By Anna Pia Hudtloff.
The kitchen in Lars Mikkel Johannessen’s house is filled with paintings and so is the rest of the house. A huge painting with lots of happy colours and fantasy animals in the under-woods particularly catches the eye. It is called “Saturday morning outing” and has a story – a special one that Mikkel happily tells:
“My first co-production,” he laughs.
“I was recently invited to participate in “Talk Vietnam”, a Vietnamese television talk show. Here I was given three challenges. One was to make a painting with the young Vietnamese artist H.M. Thang. We decided on the colours, and that we should meet in the middle of the 3 meter wide canvas. It should all be done on a Saturday morning and be filmed for television. This is the result,” he says.
Mikkel’s two other challenges were cooking with Vietnamese pop diva and food connoisseur Thanh Lam and playing jazz with the professional monochord musician Ho Hoi Anh.
“We needed some music for the credits at the end of the show,” Mikkel says as he places himself behind the piano and starts a jazz tune.
“This tune is called Tune # 5. It is written at our kitchen table by my friend Niels Lan Doky (A Danish/Vietnamese jazz musician) one evening after dinner. This tune also made it into the Con Fusion Cookbook,” he explains changing the topic to another of his great interests namely cooking.
The Con Fusion Cookbook
Lars Mikkel Johannessen‘s “The Con Fusion Cookbook” has recently been published in Hanoi. Looking past the Con the Fusion is easy to find, as the dishes in the books lets Vietnamese food become Scandinavian as well as Scandinavian food becomes Vietnamese.
Flipping the through the pages, the eye stops at one of the first photos in the book; the immediate reaction is that gummy bears, capers and balsamic vinegar do not go well together – at all.
But following Mikkel’s instructions it makes sense, when he smiles and says:
”Just take it all in one bite – then you are instantly convinced. The taste is different but wonderful, the fusion has become Con Fusion,” he laughs.
Never be afraid of the unknown
Mikkel came to Hanoi in March 2003 with his wife and newborn daughter to take up a post at the Embassy of Denmark as Counsellor for Environment.
Apart from Environment he has also developed Danida’s first culture program that spans from children’s literature and arts education in schools to culture development and exchange funds.
“In culture exchange and in meeting people from other cultures you should never be afraid of the unknown”, he states his philosophy – a philosophy he stays true to in the kitchen.
From diplomat to potatoes
His passion for cooking started when Mikkel was a kid cooking potatoes.
“The idea for the cookbook really took form when preparing for our wedding party at the beautiful retreat Moon River outside of Hanoi.”
“My wife Anna and I wanted to surprise our friends, but Anna, my wife to be, insisted that I stayed out of the kitchen. So, all the recipes I had developed needed to be written down in details for others to make,” Mikkel remembers.
“One thing that really inspires me is the local 19-12 market, and the wonderful smell of spices. And of course, living in Vietnam the Scandinavian foods suddenly appears so far away, so the challenge was to fuse these two cuisines.”
The fusion is easily found; take for instance the recipe for “shrimp cake with lime sauce”. This is true fusion of the traditional Vietnamese shrimp cake and the Scandinavian version of a lime sauce traditionally served with salmon.
Mikkel explains that the traditional shrimp can be found at all restaurants along the road to the Dang Thai Pagoda on West Lake in Hanoi.
“I wanted to refine this very traditional Vietnamese dish and fuse it with the Scandinavian traditions of the sourness of lemon cream to make the shrimp cake a completely different encounter,” he explains.
The Mikkel is indeed no novice to cooking shows, as he has recently been appointed honorary chef of the fancy Hanoian restaurant Wild Lotus. Soon several of the 80 contemporary dishes from his Con Fusion Cookbook can also be found at their menu.
As a painter Mikkel also uses his knowledge of combining colours and the combination of colours also made it into his cooking, as an important part of all his dishes.
“Food is more than just for your taste buds,” he underlines adding:
“Good food should be eventful, something you will remember, also after you have eaten,” he continues while looking around the kitchen and opening a cupboard fetching a bag of marshmallows. Then he takes a look at a basket of vegetables from where he takes a small red chilli pepper.
“The beautiful red colour of the chilli resembles Asia and the marshmallow the West,” he says looking at the two.
“Well, that alone may not look nice. But by infusing chilli, as chilli marmalade, into a marshmallow dip and covering it with chocolate makes wonders,” he laughs heartily and finds himself suddenly preparing a small dessert from the newfound ingredients. It is sweet and hot – a small dish never to forget.
And suddenly with an all-serious face he says:
“But most important for all food is that it must be nice and precise. Of course a few dishes in the cookbook are mostly to confuse the guests, but most dishes actually made it into the cookbook, because they taste great.”
The Confusion Cookbook.
If you would like to order Mikkel’s cookbook, please send an e-mail to: