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Ørjan Johannessen (left) and his team winning the Bocuse d’Or 2015. Photo: Bocuse d’Or
Ørjan Johannessen (left) and his team winning the Bocuse d’Or 2015. Photo: Bocuse d’Or

Food & Drink

The journey to winning Bocuse d’Or – A chef’s tale

Last winter, Ørjan Johannessen became the fifth Norwegian to win the prestigious Bocuse d’Or World Cooking Contest. His life is filled with inspiring travel though he yearns for the calm of his family’s hotel in southern Norway.

Winning means a great deal to me. It’s been a goal for many years. Bocuse d’Or has given me the opportunity to travel the world and meet and inspire chefs, young and old.

I love traveling – it has broadened my gastronomic horizons. I’m also delighted that you can get good food at airports these days! But when I get home, my family comes first.

I’m also inspired by the people I work with. I have learned most from my mentor, coach, and role model Odd Ivar Solvold at his restaurant in Sandefjord. For me, the most important thing is that the team works well together, and everyone believes in what you are doing.

‘I love traveling– it has broadened my gastronomic horizons’

I seek new ideas from abroad. Since winning the competition, I have been in New York and Mauritius. Next on the list is Budapest, where I will give a lecture about Bocuse d’Or, our journey, and our approach to cooking.

This is Ørjan Johannesen

Illustration: Graham Samuels

Born: Autesvoll, Norway

Career: Ørjan Johannessen (30) has been cooking since he was a child. In January, he was named Best Chef among 24 international candidates at Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France. He also won Bocuse d’Or Europe in 2012 and was named Norwegian Chef of the Year in 2011 and 2013.

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I will also be a guest chef and will prepare simplified versions of my Bocuse d’Or dishes. When you prepare food in someone else’s kitchen, you have to adapt yourself to the place you’re in. And you need to get to know the people there so that everyone – staff and guests – enjoys the experience.

My parents are both chefs. They have owned and run the Bekkjarvik Gjestgiveri hotel and restaurant in southern Norway since 1982. My twin brother Arnt is the chef de cuisine there, and I help out when I have time. We grew up here, so it felt entirely natural for us to follow the same path. We always loved to cook.

At Bekkjarvik, we have a local focus. We think it’s important to use local raw ingredients. Fish, meat, and vegetables are all plentiful here. We prepare dishes that guests want and strive to create a wonderful atmosphere for everyone. 

It’s difficult to replicate food you have prepared in a competition. But naturally you can see some of the attention to detail and inspiration behind the Bocuse d’Or dishes on the menu at Bekkjarvik. Some inquisitive guests expect to see my crispy egg filled with leek and Kamchatka crab on the menu!

Norway has now won Bocuse d’Or five times. I think it’s partly because we have time to experiment and practice. In Norway, we don’t have as many Michelin-starred restaurants as Sweden and Denmark. Perhaps that makes Bocuse d’Or a bit more important to us.

Norway does not have a strong gastronomic tradition, so chefs have more of a free hand when it comes to raw ingredients and approach. Although French cuisine has traditionally led the way, in the shape of famous restaurants such as Bagatelle and Le Canard in Oslo, a Nordic wave is becoming increasingly noticeable. Personally I love fish and a good sauce. Good old fashioned cooking  – great flavors and healthy proteins.

I have plenty of irons in the fire right now. First on the list is a pop-up restaurant we are opening in New York in November. It will be a bit like a Cuban paladar, giving the feeling of dining in a private home, but with a focus on Norwegian food. Then I will be touring Piedmont in Italy. I am also writing a book called The Journey, about our path to winning Bocuse d’Or.

I spend a lot of time experimenting in the kitchen, and I put pressure on myself to develop. It’s all about discipline. You don’t need a chef screaming in your face to become better – the key is what you want to achieve yourself.

Text: Lars Collin

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