“We are in the right place”

Morten Hetland

Morten Hetland

In 2008, Signe (53) and Torsten (50) moved to the small village of Fister in Hjelmeland municipality. Their sons, Sebastian (31), Leon (24), and Ole (19), joined them in the move to Norway. "It has gone really well for all three," Signe and Torsten concludes, 14 years later.

The Schläwicke family lived in Liebenwalde, a German village with about 4,200 inhabitants. Torsten worked as a consultant in Deutsche Bank, while Signe worked with people who needed specially adapted workplaces. Yet, something was missing:

Ole had finished kindergarten, Leon was in elementary school, and Sebastian had completed the 10th grade when the family decided to move away from the familiar to create a new future in Norway.

– “We moved to Norway to give the boys better opportunities to live good lives. We had discussed this with the boys beforehand, and everyone except Sebastian supported the plan and decision. It took a few years before he too understood that this was good for us. Looking back now, after 14 years in Norway, it has gone really well for all three,” Signe and Torsten say, who are now involved in the restaurant that Sebastian runs.

– “If I had been of age then, I wouldn’t be here in Hjelmeland today. We lived only an hour’s train ride from Berlin, and had both a pizzeria, kebab shop, and several stores in Liebenwalde. And then we were to move to Fister, which had one Joker store… Yes, in fact, only one Joker store,” Sebastian adds.

COINCIDENCES AND LUCK

Sebastian had a difficult start to his new life in Norway. He had to move from his friends in his hometown to a country where he didn’t know the language. He was about to start high school in a country where everything and everyone was unknown to him. However, coincidences and a good deal of luck would lead him to become a chef in his own restaurant.

– “I had no plans to become a chef, so it was just luck that I chose restaurant and food studies, and found out that I actually liked to cook,” Sebastian says, who commuted to the then Rygjabø high school on Finnøy for three years.

– “I was tired of school and had a bit too much absence on my diploma when I was about to apply for an apprenticeship, but with a bit of luck I ended up at ‘Kokkene Kommer’. There were many talented people there who taught me a lot about everything from catering to cafeteria. Later, I worked for two years at Fisketorget in Stavanger, and then two years at Bare Natur in Bergen. It was only in Bergen that I began to notice the quality of cooking with local ingredients,” explains Sebastian.

LOCAL INGREDIENTS: Sebastian checks the quality of today’s supply of vegetables from Førre torgsalg/gardsutsalg. As usual, the quality is top-notch. “Only good ingredients can make good food,” Sebastian asserts. (Photo: Morten Hetland)

In the fall of 2019, Sebastian moved back to Germany when he was offered a job at the restaurant in the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, one of the most famous luxury hotels in Germany. But it was a short-lived joy.

“There was no contact with the guests, no contact with the suppliers, and a standard that I didn’t want to join. On the train ride to work on the fourth day, I wrote my resignation on a piece of paper I found in my pocket,” Sebastian says.

Sebastian called home to his father to tell him what he had done and was surprised when his father didn’t scold him for giving up a secure job.

“No, then I just became even more proud of Sebastian; that he chose away something he couldn’t stand for,” says Torsten.

Sebastian had always had a plan to run something himself, instead of working for others, and in May 2020, he was finally able to open the doors to his own restaurant, at home in Hjelmeland: Smaken av Ryfylke (The Taste of Ryfylke).

A FAMILY PROJECT

“The restaurant is a family project, and this is what has carried the entire project,” Torsten believes.

Only Leon, the middle child in the sibling group, gets away from running the restaurant. He lives in Kristiansand and works as a salesperson for Storebrand. Everyone else, Signe, Ole, Torsten, and Sebastian, is engaged in their respective fields: Signe is the always-smiling server. Ole is in charge of IT, the cash register system, and the website. Torsten controls the budget, calculations, and accounting. Sebastian develops the menu and ensures that guests have good flavor experiences.

“What still impresses us is that Sebastian can ‘think of the flavors’ at home on the couch while renewing the menu,” Signe and Torsten recount.

“He puts the flavors together in his head, based on what seasonal raw materials he can get. And the explosion of taste you get when you put everything on the fork at the same time… Sebastian already knows about that taste experience before he has tasted the dishes,” Torsten elaborates.

ECONOMIC AND PRACTICAL: In addition to being responsible for the economy and administration, Torsten has become the jack-of-all-trades at Taste of Ryfylke. – He does everything from answering emails to setting up parasols. He takes care of everything that happens behind the scenes; the things guests don’t notice, Sebastian tells. (Photo: Morten Hetland)

One of these taste explosions was this year’s Gladmat dish at Hjelmeland Naturally’s stand: Salmon mousse with smoked salmon from Mikals Laks, strawberries from Fisterbær (Tveitane farm), and rhubarb from Førre torgsalg/gardsutsalg. The idea to serve salmon mousse came from sous-chef Henrik Langkås, while Sebastian tasted his way to the various raw materials and flavors that should be included.

“It hits on innovation, presentation, and taste. Very nice when someone dares. Skilled people in Hjelmeland,” Harald Birkevold, a food critic at Stavanger Aftenblad, wrote when he gave the rating 5 of 6 points (requires subscription).

“A rating of 5 is not good enough. I spoke with many others who served food of the highest quality, but they were also from smaller places outside Stavanger, and none of them got more than a rating of 5. Well, the newspaper can write what they want, but it is ultimately the customers who decide, and many of them came back and bought the dish several times. That says it all,” Sebastian states confidently.

For the sake of order, it can be mentioned that Hjelmeland Naturlegvis’ stand at Gladmat 2022 received a total of five nominations and the prize for this year’s stand. Taste of Ryfylke participated with both dishes, chefs, and servers at the stand, along with representatives from Hjelmeland municipality and other local food producers.

GLADMAT DISH: Torsten and Signe tasting the salmon mousse, Hjelmeland Naturlegvis’s Gladmat dish 2022, served by Taste of Ryfylke and made of local ingredients. (Photo: Morten Hetland)

Sebastian knows that he is hard on himself when a rating of 5 is not good enough, but at the same time, he is painfully aware that if he is not strict, the quality of his food will drop.

“It’s about finding a balance between being strict enough on quality while making sure not to hit a wall,” says Torsten, looking at his son with affection.

The Schlawicke family knows that they already deliver quality. Sebastian was selected to be the food professional responsible for Rogaland in connection with the International Green Week in Berlin in January this year.

“It’s a huge recognition to be asked to represent Rogaland and Norway,” Torsten believes, who found it sad that the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to Grüne Woche 2022.

LOCAL INGREDIENTS = QUALITY

The Norwegian participation in the Grüne Woche is a collaboration between the County Governors of Rogaland, Møre og Romsdal, and Vestland, and aims to contribute to the development of Norway as a food and tourism nation, with a clear regional and local identity.

“When we planned the participation in Grüne Woche 2022, I clearly noticed that all the local food producers work together and promote each other. Here it is Us, us, us! instead of Me, me, me!” says Sebastian.

The local food producers have included Sebastian in everything from cheese-making and harvesting of kale, to fishing and lobster trapping. This autumn, he will get to see how the local cider producers make apple cider.

The list of producers that supply to the Taste of Ryfylke is long: Askvik Fruit and Berries, Fisterbær (Tveitane farm), Uragarden, Ryfylke Farm Dairy, Helgøyfrukt, Hovda Farm, Førre Market Sales/Farm Sales, Sævland Fishery, Eiane Farm, Buhagen, Mikal’s Salmon, OmCider and Apal Cider. Additionally, they bake their own bread in the restaurant’s kitchen.

“Without these skilled and cooperative producers, I wouldn’t be able to make such good food. No one else can deliver such excellent quality. It may cost a bit more in purchases , but the taste is worth it,” Sebastian asserts.

WAITRESS: Signe also worked as a waitress when she was younger, and has now resigned her permanent job at Fister kindergarten to work full-time in the restaurant. (Photo: Morten Hetland)

Taste of Ryfylke, as mentioned, opened in May 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and has not had a normal operation for a single year. First, it was completely closed, offering delivery of food, then it was an open restaurant with “the meter” and a limited number of seats. On two occasions, it has also been forbidden to serve alcohol with food. Torsten and Sebastian describe it as an uphill race, where the family has always had to find new solutions.

“It will be interesting to see how this year’s Christmas party season will be, without limitations and infection control measures,” says Sebastian.

For this year’s Christmas party season, Taste of Ryfylke has plans to expand: They have bought the first floor of Ryfylke Brygge, which previously housed the Spa Hotel Velvære, and are in full swing converting the spa section into a banquet hall.

“I just got a new job as project manager at Grieg Seafood, but I will also work for Taste of Ryfylke Event, which among other things will operate the banquet halls and conference department in close connection with the restaurant. With the new banquet hall, we will be able to accommodate both businesses and larger private arrangements. Hopefully, we are ready for launch just before Christmas, so we reach the Christmas party season,” explains Torsten, while he shows the premises that are being renovated.

RENOVATION: The spa section of the closed Spa Hotel Velvære is to become the new banquet hall for Taste of Ryfylke. (Photo: Morten Hetland)

Taste of Ryfylke is still in the investment phase. The Schläwicke family is keen on building a name and reputation, becoming known, and being visible. Even though the period between January and March provides little income, the restaurant does very well in the summer season. At least well enough for them to choose to invest and expand after only two years of operation.

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