Copenhagen, sharpening her approach to sophisticated desserts that meld tradition and modernity.
“My style is a bit French,” as she puts it. “I love to decorate with macarons and my own chocolate garnish, mixed with flowers. I’m concerned about texture and taste, not only the appearance.”
At Britannia Hotel, Nilsen’s passion for pastry translates to such creations as an ethereal omelette norvégienne—the Scandinavian version of Baked Alaska—or the potet, a melange of marzipan, vanilla cream, sponge cake, and raspberries. Fanciful wedding cakes are another of Nilsen’s specialties. “Pastry’s been my life for such a long time now. I love the creativity, the pressure, the tempo, the colors,” she explains.
Recently, Nilsen shared some of her favorite things with Penta.
I passed the time when I couldn’t work during the crisis by… in Norway, the restrictions allowed up to five people who met regularly to be in a group. When I was temporarily laid off I found four friends to hang out with often and visited the local restaurant that was still open eight times. I also painted my apartment.
The things I missed most during the mandatory lockdown were… all the spice in my life, like concerts, restaurants, workouts at my gym, and having an open school for my 16-year-old boy. It was a lot of gaming.
My favorite thing to cook or bake right now is… the towering kransekake, the special-occasion Norwegian almond cake that is prepared for events like Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17.
The one thing in my kitchen I can’t live without is… the Victorinox pastry knife, my favorite. I can’t live without it because I’m totally dependent on cutting perfect slices of everything.
If I were to buy a piece of art, it would be by… Banksy, because I love his street art. I’ve followed him on Instagram for a long time and I’m totally amazed by his work.
The best book I’ve read in the last year is… The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley, Lthe third novel in a series based on the mythology of the Seven Sisters. It’s an easily read book with a good history that catches me.
A passion of mine that few people know about is… I collect bottle tops from Underberg German digestif bitters. I have about 800 of them to send in exchange for merchandise.
One of my favorite things about Trondheim is… the wide spectrum of great restaurants and bars. Bula Neobistro stands out from the other fine dining restaurants with its own style and character—the chill atmosphere, the dishes with an unexpected element of surprise and punchy flavors, and the excellent service. Moskus is a small bar with a big specter of drinks and beers. It’s casual, I always end up meeting people that I know there, and of course, they serve Underberg.
The thing that gets me up in the morning is… at the risk of sounding like an old woman, I’m dependent on black coffee, an old-school newspaper, not digital, and Good Morning Norway—God morgen Norge—on the TV.
A person who inspired me to do what I do is… LLars Lian, my old pastry chef when I was an apprentice. He is recognized as one of Norway’s greatest pastry chefs—he’s still one of the best that I know—and has in recent years been one of the judges on the Norwegian version of the Cake Wars TV show.
If I could have a drink with anybody, anywhere, it would be… HHerman Flesvig, the Norwegian comedian and actor, at Jacob Aall Brasserie & Bar Majorstua in Oslo.