Samsø - My Island

Champ Ørum

It is a few years since Samsø’s perhaps first master chef closed the door to his life as a head chef – and opened the doors to a school kitchen instead. Søren has changed job from head chef in a restaurant to kitchen manager at Samsø Frie Skole. His vision is to get the kids to taste everything.

Like a boxing champion, Ørum enters the ring every day to spar with the pupils over new taste experiences – especially concerning fish and vegetables. “Some pupils have grown up with soft parents, who have spared them fish and vegetables. The pupils, from reception to year 9, join me in the kitchen and it is exciting to influence them. I make them taste beets with honey, elderflower and ginger. They try it hesitantly at first but because I have a good relationship with them in the kitchen, I can challenge them. We proceed cautiously but, with a good helping of  love and trust, it is no hassle nurturing in children a good and sensible relationship with food,” Søren explains.

From sauce to season
Søren has a real passion for food. His grandmother was a cook and a true master of meat, potatoes and thick, brown sauce. As a child, he often joined his grandma in the kitchen and early on food became the centre of his life. Although the focus in his youth wasn’t on vegetables, it was Samsø vegetables that came to define Søren as a chef. After an apprenticeship at Hotel D’Angleterre in Copenhagen, employment at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London with star chefs such as René Knudsen and Erwin Lauterback, he moved to Samsø in 1988.

Here, vegetables came to the fore, and especially the novel idea of using ingredients in season. “On Samsø, I experienced what it means to work seasonally. In February there is lumpfish roe, then parsley arrives, followed by rhubarb and asparagus. But quite seriously, it took ten years from the time I graduated as a trained chef until it finally dawned on me. It was so inspiring and vegetables have been the most important thing about a dish ever since. In my kitchen in Nordby, which I ran for 31 years, it was the vegetables that excited me,” explains the former cookbook author and head chef, who now enjoys being a frequent guest at the island’s eateries.

He lives by the mantra that money spent on eating experiences is money well spent. “I think the standard of the gastronomy in the restaurants on Samsø is insanely high at the moment. Seriously, the food that’s being cooked is fantastic. Several of the island’s chefs have gained experience in Michelin-starred restaurants and that level can be difficult to sell on Samsø. However, they are good at translating fine dining into delicious food with broad appeal. ”

Samsø’s skilled chefs
Søren says it is a pleasure to visit the restaurants on Samsø. Unlike the past, where there might only have existed a single good restaurant, what is now on offer is truly impressive. “Among the best is Kilo For Kilo in Tranebjerg, whose head chef, Jacob Raunsgaard, is one of the most creative chefs I have ever met. He can make really simple and easy dishes, where the taste is surprising. It’s so good. René Knudsen at Ballen Badehotel makes good, hearty food and it is always a pleasure. He makes classic and simple dishes as I like them best. But it is difficult to single one out above others, because there is also Skipperly and SAK, who this year employed young, trendy chefs and allowed them to experiment a little. The restaurant scene on Samsø is really varied at the moment,” assesses Søren.

No diva
Søren can hardly be described as being down and out but he admits to being the old man in the industry and he maintains a low profile. After 40 years, he knows many chefs but he never goes to their restaurants to keep an eye on things or to talk about the industry. “I have been the star. I have received my share of good reviews in Politiken and B.T.” But Ørum refuses to behave like a diva. “I myself am the easiest dinner guest, remembering to thank the chef for the wonderful food. When I go out to eat, it is to enjoy time with my companions and I do not like to be interrupted in the middle of the main course by a chef who asks how the food tastes. Service is about awareness of the situation and timing. A good waiter can sense whether the guest wants discreet service or conversation. And then, of course, it’s great when you get inventive dishes and unexpected flavours”.

Every chef has their dream
When Søren came to Samsø in 1988, the best place to eat had a dish on the menu which consisted of canned pineapple and a chicken salad. Søren himself thinks that he might have been too ambitious when he opened his restaurant and he had to work on finding a level that was appropriate. His philosophy is ‘enough food’ and he grinningly says that he is not impressed by small dishes with foam and a flower petal placed with tweezers. “Restaurant Dokken may well not get a Michelin star for their fried pork belly but it still tastes fantastic. There must be a chef and a kitchen for us all and we, here on Samsø, must adapt to the guests who visit us. Every chef has their dream but it must be translated into a tangible reality on an island,” concludes Master Ørum, who’s heading home into the boxing ring developing dishes with his favourite vegetable: the Jerusalem artichoke. “As a chef, I probably have the same motto as a boxer – it’s more fun to give than to receive.”

Last updated: 25/02/2021 12:56