Guests on board Iona during her inaugural season will be treated to some of the finest flavours of Norway and Spain thanks to our new Local Food Heroes: restaurateur and owner of Stavanger’s popular eateries Tango and Fish & Cow brasserie, Kjartan Skjelde; Norwegian-born writer and home cook, Marte Marie Forsberg; and acclaimed Spanish chef José Pizarro.

All three are passionate about their homeland’s food heritage and bringing these traditions to a new audience.

Take Norway, where Iona will spend her first summer season. The rugged coastline, dense forests and swathes of Alpine tundra may delight visitors, but these same elements have long posed challenges to its culinary landscape. The geographical limitations, harsh climate, sparse population and poor transport meant Norwegian communities relied upon gathering seasonal produce and fishing in times of plenty, then preserving food to survive the long winter months.

No one appreciates this more than Kjartan and Marte Marie. Both embrace using the riches of the land, and the simple traditions of the past, in a modern and sustainable way.

‘I see the possibilities nature offers us,’ says Kjartan. ‘I’m conscious of how we’re using our knowledge to do things differently. There are many great ingredients that inspire us to eat well and to create an inspiring food identity.’

‘The desire to discover what we have in the wild has definitely impacted on the way we eat,’ confirms Marte Marie. ‘There’s a really exciting mix between old school and new school. It’s so refreshing.’

The tradition of pickling is a good example. In the absence of refrigeration and fresh fruit and vegetables, pickling gave households access to a healthy diet all year. Today, sursild (herring pickled in sweet vinegar with peppercorns, herbs and spices) is a national staple. And many a dish is served with a dash of zing and colour in the shape of pickled beetroot, red cabbage, carrot or cucumber. ‘We’re honouring the past in imaginative new ways,’ says Kjartan. ‘I’ve even pickled stinging nettles.’

Fish is another dietary staple that’s getting the New Nordic treatment. Historically, catches were cured, smoked and preserved. Today, fillets of salmon or trout cured in the smoke of burning native woods, such as juniper, are a delicacy with balanced flavours of the land and sea.

This sense of provenance is key, and Kjartan is excited about the ingredients he’s sourcing for his six-course tasting menu at The Epicurean on Iona, including mineral-rich salt-marsh lamb, beetroot from a farm on a small island, and trout from a lake in the mountains. ‘Guests will get a real sense of where the food is from and how it was produced,’ he says.

Enjoying the great outdoors is way of life in Norway, and foraging for seasonal berries, herbs, wild fruit, nuts and mushrooms is a national pastime beloved of the new generation of home cooks: ‘Growing up, I’d forage for mushrooms and fry them in a pan with a knob of butter, a bit of sour cream and pepper and serve them on fresh bread. We’d also forage for things like birch leaves, pine sprouts and bucketloads of cloudberries,’ recalls Marte Marie.

‘Norwegian food culture is a bit of an unsung hero,’ she adds. ‘I hope after guests have dined in the main restaurant and nibbled great street food at Taste 360, they will come out with a better understanding of Norwegian cuisine and have fallen a little in love with it.’

When Iona heads to Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands in winter, José’s love of quality Spanish ingredients will be on full show in his tapas menu created for The Glass House and with his Spanish-style street food for Taste 360.

‘It is impossible to understand Spain without understanding its food,’ says José. ‘Food for us is a source of pride, a way to live; it is central to our identity.

‘Each region of Spain has its own strong identity and we believe that nobody cooks those dishes better than in the place where they come from: Castilian soup made with garlic and bread; pisto Manchego, vegetable stew eaten with fried eggs; Galician octopus, lightly poached and served with olive oil and paprika; Andalucían gazpacho; Valencian paella...’

One thing that unites all Spaniards is the food ritual of tapas. ‘Tapas bring people together,’ says José. ‘When you go out, tapas allow you to enjoy food and wine and company, and to talk.

‘Food brings culture to the table. It’s all about the flavour, and discovering something new. That’s what inspires me.’

José’s menus will be big on Spanish flavour: croquetas, jamón Ibérico, carpaccio – flavours that bring Spain to life on a plate.

‘I want to transport guests on Iona to the region they’re cruising around,’ says José. ‘I want them to have an incredible holiday and embrace an amazing part of Spanish culture.’


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