Irreverence is Bliss
A small-town-restaurant, with a menu that has no limits
Surrounded by flamingo-ornaments, a bathtub filled with wine bottles and the sound of Dolly Parton beaming from the kitchen speakers, it’s easy to let your shoulders down and absorb the good vibes at Bula Neobistro.
So, what exactly is a Neobistro?
Renee: In French, neo means new. And in the early 2000’s a bunch of young chefs in Paris started rising up against the established rules of French cooking. They challenged the idea that this type of protein could only be mixed with that type of sauce, that exact wine and so on. They threw the rule book out the window and created a new type of restaurant, or a movement, if you will: the neo bistro. Which is what we are trying to do at Bula, something new and different, going against the grain!
Is this something you can relate to? Breaking the rules?
R: I like to characterize Bula as the rebellious little sister of Trondheim’s restaurant scene. We don’t take the classical approach to composing our menu. The only rule is that there are no rules. I am all about flavour–acidity, fat, sweetness, umami–bring it on! When we get our hands on high quality produce, like langoustine, serving it with habanero and naan might not be the most elegant way. But it’s really freaking tasty! And just as important: It’s me.
Growing up, it was not at all written in the stars that Fagerhøi would become a chef and restaurateur with a soft spot for surf ’n’ turf. She was a vegetarian long into her twenties, and originally studied gender theory in England. But a couple of years down the road, she decided to change course.
R: I grew up on an anthroposophic Camphill-farm, shared between mine and other families. We ate a lot of boiled beetroots and blend buckwheat, while I dreamt of burgers, Thousand Island dressing and chips. I knew no one in the restaurant industry.
Though her upbringing might not have been what laid the groundwork for her culinary abilities, it certainly explains her approach to life and to people.
R: I grew up surrounded by a lot of different characters and I believe that made me both fearless and curious. I have always loved underground culture and seen beauty in what others may characterize as ugly. I’m drawn to what is unusual and weird, and that is well reflected in my restaurant and my menu.
What is a typical night at Bula?
R: First of all, it’s not just a dinner. It’s a show, if you will. I love telling stories around the dishes, though not like “This scallop got to your plate via via via…” We are not just influenced by nature, but also by culture, music and movies. And we try to implement this in our food. I want to push boundaries!
That is not just on the plate. Fagerhøi strives to always have fifty-fifty men and women working in the kitchen. According to her, this is one of the most important ingredients in running a kitchen with a good work environment. Another goal is changing the way kitchens have been run for decades and decades. The “If the heat is too high, then get out of the kitchen”-kind of way.
R: I want the staff to work hard because they share my vision and feel inspired. Not because they are afraid. Also, being a good chef has nothing to do with your gender, sexuality or ethnicity. It’s sad that I even have to stress that point, but as in so many other industries it’s important to address it in ours as well. I want to help break barriers, so that these challenges can lie behind behind us in the future.
You got your diploma only nine years ago, and since then you have managed to win TopChef, publish a cookbook and open your own restaurant. In 2019, The Norwegian Chef’s Union even awarded you with Head Chef Of The Year for 2018. Do you get any sleep at all?
R: There is no doubt that I have worked really hard to get to where I am today. But all that hard work has paid off. Being awarded Head Chef Of The Year meant an extra great deal to me, because it acknowledged the fact that you can be different and still belong in the good company. Despite all the hard work though, I am not one of those chefs who never see anything but the kitchen. I go to concerts, read books and travel. Travelling is first of all to eat at other restaurants, so maybe that can be considered as work as well..? Still, these are my main sources of inspiration and they are crucial for both Bula and I to evolve.
At Bula, every employee is welcome to influence both the menu and the vibe. As long as it fits within the Bula philosophy. But that philosophy has room for a lot of different expressions. During a night at the restaurant, you may get a hotdog with mushroom ketchup on your plate accompanied by a glass of champagne, while the playlist can stumble its way from punk to old honky-tonk.
Perhaps that’s why a wide specter of guests feel so at home at Bula?
R: We’ve had both twenty-year-olds celebrating their birthdays here, and a bunch of eighty-year old women enjoying an entire night in our secret room. My day peaks when I feel the restaurant buzzing with music, clinking glasses, sizzling food and people having fun.
Like Fagerhøi, Bula has loads of personality. It’s a place where you can indulge in some of the finest produce Norway has to offer, without worrying about which type of silverware to use.
R: I take my work seriously and I’m deeply passionate about it. But I still like to have fun during service. Listening to music and having a laugh with my staff and the guests. For me, that’s the only way to run a restaurant: Working hard and having fun at the same time.