Emily's Big Feast: The Big Idea

August 27, 2012

We want you to throw big parties and win big (big!) prizes from Le Creuset. (Find out more here.)

All week, Emily Vikre (a.k.a. fiveandspice) will be strategizing, planning, and cooking up a Scandinavian independence day celebration. A 17-course celebration, to be exact.

Today: The inspiration for this week's feast -- and the history behind the celebration.

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17th of May Celebrations

In a way this whole crazy project began with my mother. And not just because she gave birth to me -- and, I mean, not to sound self-satisfied or anything but, without me this feast just wouldn't have happened. But, rather, it started with her because of the food traditions she instilled in me. They are strong traditions. Traditions that I continue to preserve myself because they have become part of who I am.

My mother came to the U.S. from Norway when she was in her twenties. That right there actually tells you a good deal about her. Though I believe the expression was originally applied to the Brits, it is also quite true that "there is nothing so Norwegian as a Norwegian outside of Norway." My father happens to be of strong Norwegian heritage as well (his own father was fresh off the boat). Then add to this the fact that I grew up in Northern Minnesota, where being Scandinavian is about as uncommon as having eyes. When you sum it all together, you'll find the result is that my upbringing was fiercely Scandinavian. (Tiger Mom, you've got nothing on Viking Mom.)


As a result of all the Scandinavian-ness coursing through the Minnesota water and our veins, one of the most important feast days for my family, and indeed for our whole neighborhood, each year was and still is Syttende Mai, or the 17th of May, Norway's Constitution Day. (That would be the day when we finally threw off the yoke of the Swedes. Notoriously oppressive, those Swedes.)

Syttende Mai is a big deal in Norway. Everyone dresses in their folk costumes, called bunads, and there is a parade in every town, followed by feasts and cookouts. We always tried to make just as big a deal of Syttende Mai up in Northern Minnesota. We did our best to conjure up the color and excitement of an entire country celebrating. Every year we have donned our bunads, held a parade, drank a little too much aquavit, and laid out a massive smorgasbord of all of our favorite foods. It's a spectacular display of woolen embroidery, flag waving, Hardanger fiddling, singing, and abundant cream and potatoes.


Parade 2

Now that I live in Boston, I do my best to carry on the tradition, to recreate the patriotic fervor in my own home. (Unless we can make it to Minnesota or Norway, in which case we just join in the fun!) I get dressed up, force my friends to march around the neighborhood with me while my husband plays the Norwegian national anthem on guitar, and I serve a feast with as many traditional foods as I can churn out in my little kitchen.

This year, however, I decided to take things in a new direction. A New Nordic direction, to be exact. I certainly didn't feel like anything was lacking from my usual Syttende Mai celebrations. Never! Our tradition is perfect, as tradition always is to a stalwart. But an idea crept into my mind that I couldn't shake because, you see, people keep sending me articles about Noma. For reasons that should not be even remotely hard to figure out, when any of my friends or family sees something related to both Scandinavia and food, they apparently feel compelled to send it to me. As such, over the past several years, with the rise of Noma and the New Nordic Cuisine to preeminence on the world restaurant stage, I've been receiving a lot of reading material.


I feel a sense of pride that Nordic food is receiving all this attention. Yet, when I look at the dishes from these restaurants, milk skins and foraged weeds, seaweeds and things smoked over hay, they don't seem to have much in common at all with the Nordic dishes I was brought up with, the dishes I count as some of my favorite foods both because of nostalgia as well as because, I'll fess up, I really do love pickled fish and meatballs with gravy.

I began to wonder what Nordic food really means. How might these different manifestations of these northern food traditions fit together? This wondering became obsessing, and the obsessing soon morphed into a plan. I became determined to create a feast. A massive feast. A feast that would visually and philosophically try to represent where I saw the overlap between traditional Scandinavian foods as preserved by immigrants, the New Nordic Cuisine (particularly as embodied by Noma), and my own individual experience of cooking and eating Nordic food.


I decided that I would try to take the foods I think of as particularly traditional, all the main dishes that are part of our Constitution Day smorgasbord, and to reconceptualize them in as New Nordic a fashion as I could manage. I knew, without even a second thought, that I wanted to divide the meal into seventeen courses. Yes, seventeen. The most I had ever cooked before for a party was four courses, and I have a tiny apartment kitchen with an even more Lilliputian fridge. But, the 17th of May is our big day, and because I was going to throw the party belatedly, I felt compelled to highlight the number another way. I stubbornly refused to entertain the idea of any other number of courses, though I did joke that had I been holding the feast on the actual 17th, I probably would have only done about three.

Thus was born the "feast of nationalistic proportions."


In keeping with the general concept of new meets old, before I had even planned the menu I had decided that I was going to invite my family and best childhood friends in addition to some of our closest newer friends from where we live now. I designed and sent out the invitations a couple months before the party date, giving very little explanation for why I was doing what I was doing. I just invited my friends to join me for "an epic 17 course feast featuring dishes that illustrate the confluence of traditional Scandinavian delights with the New Nordic Cuisine." And my darling friends, knowing me as they do I suppose, didn't even raise an incredulous eyebrow (at least not that I saw), they just started rearranging their schedules and searching for cheap flights.

Then the yeses started coming in, and I realized, "Okay, wow, I really have to do this. (Deep breath.) Let the serious planning begin!"

And here, because I am an uber dork, is a trailer I made for the feast using some video that my videographer/husband took during the process.

Le Creuset has generously offered to reward our Big Feasters for all their hard work, and as our sixth Big Feast, Emily will win, in the color of her choice (flame, cherry, cassis, fennel, Caribbean, dune, Dijon, or Marseille): a Heritage Cast Iron 1 Quart Fish Gratin Dish, a 3.5 Quart Braiser, and an Anodized Saute Pan with Lid. Pitch us your Big Feast at [email protected] for a chance to win up to $500 in Le Creuset booty.

Fish GratinBraiser Saute Pan

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • arielleclementine
  • Oui, Chef
    Oui, Chef
  • fiveandspice
  • CarlaCooks
  • Fairmount_market
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


arielleclementine August 29, 2012
what a complete joy to read about your process for this incredible meal! and the video was delightful! congratulations on your epic feast!
fiveandspice August 30, 2012
Thank you arielleclementine!
Oui, C. August 29, 2012
How fun! I hope we see some video of" tipsy" Norwegian folk song singing before this is all over.
fiveandspice August 30, 2012
I'm not sure Joel managed to capture that on video, but there's certainly photo documentation. :)
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thanks Sadassa_Ulna! I hope you enjoy the rest just as much.
CarlaCooks August 29, 2012
Great post! I can't wait to see how this pans out. I am an American living in Denmark, so I understand your love of Scandinavian food. I'm actually going to Noma in October, and I can't wait! I wonder if I'll have to eat ants, though...
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
You get to go to Noma???!! Oh how lucky! Have fun! I hope you enjoy the rest of the posts about the feast. Where in Denmark are you? My allegiance is to Norway, but I love Denmark too. :)
CarlaCooks August 29, 2012
I live in Copenhagen, which is a great 'town' (I'm from LA, so Cph is pretty small in comparison!). Norwegian and Danish are somewhat similar, so it's fun reading some of your Norwegian. Held og lykke med din store fest! Jeg håber, at det går rigtig godt!
Fairmount_market August 28, 2012
Emily, this looks amazing and inspirational. Can't wait to read more.
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thanks so much Fairmont Market! I can't wait for you to get to read the rest. It was just so much fun!
Greenstuff August 28, 2012
I've been waiting for this one! Love the Peer Gynt!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
What good taste you have! :)
Kitchen B. August 28, 2012
Way to go.......I too am beginning to feel a kinship with Scandinavia, via Aquavit (which is often distilled with grains of paradise, a Nigerian flu remedy and spice - see the kinship?) and Marcus Samuelsson! Looking forward to reading the rest!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
That definitely counts as kinship!
jenniebgood August 28, 2012
Hi Emily - looking forward to reading your post! I'm headed over to your blog since it sounds like yu also posted there. Congrats!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thanks jenniebgood! The post is a while back on my blog, and it's a very truncated version. I hope you like it! There's lots more to come of it here on Food52 this week!
Sagegreen August 27, 2012
Congrats, Emily. I really enjoyed your feast. Thanks for the inspiration and post. Very cool trailer, too!!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thank you Sagegreen! I hope you enjoy the rest of it just as much.
gingerroot August 27, 2012
Yay, Emily! I was completely blown away and inspired by your feast on your blog and am looking forward to reading all about it again. I love the trailer!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thank you Jenny!!! It was just too much fun to make. I had a blast.
calendargirl August 27, 2012
So great, Emily! Great photos and the trailer is kjempeflott! I will be following this with delight: my mother grew up in Northern Minnesota, I grew up in Minneapolis, then studied in Norway for a year during college and lived in Boston for many years. We now live not far from the Norwegian embassy in DC.
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Tusen takk! And, wow, we've been on such a similar trajectory (though we don't have plans to live in DC :) )! That's amazing!
calendargirl August 29, 2012
Indeed! And I just subscribed to your blog, so I learned of your return to Minnesota. Welcome home.
inpatskitchen August 27, 2012
Love the trailer and am so excited to hear about the 17 Scandinavian courses!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thanks IPK! I look forward to sharing more! It was quite the project.
Miranda R. August 27, 2012
this. is. too. great! and the trailer is just total icing. can't wait!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thank you Miranda! I had way too much fun with the whole thing! I think it's one of the most fun things I've ever done.
Madhuja August 27, 2012
This is absolutely incredible! I cannot wait to hear how you pulled this off and all the 17 dishes that you prepared!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thanks Madhuja! You'll definitely get to hear more about how it was all pulled off (though to a certain extent, I'm still not sure how I managed! It was crazy!).
drbabs August 27, 2012
Wow, Emily. You are inspiring. This Big Feast series just keeps getting better and better!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thank you drbabs! I agree, the folks at Food52 were just brilliant coming up with the Big Feast series idea. All of the feasts have been so cool.
em-i-lis August 27, 2012
This is awesome, Emily. So cool! I can't wait to see more!
fiveandspice August 29, 2012
Thanks Em! I'm glad you think so!
Sadassa_Ulna August 27, 2012
Wow! This is amazing and I really like the trailer. Can't wait to hear more about the many courses!