World champion chef Øyvind Bøe Dalelv: Vesterålen created my identity as a chef

Øyvind Bøe Dalelv grew up with salmon in Vesterålen. It created the basis for two world titles in culinary arts since there was, naturally, fish on the menu when he beat the Spaniards at their own national dish: Tapas.

Michaels, Oslo

The Vesterålen archipelago winds its way from Andøya in the north to Lofoten in the south. The region is home to dramatic mountains, narrow fjords, and Arctic landscapes that supply the ingredients for pure, proto-Nordic and traditional food. No one who grows up here can escape the area's proximity to the rivers, and the sea – and the culinary treasures that are found there.

"I was born and raised with salmon, with salmon net pens right outside my living room window in Vesterålen. We eat salmon there almost every day," says Øyvind, who is head chef at the renowned restaurant Michaels in Oslo.

Growing up, he fished wild salmon whenever he could. Preferably together with the current managing director of Andfjord Salmon, Martin Rasmussen. They grew up together in the small Blokken neighbourhood in Vesterålen. It's just a few long stone's throws away from Vesterålen's culinary gem, Kvitnes Gård, and is virtually surrounded by salmon net pens.

Chef Øyvind Bøe Dalelv at his restaurant Michaels in Oslo.

"I know a great deal about what it's like to farm salmon. But also about fishing wild salmon yourself ... So yes, I do have a strong connection to Atlantic salmon. It was a natural part of growing up," says Øyvind.

He adds that the nature in Vesterålen has helped forge his identity as a chef by sparking a passion for pure and authentic flavours from the mountains and the sea.

Started in childhood 

The idea of eventually making a living from cooking fantastic food was never far away, with a father as an inspiration. But it was far from a given that he would end up securing a world championship in tapas.

"I began my culinary career at an early age. It started at home in the kitchen with my mum and dad. My father worked as a chef, so I started working in a kitchen when I was 14 or 15 years old, starting out as a cleaning assistant and dish washer. So, it started way back then. After that, it just evolved," he said.

Chef Øyvind Bøe Dalelv and CEO of Andfjord Salmon, Martin Rasmussen.

The phone rang one day in 2017. The ensuing conversation with the Norwegian Seafood Council's representative in Spain went something like this:

"Hello, Øyvind. Can you take part in the World Championships in Tapas in two or three weeks?

"In two or three weeks??? No, I can't at such short notice!"

"Well, you simply must compete."

So that's how it turned out.

Øyvind has never been timid and accepted the challenge on the fly. There were 35 nations competing. All of them offered their best products, such as Japan, which of course competed with wagyu beef.

Consigned Spain to second place

"With such short notice, I had to wing it a little bit. I ended up going with Norwegian clipfish. I made a white bacalao dish with lots of cream and butter. Then I stuffed the bacalao into Jerusalem artichoke shells from Tromsø, which I then deep fried," Øyvind says about the dish he prepared for the final.

Super simple Andfjord salmon tartare, made by chef Øyvind Bøe Dalelv.

Norwegian clipfish and a young Vesterål local sealed a victory ahead of the Spanish chef, whom, the story goes, did not appear at the after-party following the victory party that night.

It should be said that Øyvind was not completely inexperienced. He first became world champion in 2011, at the World Championship for Young Chefs. And he has since gone on to win both the Norwegian King's Cup and the Nordic Championship. And he has worked at prestigious restaurants, including Statholdergaarden and Eik.

"Becoming a world champion is one of the biggest things you can experience," says Øyvind.

To those who have hopes that he will win even more titles, he says that those days are over – for good.

More world championships?

"I'm completely done competing. I'm now going to focus on creating restaurants and nurturing young up and coming talent. I want to help other budding chefs flourish. It's very motivating," says the chef.

Today he is head chef at Michaels, a top gourmet destination housed in a former transformer station in Briskeby in Oslo.

World Champion in tapas Øyvind Bøe Dalelv.

"My goal here at Michaels is for the guests to be satisfied, and for those of us who work here to have a good time. Michaels is intended to be a restaurant that anyone can go to. It should not only be for Oslo's exclusive west side, but for the whole city. Guests should come here to have a fantastic experience in the form of delicious food and drink. And they should love a good party," says Øyvind.

However, he still often travels for inspiration, including heading back to Barcelona and the world's best tapas restaurants.

Campeonato Mundial de Tapas

"As a chef, you are never finished your education. I love Barcelona and I go there a couple of times a year. I simply must. I was there last summer, when I went to the most authentic tapas places."

Which ones are they, then?

"Cal Pep is one of my favourites. It is the most authentic, along with Bar Canete and Boca Grande," says the chef.

Cal Pep has been recognised as one of the world's best restaurants for three decades, while Bar Canete is known for being a regular haunt of Lionel Messi and the other Barca stars. Bar Canete has a coveted chambre séparée that you have to pass through the frenetic kitchen to reach.

"Can you get a table whenever you want, then?"

"I've got an email signature that says Copa del Monde de Tapa 2017. That makes it a little easier to get a table," laughs the star chef.

Andfjord Salmon is a Norwegian company established in 2014. The company is listed at Oslo Stock Exchange (ANDF), and located at Kvalnes on the northernmost island of Andøya in Vesteraalen, Norway.