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Martin Moses – A Feast for the Eyes

An otherwise unremarkable door in a workshop next to Gothenburg’s fishing harbour and auction market has attracted many elite chefs. Although they ensure that all the ingredients are lovingly prepared and refined, having the right plate is of the greatest importance. So thinks the 2019 Chef of the Year.

Photo: Samuel Unéus.

We shall begin at the beginning, starting down at the fishing dock. Due to the corona situation, we’ll skip the actual fish auction and move on to Västergården, where the plates are made on which Chef of the Year Martin Moses serves his creations at SK Mat & Människor.

Mia Martinius, the potter who makes more than one hundred plates and bowls every day in her own raw, personal style, has become something of a favourite among style-conscious chefs – not only in Gothenburg and Stockholm, but also as far afield as in Dubai!

She is self-taught, and she loves the pottery workshop and store that she runs together with her three children. Martin Moses has a stack of ceramic plates with him from the Michelin-starred restaurant in Gothenburg. He wonders whether Mia would be able to patch up the plates that have sustained minor damage from the various servings – and he wants the ‘camouflaging’ to be visible. In Japan, such blemishes are often covered with gold, in order to demonstrate the opposite of today’s disposable culture.

Many of those who visit Mia’s store have previously dined at SK Mat & Människor and been enchanted – not just by the food but also by the crockery on which it is served.

“The two things go together”, says Martin Moses. “Serving the right food on the right kind of plate makes all the difference. We eat with our eyes, that’s the way it is.”

In the Instagram age, it is not without importance to have photo-chic plates, or that each dish is served on its own style of plate. Martin and Mia discuss the use of different surfaces for different dishes or ingredients. The next day, the 2020 Dish of the Year is to be announced – a dish that the Chef of the Year gets to design, and that will hopefully become a new classic among the general public.

Standing 196 cm tall, it is difficult for Martin Moses to move around unnoticed in the pottery workshop. Sometimes he cannot resist the temptation to pass a heated plate to his diners, with hands that are accustomed to such heat. Office workers’ hands, however, get a bit of a shock, he says with a smile. So there’s a certain amount of mischief in him. But he is also surprisingly honest about the vulnerability experienced by chefs. Cooking involves sharing a part of yourself – exposing yourself to both praise and criticism.

Martin Moses almost bangs his head on the roof timber in the pottery workshop where he has signed his name. He has added his name to the signatures of other star chefs who use Mia’s plates and bowls.

“I have been really fortunate in that the chefs recommend me to others. I couldn’t wish for a better kind of advertisement”, laughs Mia, contentedly.

The fact that Sweden’s biggest fish auction, where fish wholesalers place bids on fish and shellfish, lies just next door is of course significant. It perhaps also helps that the door to the workshop and store is so anonymous – we take the wrong door, even though Martin has been here many times before.

After Martin has discussed the colours and surfaces that are the best match for his Dish of the Year (which will be crispy cod steaks, served with coarsely mashed white root vegetables, lemon-pickled vegetables and a frothy, creamy dill sauce), we move on to SK Mat & Människor. Evidence of the Michelin star is discreetly on show behind the ‘chef’s counter’. Here, curious diners can follow the craftsmanship of the chefs as they chop and sauté, and pass torches across the backs of freshly caught ocean crayfish.

Photo: Samuel Unéus.

The runner-up in the latest Chef of the Year competition was Martin Moses’ then colleague Ola Wallin, who is now head chef at Upper House Dining in Gothenburg. Either by some kind of magic or perhaps by simple mentorship, a special culture has been created at SK Mat & Människor. Stefan Karlsson, who owns the Götaplats Group of which SK Mat & Människor is part (together with Toso, Mr. P, Bar Himmel and at Park in Gothenburg), was named Chef of the Year back in 1995. He is now chair of the jury. Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip is among the other judges. When this year’s Young Chef of the Year was held, it was won by none other than 23-year-old Anton Kardell, who also works at SK Mat & Människor, with his dish of duck and pike-perch.

Fish and shellfish are particularly close to Martin’s heart. His grandmother in Karlskrona would often serve up meals of fried cod, in all its simplicity. Martin continues this tradition with his own children, although he serves it with stewed spinach. Once you’ve experienced Martin’s touch with fish and ocean crayfish, you are left wanting more. Every year, Martin Moses and his twin brother travel to Lofoten in order to go fishing, although that 50 kg Atlantic halibut has so far eluded them. They never talk about food, however – according to Martin’s brother, the sole purpose of food is to fill one’s stomach. Even so, it was his brother who, at an early stage, kick-started Martin’s competitive nature. They spent their childhoods competing in everything.

Achieving second place in the 2018 Chef of the Year contest was therefore hard for Martin Moses to accept. While on holiday after the competition, he was able to take a step back from his frustration of having ‘lost’ by such a small margin (just one point separated him from the winner), and it was then that he began to plan his entry for the next year. Encouraged by his wife, it was clear that he should seek revenge! The winning dish – ocean crayfish with buckwheat, spruce tips, and grated cured egg yolks – began to take shape in his head. And then came his idea for the dessert – a variation on the ice-cream sandwich, with white mould cheese, malt loaf and apple jelly.

“A normal person would probably have given up after having put in all that work only to lose by just one point. But I can never be satisfied – I know that there will always be a better way of doing things. And, with hindsight, it’s clear that it’s by facing these challenges that you learn new things about yourself. This is something that has made me stronger.”

Although SK Mat & Människor has been KRAV-certified for the past four years, this is not something that features heavily in the restaurant’s marketing.

“Quality is always the most important consideration, and this is our priority. The tastes and experiences we provide are the proof of our commitment and passion in our work, rather than the recognition from any labels or distinctions”, explains Martin. “Having children aged 4 and 7, you care about the state of the world and the effect our consumption has on it.”

According to Martin, the attention that chefs receive nowadays, with their increased public profile, enables them to act as trend-setters. This is something he himself is happy to do thanks to his sustainable approach to local produce, and by taking the bus to and from work each day.

“Sustainability and quality are inseparable from each other. Vegetables that are in season are the best you can get. We really look forward to the asparagus in the spring, and the first strawberries in June – this is when they’re at their very best.”

Martin Moses thinks that it should be possible to charge a little extra when, as during last summer for example, the carrots were extraordinarily sweet and tasty thanks to the warm weather – rather than paying more for organic produce imported from Spain.

Martin believes that Sweden – and Gothenburg, in particular – has a rich larder with ingredients of fabulous quality. He thinks that freshly caught fish and shellfish form an obvious part of Gothenburg’s own larder.

“If we run out of fish in the middle of serving lunch, we just need to make a phone call and we can get more straight away.”

When you work with food, it’s really important to be able to have confidence in your suppliers.

“I think we have found the producers that provide us with the very best. Taste these prawns, for example, that were fresh today”, says Martin as he hands over a plate. “Fresh and juicy – always with the same quality. You always know what you’re getting.”

He also highlights the access to exotic mushrooms, and being able to get newly harvested champignons every day from Östragärde Gård in Sätila.

“The champignons from there are amazing. They’re the size of tennis balls, and with a wonderful texture. Or the herbs from Stenungssund, and the cucumbers from Varberg.”

Almost all the producers Martin works with have their own farm stores, just like Mia who makes her own pots and sells them from her workshop, where customers can linger as long as they like and dream of composing their own culinary creations.

This article was originally published in Magasin Göteborg 2020. Read the whole magazine in Swedish here. Magasin Göteborg is published by the Trade and Industry Group at Göteborg & Co and Business Region Göteborg. The theme of Magasin Göteborg 2020 is ”Sustainable growth – for everyone”.

Text by Ulrica Segersten. Translation by Språkservice. Photos by Samuel Unéus.