Located in the heart of Oslo, Norway, Restaurant Kontrast is easy to notice. The big, wooden door stands out from others on Maridalsveien, a modern street of a modern European city.
Inside Kontrast, the feeling that this isn’t a place to miss stands out even more. Kontrast is a modern restaurant with a stark, industrial feel created by a concrete floor, some shady lighting, exposed pipework and an open kitchen.
The main idea behind Kontrast’s food is ambitious yet challenging. They focus on using ingredients that are both local and at the peak of their season. Their main goals are to offer classy, organic and ethical ingredients from within Norway and to showcase the farmers who produce them. They also claim to use animals that live freely.
Kontrast was awarded one Michelin star in 2016 that the restaurant still holds.
The Michelin Guide describes Kontrast’s food as: “Seasonal, organic Norwegian produce (that) is used to create refined, original, full-flavoured dishes whose apparent simplicity often masks their complex nature.”
A chef whose dream came true
The man behind all this is Mikael Svensson, a young and ambitious chef from Skåne region, Sweden. Opening an own restaurant has always been his dream.
“Ever since I decided to become a chef, I wanted to open my own restaurant. It took 15 years and my dream became true. I believe that most chefs want to open their own places to really express themselves, to do whatever they want,” says Svensson.
Svensson started his career in a small town called Kristianstad in Skåne. His first job was in Oslo before he left to see more of Europe. Svensson has worked in a lot of different places across northern and southern Europe.
“There are places from Michelin star restaurants in Sweden, Norway and Spain to more casual places and countryside restaurants. To name a few there are 28+ in Gothenburg, Martin Berasategui and Quique Dacosta in Spain and Karlaby Kro in the south of Sweden where I’m from.”
Before Svensson opened Kontrast, he found himself in Oslo because he received a job offer he couldn’t refuse at the time. After this, Svensson moved between a couple jobs before deciding to open his own restaurant. When the time was right to open his own place, the decision to open it in Oslo was easy one to make.
“I thought it was most logic to stay in Oslo. I already knew all the suppliers and the Norwegian market. At that point it did not make any sense to move anywhere and start all over again after spending five years in Norway.”
Story behind Kontrast
The name Kontrast is not a random choice. The word “kontrast” is the Swedish translation of word contrast. The Cambridge Dictionary describes contrast as: “an obvious difference between two or more things”. Svensson uses this idea to influence his work.
“For me the word covers everything. Kontrast is in the plating and the food; hot to cold, sour to sweet and crunchy to soft. I like to have texture on the plate. I think Kontrast reflects what I am doing really well.”
Kontrast’s way of life is challenging
Kontrast’s idea is to get the ingredients from as close as possible, and the Scandinavian countryside has a lot to offer. Kontrast has close contact and dialog with different small organic farmers and they work together with them
“We also forage a lot in the season. We use what the farms have. We don’t ask for things or make things which is not in season. We also preserve things for the winter when nothing is growing,” says Svensson.
In Europe, especially in northern countries, seasons differ a lot. In summer the temperature is around 20 Celsius, but the summer is short. In the winter, which can last up to six months, temperatures are usually below zero, sometimes reaching under minus 30 Celsius. It is challenging for a restaurant that wants to use ingredients when they are in season. During winter it is impossible to grow vegetables outside, says Svensson. Because of this, Kontrast’s menu is living, evolving, and changes often, sometimes even weekly.
“We just change dishes here and there. Depending on what we get and how long the season is for different ingredients,” Svensson says and continues about the challenge.
“Sometimes it is really hard to come up with something. Sometimes it just floats and there is too much I want to do and not enough space on the menu, so I have to leave things for another time.”
Seafood is one of Svensson’s favourite types of food. He believes Norwegian seafood is the best in the world. Oslo has an advantage due to its location. Restaurants can get fish from both lakes and the ocean.
“Norwegian salmon is known worldwide, and from the lakes we get fishes that only exist in Scandinavia. Getting in touch with right suppliers and fishermen allow us to get fish straight from the waters. It simply doesn’t get better.”
You could argue the ideas Kontrast has are modern and groundbreaking, but Svensson doesn’t see it that way.
“For me it is not something revolutionary, it is logical, and it is what has been done around the world for ages. But it is something you might forget in the airplane era when everything is available all the time,” the chef says.
The future is unclear
Svensson is a young chef with a long career ahead of him. He has already opened his own restaurant and has many opportunities available to him. But Svensson is modest when it comes to his future.
“It is hard to say; I don’t think I will hold on to Kontrast forever. It takes a lot of time. I love what I do for now, but you can’t be afraid to evolve into new things. Maybe there will be a new Kontrast, maybe not. Maybe this one will last for 20 years; we just have to see what’s happening. But my plan for now is just to keep pushing making this in to a better restaurant.”