Chez Dining Room: The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony Banquet

Sunday December 4, 2016
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Incredible floral design for the banquet tables by Gunnar Kaj using over 10,000 flowers/photo Hans Mehlin

The first week in December, the recipients of this year’s Noble Prizes journey to the frozen north in Scandinavia for the award ceremonies, pick up their checks, and then celebrate afterwards with the ne plus ultra of state dinners attended by royalty, Parliamentarians, global government officials, and invited guests.

The stunningly elaborate affair celebrating the prestigious award is like all catered affairs, the culmination of months of planning by incredible culinary pros and designers who are eligible if there was a prize for artistic achievement. We are talking all this by executed experienced Nobel Foundation catering co-ordinators, tabletop designers and their own staff, international florists (flowers are airlifted in from Sanremo, Italy, where Nobel lived), lighting technicians, and a position on the coveted kitchen staff that reads like a small city: banqueting hall manager, head chef, 8 head waiters, 210 waiters and waitresses, 5 wine waiters, 20 line cooks and about 20 people responsible for dish washing and transportation.

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the flowers arrive from Italy for the tables/photo Hans Mehlin

Since 1901, the Nobel Prizes ceremonies have been held on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. As stipulated in the will of the Swedish-born international industrialist and inventor of dynamite, the main Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Economics, Medicine, and Literature are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is at the Oslo City Hall, Norway, and the home of the Nobel Institute. (Off the record: There is no prize for mathematics since Nobel’s wife had an affair with a mathematician and Nobel never forgave her, which brings it all back to the level of human foible.)

This year there was a bit more fuss about the Nobel Prizes than usual due to the fact that BobDylan won in Literature and declined attending the ceremoney. Last year, President Obama received the Peace Prize fueling the debates about the conflicting opinions of whether he was deserving so early in his presidency. I remember the hue and cry when Henry Kissinger won one year, so the Nobel Prize is no stranger to controversy. The new hue and cry is for Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia for a peace treaty with the rural FARC Communist guerrilla military forces, and then John Kerry and Hilary Clinton for their work disarming nuclear Iran.

photo Carey Linde

Nobel prize recipients enjoy a laugh/photo Carey Linde

The Peace Prize is one bestowed to the likes of the Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Dag Hammarskjöld, UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross for their influence in striving for peace and co-operation between nations. Amnesty International won in 1977. While it may seem unusual to award a US President, other US Presidents include Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and VP Al Gore. Other political leaders include Gorbachev, Mandela, Lech Wałęsa of Poland, and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, so Obama and Clinton are in rarified company.

While politicians get a lot of press because of the hot controversy, really the long term disciplined hard work is done by the multitude of often publicly unknown doctors and physicists closeted in their labs/university classrooms who depend on their grants to continue their discoveries in their relative fields. While lesser known, they still carry the badge of real life experience that qualify them as global citizens with positive forward thinking vision contributing to the benefit of all of mankind. The first woman to receive the Nobel was Marie Curie (she won twice) and this last year the more women were awarded than ever. Often awards run in families, such as in the Curie family, which won about a dozen prizes.

Tawakkul Karman, journalist. Leymah Gbowee, peace activist. Ellen Johson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winners.

Of course being a writer, I always notice the prize in Literature, which boasts an international roster of names including Boris Pasternak, Jean-Paul Sartre (who refused), Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagor ( a favorite Bengali poet of mine), George Bernard Shaw, Pablo Neruda, Thomas Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Pearl S. Buck, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, V.S. Naipaul, Gunter Grass, and Toni Morrison. You know, folks just like you and me, who write in their pajamas and forget to eat they are so transported by the process of composing the perfect sentence.

Every aspect of the prize is special and a humanistic honor. Each diploma is a singular artistic work, with

courtesy Nobel Foundation

the Nobel medal of gold/courtesy Nobel Foundation

special handmade paper and scripted by calligraphers. The Literature diploma is written on parchment reminiscent of those used by medieval book illustrators. The medal, predictably, shows the head portrait of Alfred Nobel. No longer minted from solid gold, the the medals are made from 18 carat green gold plated with 24 carat gold. The financial prize for 2006 was SEK 10 million (over USD 1 million-2009 USD 1.4 million) per each full Nobel Prize.

At the Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall (Stockholm’s Konserthus), there will be lots of speeches about the work of the Laureates. Then His Majesty the King of Sweden will hand each Laureate his diploma, a medal, and a document confirming the prize amount. The banquet, for no less than 1,300 guests, has been held by tradition for the last seven decades at the Stockholm City Hall (Stockholm’s Stadshus). While a city hall sounds pretty ho-hum, this city hall looks like it was constructed during the Napoleonic era with its grand ballroom-like expansiveness complete with a ceiling that reaches to the sky and lots of pillars which would humble the members of the lower eschelons of society as they would walk the gauntlet up to the magistrate at the end of the hall.

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dining in the manner of the kings of old/photo Boo Jonsson

In Oslo the Nobel Peace Prize is presented by the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Norway. Later the same day, the Committee hosts the banquet. After the banquet is the casual (ie. Not covered by media) after hours Nobel Night Cap, arranged by the Stockholm student unions. Each year there is a secret theme and you don’t know what it is until thou arrives.

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the kitchen is manned by teams of professionals/photo Hans Mehlin

But back to the banquet. Imagine: A dinner where chefs have resourced the best of what fishermen, ranchers, and farmers offer; the handwork of artisan cheese makers, master bread makers and mushroom foragers; and ripe produce from the four corners of the world. The local Scandinavian cuisine must be included in some way, usually in some sort of fish or caviar. The official Noble Prize site (http://nobelprize.org/award_ceremonies/banquet/index.html) has a listing of all the feast menus ever served. There is even a diagram of the seating placement. While a dish may sound as if it’s from Larousse Gastronomique since it is written in French, in fact, it is quite basic in culinary terms.

During the world wars there were no banquets and the money for such was donated to the Red Cross. The menus have always been printed in French, but translations into English and Swedish finally appeared in 2005, which makes it tres easier for moi to read and guests wouldn’t have to ask someone at the table what they were having if they didn’t read French.

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serving dessert, table by table/photo Hans Pettersson

As an ex-caterer, I found this fascinating, especially that the menus were incredibly simple considering the haute level of cuisine. Instead of a dozen or more tasting dishes that is all the rage in today’s restaurants and elaborate feasting that boasted Western culinary trends of the past, the menu is three courses: soup (a consommé) which has shifted to a fish first course, main (white or red meat from deer, beef, veal, lamb, cock, turkey, duck, chicken, or pheasant) with seasonal vegetable, and dessert (usually ice cream) with passed hors d’oeuvres to start. The Nobel Parfait of inner and outer layers of ice cream and sherbet, now a tradition, started in 1976 and continues to be the templet for the dessert. It is served tableside, sliced from a domed bombe for each table.

All photos copyright and courtesy of The Nobel Foundation.

Here is the 2006 menu with translation following:

  • Mosaïque de saumon et de coquilles Saint-Jacques, avec oeufs d’ablette de Kalix

  • Dos d’agneau aux herbes fraîches, purée de pommes de terre et topinambours, légumes glacés a l’huile d’olive, sauce Porto

  • Parfait d’ananas accompagné de sa salade caramélisée à la menthe

Translation (English):

  • Mosaic of salmon and scallops with Kalix bleak roe (the Scandinavian touch)
  • Herb-baked saddle of lamb with mashed potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes,

olive oil-glazed vegetables and port wine sauce

  • Pineapple parfait with caramelized pineapple salad and mint

A Nobel Banquet At Home

I designed a little menu based on the style of cooking for the Nobel banquet that is easy as can be to recreate in your home kitchen. Except for the ice cream bombe, the recipes are made in the slow cooker.

Hot Tomato Consomme

Braised Quail on Toast

Lou’s Raspberry Amaretto Bombe

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2009/2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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