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Of Bread and Circuses

Four top-notch chefs make a spectacle of themselves

Author Andy Isaacson Photography Christian Berset

flyingculinarycircusNORWAY – They once arrived in a paraglider, riding down from a 2,000-foot mountain above Cape Town to cook for Miss South Africa. Another time they walked out of the sea and began preparing scallops for guests on the beach. They have set themselves on fire (intentionally) and performed magic tricks and Benihana-style buffoonery. At a comedy club in Norway last year, they dressed as pilots and flight attendants to serve dishes from different countries during a “culinary journey” that lasted four hours.

The Flying Culinary Circus—as the four Norwegian chefs behind all this wild-and-crazy-guys-with-spatulas shtick call themselves—began as “just a big coincidence,” the founders say. Each had been working at a different restaurant when, in 2005, a gig to represent Norwegian food culture in New York City brought them together in the same kitchen. The four ended up sharing a couple of bottles of wine as they waited for the guests to arrive, and in doing so they discovered a special chemistry; the guests seemed to find them charming as well. Soon after, they were hired to cook for events in Hollywood, and they’ve since taken their act to 46 countries.

All around age 30, chefs Hans Kristian Larsen, Mathias Spieler Bugge, Tor Jørgen Kamprud Arnesen and Trond Svendgård consider themselves “the first and only chef group traveling together around the world.” They’ve cooked in Moscow, Miami, Tuscany and Brazil, at royal weddings and awards shows and for celebs like Shakira, Pharrell Williams and the Black Eyed Peas.

And, handily, each has a complimentary specialty. Svendgård, who hails from northern Norway, is the seafood guy; in 2003 he won gold at the Bocuse d’Or international cooking competition. Larsen is a trained butcher who worked at Bagatelle, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Oslo. The son of a noted herb expert, Arnesen grew up “in a greenhouse in the middle of nowhere,” and now “knows about herbs and vegetables you did not even know you could eat.” Bugge makes sauces and soups with a flair acquired during stints at luxury hotels in Singapore and Dubai.

With a cookbook out (in Norwegian, but an English translation is in the works), plus a smartphone recipe app and kitchen products like a wooden cutting board with an iPad holder, the members of the Flying Culinary Circus appear to be well on their way to establishing an international brand. Their first love, however, remains cooking—recent creations include a flaming sushi roll and a sugar “balloon” dessert filled with smoke and helium.

“It’s our job to entertain and shock our guests and share the fun of cooking,” Larsen says. “Hopefully, down the road we’ll be able to build our own little culinary universe.”

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