Talking Smak: First-ever Svalbard food festival offers locally-produced and internationally acclaimed food, lessons

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You can revisit Svalbard’s cuisine of the 1600s with a meal of seal prepared four ways – including dessert. Be part of the über-hipster one percent for a day by “drinking icebergs” and ultra-premium bottled water from five other countries. Drink and dine on famous chef cuisine for hours late into the night, and then get up very early for hours more of food, ginger shots and a requirement to “dance yourself morning-happy.”

And if food for the mind and soul is your thing, there’s everything from gardening to history lectures to sushi lessons.

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A breakfast buffet at Fruene kicks off the four-day SmakSvalbard festival. Photo by Bjorn Torjus Hanssen / Visit Svalbard.

The first-ever SmakSvalbard festival debuted Thursday with the most obvious of offerings: a breakfast buffet. But it wasn’t by any of the usual players and the rest of the events during the four-day event are a proverbial smorgasbord of offerings often not present even a few years ago, which is one of the main messages of the festival.

“I’m telling people gourmet can be found in Svalbard,” said Olena Zhukova, an official at Visit Svalbard who spend the festival’s first day at an information kiosk built from pallets outside Kulturhuset.

Unlike festivals where participants cluster in a central location, both casual and formal events at SmakSvalbard are scattered throughout Longyearbyen – and in a few cases to outdoor settings several kilometers beyond the town limits. Bjorn Torjus Hanssen, the festival’s director, said that relieved Visit Svalbard from many of the logistics associated with coordinating the event while showcasing the town’s rapidly growing culinary options.

“There’s a lot of things new here to learn about,” he said.

The gourmet options include “pop-up” restaurants headed by three internationally acclaimed chefs. They include White Rabbit in Moscow on Thursday and Friday at Gruvelageret, the Palace Grill in Oslo on Friday at Svalbar, and a Michelin-starred chef from Copenhagen on Saturday at Polfareren.

Among the high-end dinners by local chefs are the four-course seal dinner at Mary Anns Polarrigg on Friday and a trapper’s feast featuring a presentation by Stein Åsheim about overwintering in Svalbard on Saturday at the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel.

For those who can’t afford the ticket prices of up to 1,995 kroner for those meals (which include wine pairings), there are numerous free and inexpensive options on the proverbial menu.  Among them is the local debut Thursday of the “Too Good To Go” program, featuring local eateries who will offer day-old unsold food that can be purchased through an online app.

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Anniken Hoff Quirk, center, and Acacia de Meo, right, tell Longyearbyen residents about the local debut of the “Too Good To Go” program Thursday at Rabalder Cafe and Bakery, Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Acacia de Meo, regional manager for the program in western Norway, said the hope is three initial clients – Rabalder Cafe and Bakery, Svalbard Hotel and the MIX kiosk – will be online starting Friday. The price limit for items is 49 kroner, but even though Svalbard’s eateries are often high priced even for Norway she said she doesn’t think the limit will keep businesses from signing up.

“The whole concept is it’s food that would have gone into the bin anyway,” she said at an information booth at Rabalder on Thursday, noting the program places on emphasis on the environmental benefits more than the economic ones.

Environmental sustainability will also be the emphasis of a series of cooking and gardening courses at Polar Permaculture. Historical events include a formal dinner with a presentation of Norway’s sovereignty in Svalbard since 1925 by Per Kyrre Reymert on Friday at the Spitsbergen Hotel.

Interest in the events appears to be high, with at least of the “pop-up” restaurants sold out before the festival began, Hanssen said. While he expects most of the attendees to be locals, he estimates 40 people are visiting Svalbard specially for the festival.

“It seems higher than we were afraid of a month ago,” he said.

Other local festivals in early October have struggled, but Hanssen said the timing was intended to avoid overlapping hunting season and food festivals on the mainland. He said he is already planning to continue the festival next year, although a week later into the month.

“We don’t have so many risks, but of course I’m very ambitious about making it better,” he said.

 

SmakSvalbard schedule

Thursday

8-10 a.m.: Breakfast buffet. Fruene. 95kr.
10 a.m.-6 p.m.: Food samples and Too Good To Go presentations. Rabalder. Free.
11 a.m.: SmakSvalbard exhibition. Longyearbryen Library. Free.
11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.: Special Svalbard breakfast. Kroa. 108 kr.
4-5:30 p.m.: Drinking Icebergs tasting w/ Svalbardi. Polfareren. 200 kr.
4-5 p.m.: Champaign tasting. Gamle Nordpolet. 495 kr.
5-6 p.m.: Introduction to Polar Permaculture. Greenhouse. 75 kr.
6-7 p.m.: Chocolate making. Fruene. 300 kr.
6-8 p.m.: Traditional miner’s meal with presentation by Håvar Fjerdingøy about local mining life. Coal Miners Cabins. 595 kr.
7-8 p.m. Farm tour and tastings. Polar Permaculture. 75 kr.
7-10 p.m.: Cider tasting w/ accompanying dishes. Polfareren. 650 kr.
7-9 p.m.: Five-beer tasting w/ tapas. Svalbard Brewery. 450 kr.
7-11 p.m.: Pop-up dinner w/ wine tastings by White Rabbit Moscow. Gruvelagertet. 1,995 kr.

Friday
6:30-9 a.m.: BreafastBeat featuring dance music, food and smoothies. Rabalder. 120/195 kr.
10 a.m.-6 p.m.: Too Good To Go presentations. Lomersenteret. Free.
11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Arctic cooking workshop preparing two-course lunch. Polar Permaculture. 250 kr.
11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.: Special Svalbard breakfast. Kroa. 108 kr.
1-4 p.m.: Wilderness lunch, including transport and presentation about polar bears. Camp Barentz. 1,045 kr.
3-4:30 p.m.: Champaign tasting. Polfareren. 485 kr.
4:30 p.m.: Drinking Icebergs water tasting w/ Svalbardi. Polfareren. 200 kr.
5-7:30 p.m.: Seal served four ways dinner. Mary Ann’s Polarrigg. 995 kr.
5:30-7 p.m.: “Old vs. New” wine tasting. Huset. 800 kr.
6 p.m.: Friday beer social. Svalbard Brewery. Free entry.
6-8 p.m.: Vegetarian/vegan buffet w/ dessert. Fruene. 400 kr.
7-10 p.m.: Japan of Svalbard and “FOR GOD’s SAKE.” Sushi KITA. 185 kr.
7-11 p.m.: Snacks, wine and music. Polfareren. Price TBA.
7-11 p.m.: Formal meal w/ Svalbard sovereignty presentation by Per Kyrre Reymert. Spitsbergen Hotel. 950 kr.
7 p.m.: Five-course pop-up dinner by the Palace Grill. DJ afterward. Svalbar. 690 kr.
8-11 p.m.: Movie: “Ishavblod – The Last Seal Hunter,” w/ discussion with filmmakers. Kulturhuset. 150 kr.
8-11 p.m.: Pop-up dinner w/ wine tastings by White Rabbit Moscow. Gruvelagertet. 1,995 kr.

Saturday
10 a.m. – noon: Breakfast buffet. Fruene. 95 kr.
11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.: Special Svalbard breakfast. Kroa. 108 kr.
1-3 p.m.: Farm immersion. Greenhouse at Polar Permaculture. 75 kr.
Noon-1 p.m.: Overview of Svalbard’s trapping history. Svalbard Museum. Free.
2-4:30 p.m.: Food and wine quiz. Polfareren. 50 kr.
4-8 p.m.: Sushi roll workshop. Sushi KITA. 140 kr. per roll.
5-6 p.m.: Champaign tasting. Gamle Nordpolet. 495 kr.
5-6 p.m.: Chocolate making. Fruene. 300 kr.
6 p.m.: Presentation of history of Svalbard Brewery. Svalbard Brewery. 350 kr.
7-11 p.m.: “Set The House On Fire” traditional meal and concert by Moddi. Huset. 950 kr.
7-11 p.m.:  Trapper’s feast w/ presentation by Stein Åsheim about overwintering in Svalbard. Radisson. 845 kr.
8-11:45 p.m.: Six-course meal by Michelin-starred chef from Copenhagen. Polfareren. 1,600 kr.

Sunday
10 a.m. – noon: Breakfast buffet. Fruene. 95 kr.
11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.: Special Svalbard breakfast. Kroa. 108 kr.
Noon-6 p.m.: Children’s food activities day. Svalbardbuttiken. Free.
1-3 p.m.: Farm immersion. Greenhouse at Polar Permaculture. 75 kr.
1-4 p.m.: Wilderness lunch, including transport and presentation about polar bears. Camp Barentz. 1,045 kr.
5-6 p.m.: Champaign tasting. Gamle Nordpolet. 495 kr.

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