”Very few people can get three chefs to jump in the water. Roderick Sloan is the man who can and did. It is people like Rod who make the real magic behind what we do”
-Trevor Moran, former product sous chef at noma.
A day’s journey – two flights and a catamaran ride – North of Copenhagen lies the island of Nordskot. Floating high in the Norwegian Arctic, it bears witness to a truly unimaginable diversity of exotic life-forms, of which at least two our small team had an extraordinary experience with during a few, short winter days: sea urchins; and the mad Scot who catches them, Roderick Sloan.
Sea urchins have been around for some 600 million years. The Norwegian Green Sea Urchin, collected by hand by Sloan and his chief diver Paweł Laskowski from the Arctic Ocean, where water temperatures fall to between -2 and 2 C, is just one of about 700 species of sea urchin. Jumping into the ocean from a “bulletproof and unsinkable” ex-Norwegian Army boat (“Pirates, no stress”) during the dark and freezing winter months, they dive for 3-4 hours at a time, collecting between 100 and 150 kgs of urchins per week.
When René Redzepi first contacted Sloan in 2007, he was not especially keen on more sea urchin adventures – he wanted to return to university and become an engineer. After several attempts to fob Redzepi off with every excuse in the book – from health and safety issues to bad weather and broken engines (as well as some considerable nagging from his wife, Lindis) – he eventually decided to give his passion for sea urchins another go. Since then, Sloan has rapidly become the epicentre for the rise of these Arctic delicacies. However, it’s not only urchins that he harvests by hand, but also the gently growing Mahogany Clam (there was one found in Iceland that was 507 years old), the sluggish-looking Softshell Clam and, most recently, the Sea Cucumber; supplying restaurants throughout Scandinavia and Northern Europe.
After spending several days with Roderick, as our final day drew to a close, he said goodbye to us and left the house we’d been staying in on the small island of Grøtøy, off the coast of Nordskot. Suddenly, after a few minutes, he reappeared to let us know of the “fireworks” outside. As we lined up on the hill to watch the Northern Lights unfold (chef Matt Orlando squeeling with amazement) Sloan began walking down towards his boat. As I turned around to see what was going on, he stared into the darkness with the words:
“I’m still gonna go home, you know”.
Watch Roderick Sloan’s presentation at the 2012 MAD Symposium here.