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Chef of the Year 2023 - Håvard Werkland!

Speilsalen's Assistant Head Chef wins Årets Kokk 2023 and will go on to compete in Bocuse d'Or Europe 2024; the semi-finals of the World Culinary Championships

Article · 10 min read
Håkon Solbakk, Head Chef at Speilsalen (photo by Wil Lee-Wright), and Håvard Werkland, Assistant Head Chef (photo by BERRE)

UPDATE: Håvard Werkland wins Årets Kokk 2023 and will be Norway's representative at Bocuse d'Or Europe in Trondheim in 2024!

Håvard Werkland (right) with his coach Lisbeth Størvold (left) and commis chef (Leon Haarberg Nilsen)

Håvard impressed the judges with his two servings: Halibut 'Head to tail' (three different dishes using halibut, served simultaneously) and Bounty of Trøndelag's History (the chef's platter presentation of Matured Red Cattle Chuck and sides).

Photo: Tom Haga

The chef's plate serving included Ceviche “Amarillo” (pictured above, bottom left) which features marinated and lightly grilled halibut. There was also a Mousseline “soigné” (above, top middle) and warm dish of Sterling White Halibut “au poivre”, which presented fried halibut with longpepper and verbena.

Photo: Tom Haga

The platter serving was an elegant tray centred around Matured Red Cattle Chuck Roll "Nidaros": a flat iron steak in warm spices. The details and sides included a mushroom "naturel", rettich and pear. It was topped with jus flambée, including bone marrow and aquavit. Aquavit was one of several prerequisites of the dish, as was the obligation for the platter to be accompanied by a side dish. Håvard's included seasonal highlights such as kale, turnip and soft and crispy potato.

Håvard scored well with the judges on all counts and also won the subsidiary prize of Best Originality during the competition.

Speilsalen's other representative, Head Chef Håkon Solbakk, finished in fourth place. He also won the prize for Årets Garnefryd ('Best hors d’ oeuvres') and his commis, Melina Wang Brekke, won the coveted prize of Best Commis.

Melina Wang Brekke

The celebrations lasted well into the night. The chefs and their teams are now looking froward to some well-earned time off. They have been working tirelessly for six months and everyone at the hotel is very proud of their achievements.

Now, the focus is on next year's competition here in Trondheim: Bocuse d'Or Europe, 19th-20th March 2024.

Tickets for the finals have now been released, with many more events around the occasion soo to be announced:

Håkon and Håvard's journey to Årets Kokk

Britannia Hotel had not one, but two candidates in the running for the title of Norway’s Årets Kokk (Chef of the Year) - Håkon Solbakk, Head Chef at Speilsalen and Håvard Werkland, Assistant Head Chef at Speilsalen.

The journey to become the world's best chef

The winner of Årets Kokk will qualify for the world’s most prestigious culinary competition, Bocuse D’Or, the European leg of which is being held in Trondheim in March 2024. It will be an historic event for the city and it means that next year, one of these talented chefs could be representing Norway on the world stage… on home turf. 

The World Culinary Championships, Bocuse d'Or, takes place in Lyon every other year. Photo Fredrik Ringe

The heat is on

Bocuse d’Or, also known as the World Culinary Championship, is considered to be the world’s most prestigious cooking competition. It is named after the chef Paul Bocuse and takes place every other year in Lyon. Since the inaugural event in 1987, the competition has grown in size and sophistication, to become one of the most significant culinary fairs in the world. In 2008, the format was expanded to require candidates to qualify through continental semi-finals. 

Trondheim will be the second Norwegian city to host Bocuse d’Or Europe, after Stavanger, which hosted the first ever European semi-final in 2008. Both cities were considered strong candidates for the 2024 event, with Trondheim eventually being awarded the honour: 

Our Norwegian friends have contributed a great deal to the development and reputation of the competition, and their chefs and supporters are proof of this. We are very happy that the next European selection will take place in Trondheim, Norway

Jérôme Bocuse, President of Bocuse d’Or
Some of the bountiful seafood available along the Trøndersk coastline. Photo Wil Lee-Wright / Britannia Hotel

Home of Nordic Flavours

Britannia Hotel’s candidates for next year’s competition, Håkon and Håvard, have been working for Speilsalen since 2019. The restaurant, which was opened by previous Head Chef Christopher Davidsen (Bocuse d’Argent 2017), won its first star the following year. Under Håkon and Håvard’s stewardship, Speilsalen’s seafood-based, fine dining experience has gained rave reviews at a time when Norwegian gastronomy is making waves on the international scene.

Bocuse d’Or cited Norway’s “exceptional gastronomic heritage and an incredible diversity of products: meat, fish, seafood, cheese” as key factors in the decision to bring the competition to Trondheim in 2024. The food region of Trondheim and Trøndelag was awarded the distinction of European Region of Gastronomy in 2022, and is known as the “Home of Nordic Flavours”. At the heart of this unlikely food success story is the old Viking capital of Trondheim, with its bustling restaurant scene and wildly popular food festivals. The city was host to the Michelin Nordic Awards in 2020 (where three of its restaurants gained/retained a star) and continues to draw international acclaim and interest, including being host of the World Cheese Awards in October 2023.

Håkon and Håvard are both from the county and so the potential to be representing their country on the world stage, in front of their friends and family, is tantalisingly close.

Håkon Solbakk (centre) accompanied by Commis chef Melina Wang Brekke (left) and coach Live Krangnes Edvardsen (right). Photo by EBS Photography

Qualifying for Bocuse

In order to qualify for Bocuse d’Or Europe in Trondheim, the chefs will have to finish first place in today's Årets Kokk competition, which takes place in Stavanger. The subsequent Bocuse d'Or Europe competition (March 2024) brings together twenty of the best chefs from around the continent, and the top ten go through to compete on the world stage in Lyon in 2025. 

The successful candidate from Norway would be heavily favoured to go through to the world finals, such is the prowess of Norwegian chefs in the competition in recent years. Norway, together with France, is the country with the most international Bocuse d’Or awards. Since it was first held in 1987, Norway has won five gold, four silver, and four bronze medals.

Norway's Bocuse candidate in 2023, Filip August Bendi, and his team achieved a podium finish with second place, which is known as Bocuse d’Argent. Bendi was pipped to first place by Danish candidate Brian Mark Hansen, completing a strong performance by Nordic countries, which have taken a stunning total of 11 podium positions in the past five competitions.

Håvard Werkland, Assistant Head Chef at Speilsalen (Britannia Hotel's Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant) and candidate for Årets Kokk 2023. Photo Wil Lee-Wright / Britannia Hotel

Stiff competition

This year, the Norwegian Culinary Association has selected five candidates to compete in Årets Kokk:

Aleksander Løkkeberg Vartdal, 28, Thon Hotels
Aron Espeland, 26, Brasserie France (Oslo)
Håkon Solbakk, 31, Speilsalen
Håvard Werkland, 28, Speilsalen
Runa Ailin Kvendseth, 25, Söl (Stavanger)

Monday 18th September, from 2pm onwards

Candidates were selected based on their applications, which included CVs, descriptions of their motivations, recipes (based on select criteria) and photos of their cooking. 

Håkon Solbakk, Speilsalen’s Head Chef, prepering for Årets Kokk 2023 at Braattan Gaard. Photo by Wil Lee-Wright / Britannia Hotel

Håkon Solbakk

Håkon Solbakk had a strong resume, which drew attention to his deep respect for sustainability and for the raw materials he works with, inspired in no small part by his upbringing in rural North Trøndelag.

'Høyrygg Trøa' - Chef Håkon Solbakk's meat dish as part of his application for Årets Kokk 2023. Photo by Tom Haga

“My focus is also to make good decisions when it comes to choices of the raw materials we use in the kitchen,” explains Speilsalen’s Head Chef. “I prefer to work with short-distanced, local produce and sustainable food… and I believe that we must use more small and local suppliers.” 

Both here in Trøndelag and in the rest of Norway, we find ourselves in the smørøye* of some of the world's finest ingredients from the sea, the soil, the forest and the mountain. We are lucky to be able to work with farmers, cheese factories and bakeries that deliver real quality, and we have to make sure that these unique raw materials can also be delivered and used in the future.

Håkon Solbakk, Speilsalen’s Head Chef

* ‘smørøye’ is the luscious, buttery hollow in the middle of the porridge – a very desirable place for you spoon to find itself! 

Håkon Solbakk, Speilsalen's Head Chef, competing in Årets Kokk 2021 in Oslo. Photo by Wil Lee-Wright / Britannia Hotel.

Håkon, who is training for the competition at Britannia’s kitchen garden, Braattan Gaard, came second in Årets Kokk 2021, losing out to the aforementioned Filip August Bendi. He is motivated to go one step further this year.

Håvard Werkland; Assistant Head Chef at Speilsalen and one of two chefs from Britannia Hotel competing in Årets Kokk 2023. Photo by BERRE

Håvard Werkland

Håkon’s Britannia adversary is Håvard Werkland. Like his Head Chef, Håvard also has exceptional competition experience behind him. His impressive CV includes highlights such as first place in the Norwegian Championships in Culinary Arts (2018) and assisting Chef Davidsen as commis in Chef of the Year (2015, first place) and silver in both Bocuse d’Or Europe (2016) and Lyon (2017). In 2019 however, he finished off the podium for the first time in his career:

“When I competed for Årets Kokk last time, in 2019, it was also the same year we opened Speilsalen,” explains Håvard, who was part of Chef Davidsen’s opening team at Britannia Hotel. “Up until that point I had never been outside of the podium, but on that occasion I did not put down the hours which are necessary to compete at this level. It was a big let-down for me and mentally I felt like I would not be able to compete anymore. But when I found out that we were going to host the competition in Trondheim, I knew I had to go for it again!”

'Ganefryden' - 'The Delight of the Palate' is a potato tapas dish created by Håvard as part of his successful applicancy to Årets Kokk 2023. Photo by BERRE

Håkon and Håvard submitted their applications for Årets Kokk in February 2023 (having used their respective Christmas holidays to develop their menus and take photos!). As soon as they received their place in the competition, they got to work creating completely new techniques and menus.

Norwegian beef with winter vegetables, the 'Bocuse' dish Håvard submitted as part of his Årets Kokk applicancy. Phoot by BERRE

Such is the complexity of their cuisine, even before they received the actual task for Årets Kokk 2023, the chefs were hard at work developing techniques and designs in anticipation of the task ahead. It is only now, a few weeks ahead of the competition that all the elements come together and the chefs can work on delivering the complicated meals on time.

The panels of judges at Årets Kokk is made up known personalities from the culinary world, many of whom are previous winners of the competition themselves. Photo Wil Lee-Wright

Every Second Counts

In late April, the chefs received their challenges: to create a three-course meal using halibut in each dish, followed by a meat dish of Norwegian beef which is presented on a serving platter and portioned live in front of the judges. The ‘plate serving’ (the three-course meal) is to be served simultaneously to fourteen judges and one photographer. The first dish can be cold or tempered, the second needs to be tempered or hot, and the third must be served hot. As well as the taste of the food, the candidates are marked on warmth, so time is very much of the essence.

What the chefs do with each dish is only limited by their creative intuition, though there is an exacting set of criteria and extra stipulations which each chef must adhere to. For example, the plate serving must be combined with sea urchin, flat oysters or mussels, as well as Norwegian cucumbers on the main course. The meat course itself is no Sunday Roast, with the expectation on the chefs to create visually stunning presentations putting extra pressure on the already demanding set of criteria, which includes challenges such as the taste profile of traditional Norwegian aquavit to be incorporated into one of the garnishes. 

All of Håkon and Håvard’s competition experience will be called into action when it comes to delivering the food on time. The plate serving goes out five hours after each contestant’s staggered starts, followed by the meat 45 minutes later. The meat and garnishes are presented on an enormous circular platter which the chefs carry past the judges (who invariably want them to pause while they take photos with their phones!). Then the clock starts again; eight minutes to carve, portion, serve and sauce beautiful plates of warm food to each of the judges.

The techniques and experience which the contestants draw upon here will be critical to their success or failure in the competition.

Service in Speilsalen: Håvard Werkland, Assistant Head Chef, and Håkon Solbakk, Executive Head chef, serving customers at chef's table in the restaurant. Photo Wil Lee-Wright / Britannia Hotel

Team effort

“Not only must the food be good, the team must work well together and one must keep a cool head in this very pressing situation,” explains Arne Sørvig, general manager of the Norwegian Gastronomy Foundation, which organises Årets Kokk. “Without hesitation, I would say that winning Chef of the Year or Bocuse d'Or is one of the most complicated things a chef can do.”

Håkon is accompanied by Commis chef Melina Wang Brekke, 25, from Trondheim originally and now working as a cook at Punk Royal in Stockholm. His coach, the only person allowed to communicate with him during the competition, is Live Krangnes Edvardsen, 25, from Surnadal and current Head Chef at Credo in Trondheim.

Team Håvard is completed by Commis chef Leon Haarberg Nilsen, 22, who assisted Bocuse d’Argent Bendi in Lyon last year (and won the prized accolade of Best Commis) and is currently consulting for Thon Hotels. Håvard’s coach is Lisbeth Wollum Størvold, 42, from Oppdal and head Chef at Søstrene Karlsen in Trondheim.

The competition Årets Kokk takes place on 18th September and can be streamed in its entirety on Nordic Food Live.

The final dish will be delivered at approximately 7.45pm and the announcement of the winner is due for 9.30pm.

The leader team at Speilsalen, Britannia Hotel's fine dining restaurant, summer 2023. From left: Restaurant Manager, Gina Endresen; Assistant Head Chef, Håvard Werkland; Executive Head Chef, Håkon Solbakk; Head Sommelier, Nikolai Haram Svorte. Pictured at the restaurant's caviar bar.