Nobel Banquet: the feast of feasts

Serving a banquet to nearly 1,400 people is no mean feat, and when the event is the Nobel Banquet, the stakes are high. Charlotte West goes behind the scenes at the grandest event in Sweden's calendar.

A feast fit for a king would be an exaggerated description of just about any meal, no matter how palatable, with the exception of the annual Nobel Banquet. The weeklong blitz climaxes on Monday with the feast of feasts – arguably one of the grandest dinners in the world.

The whole event is shrouded in mystery, and the menu is top secret until the almost 1,400 guests are seated at the banquet in the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 10th.

The composition of this year’s menu is the result of the combined culinary prowess of chefs Krister Dahl, head of the Swedish Culinary Team, and Magnus Johansson, proprietor of the Xoko dessert cafe in Stockholm. This will be Johansson’s sixth year of providing the Nobel dessert.

Last year, the eight Nobel laureates – and 1,240 other guests celebrating the memory of Alfred Nobel – enjoyed a spread featuring mosaic of salmon and scallops, herb-baked saddle of lamb and pineapple parfait.

Of the 2007 menu, however, those involved remain silent. “It will be good. Really exquisite tastes,” was all the tight-lipped Dahl would tell newspaper Göteborgs-Posten.

“We have prepared everything for the Nobel Committee four times, and it has obviously been approved,” he said.

Simplicty, Dahl said, was the key to success. “It’s about creating a functional menu, which should be relatively easy to make, and then everything must be served quickly,” he said.

“It’s a really big secret,” Linda Johansson of Xoko told The Local.

Whatever the delicacies turn out to be, they have been designed around a Scandinavian-related theme and are sure to whet the appetite – and keep the 30 chefs and 200 servers on their toes.

There are tables to set and food to buy. According to the Nobel Foundation, one year the shopping list for the banquet consisted of 2,692 pigeon breasts, 475 lobster tails, 100 kilos of potatoes, 70 liters of sweet and sour raspberry vinegar sauce, 67 kilos of Jerusalem artichokes, 53 kilos of Philadelphia cheese, and 45 kilos of lightly smoked salmon, among other ingredients.

With so many cooks in the kitchen, Ulf Östenius, General Manager of Stadshuskällaren restaurant, must run a tight ship. Östenius, along with Chef de Cuisine Gunnar Eriksson, is the man charged with the small task of making sure the logistics of Nobel Banquet go according to plan – something which is not to be taken for granted.

In an interview with the City of Stockholm, Östenius said that one year the main course was some kind of poultry that had been pre-cooked. It was supposed to be warmed up in the oven right as the electricity went out. They had to begin again with new raw ingredients, but nevertheless managed to make it appear seamless.

Another year, there was a panic because one of the laureates suddenly haunched over the table, but it turned out he had simply fallen asleep.

Despite the stories about near-disasters, Östenius somehow manages to coordinate his team of 200 and still make the entire production seem effortless.

On the morning of the feast, more than 7,000 porcelain pieces, 5,000 glasses and 10,000 pieces of silverware must be meticulously laid out on the 470 metres of linen that adorns the banquet’s 65 tables. And while expectant guests anticipate their royal meal, it takes six minutes from the time the waiters begin the procession down the steps until everyone has been served. The king is served first, immediately followed by the queen.

The menu is decided upon months in advance. In August and September, the chefs prepare sample menus and present them to the Nobel Committee for tasting. Linda Johansson of Xoko told The Local that they presented three different dessert options to the Nobel Committee, which then chose the final selection.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get the red-carpet culinary treatment. As of Tuesday, December 11th, you can order the Nobel menu at Stadshuskällaren, also located in the Stockholm City Hall.

Unfortunately, the restaurant will only be serving the three-course meal to groups of 20 or more until January 7th, when the 2007 Nobel menu will become standard fare. The only exception is December 31st, where you can book a table to celebrate New Year’s Eve Nobel-style.

Stadshuskällaren also offers every Nobel menu served since 1901 for groups of eight or more. Reservations must be booked one week ahead.

Xoko will also serve the Nobel dessert, including for takeaway, beginning on Tuesday. As an added bonus, they will also serve the entire Nobel spread on Wed-Saturday nights this week. But call quickly, as a representative of the cafe said there are only a few spots left.


‘Disbelief’: US trio wins Nobel economics prize

Three economists from the United States were awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in Stockholm on Monday for their research in predicting asset price movements.

'Disbelief': US trio wins Nobel economics prize

Eugene Fama, Lars Hansen, and Robert Shiller won the prize “for their empirical analysis of asset prices”.

“The laureates have laid the foundation for the current understanding of asset prices,” the Royal Academy said in a statement.

Reached on the phone in the United States, Shiller was shell-shocked at the news he’d won the Nobel.

“Disbelief, that’s the only way to put it,” he told reporters.

“A lot of people told me they hoped I would win, I am aware there are so many other worthy people that I discounted it.”

Speaking with officials from the Nobel Foundation following the announcement, Hansen said he was “very surprised” to have won, while Fama said he was “thrilled”.

Fama and Hansen are both professors at the University of Chicago, while Robert Shiller teaches at Yale University.

The economics laureates were unveiled at a press conference at the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences at Stockholm University.

Eugene Fama was born in Boston in 1939, and studied at the University of Chicago, where he is now a Distinguished Service Professor.

Lars Peter Hansen was born in 1952, and studied at the University of Minnesota. He is now a Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago.

Robert Shiller is also a US citizen, born in Detroit in 1946. He studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is now a Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University in New Haven.

In fielding questions following the announcement, Shiller called the field of finance “fundamental to human activity”.

“Finance is a theory that while it has many controversial elements, is useful for society and is important to human welfare. I’m glad to see this has been given recognition,” he said.

He admitted, however, that there was still much to learn in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 which continues to affect parts of the global economy.

“The financial crisis reflected mistakes and imperfections in our financial system we’re already working on correcting those mistakes, but it will take decades,” he said before nevertheless striking a note of optimism.

“There have been financial crises many times throughout history, and we’ve learned from them,” said Shiller.

Commenting on the work of the three researchers, Eva Mörk, an economics professor at Uppsala University, explained that the new laureates were looking at whether asset prices were “predictable or unpredictable”.

“In the 1960s, Fama found that in the short run, asset prices are not predictable,” she told The Local.

“It’s very hard to beat the market, you can’t use past information about to predict future prices. If you read it in the paper in the morning, it’s too late to react because the market has already reacted.”

In the 1980s, Shiller looked at asset prices over longer time horizons and found that they fluctuated more that one might expect based on the dividends paid out.

“He began to see peculiar patterns in the data that were hard to analyze using traditional models,” Mörk said.

“We believe that asset prices should reflect future dividends, but what he found was that prices varied a lot more than future dividends. Something else was going on.”

Shiller pioneered a new field, behavioural finance, but it was thanks to Hansen’s innovations in modelling that allowed the work of this two fellow laureates to be tested in a much simpler and targeted way.

“Hansen’s methods, combined with the findings of Shiller and Fama “told researchers in finance that new thinking was needed” said Mörk.

“We learned that we can’t hold on to our existing theories; that we need to continue so we can better understand the data,” she added.

The Uppsala professor admitted that some may question awarding the researchers in finance as the global economy continues to struggle with the effects of a financial crisis.

“But I would argue that it’s even more important when we see that these things matter so much,” she said.

“If it wasn’t for these laureates, we’d probably have much bigger problems understanding what’s happening today.”

Despite the advances brought by Shiller, Fama, and Hansen, “there are still a lot of things that we don’t know” Mörk continued.

“We don’t have all the answers yet, but thanks to the laureates, we are in a much better position to understand things, and hopefully in the future we’ll be in a better position to understand how we should regulate financial markets in order for them not to fall apart,” she said.

The prize has been awarded since 1969 by the Bank of Sweden (Sveriges Riksbank), which pays the Nobel Foundation’s expenses associated with the prize, as well as the monetary award.

SEE ALSO: Stockholmers speak about their favourite Nobel Prize

While not technically a “Nobel Prize”, as Alfred Nobel only left money in his will to physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace, the economics prize is always presented together with the other prizes in Stockholm in December.

Last year’s economics prize went to US economists Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design”.

The 2013 Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature and the Nobel Peace Prize were all announced last week in Stockholm and Oslo. All awards will be handed out on December 10th, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

Follow our live blog of the 2013 Nobel Prize announcementshere.

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