A TV chef whose flaming style has left him in hot demand with Hollywood’s A-list has enjoyed an emotional reunion with his Scandinavian relatives.
Larger-than-life Chris ’ Flamebaster* Roberts, from Caernarfon, travelled to Norway, Denmark and Sweden to explore the delights of Nordic cooking with a new series Siwrna Scandi Chris (Chris’s Scandi Journey) on S4C at 9pm on Wednesday, November 29.
It was an extra special trip for the popular chef who was reunited with cousins Eivind Oen and Eleri Mai Oen Fossem, the offspring of his great uncle, Norwegian fisherman Olaf Oen, during filming in Bergen, Norway.
Chris, 38, went from being a man who cooked on an old-fashioned spit roasting fire with his friends – without anyone watching – to overnight fame as a Facebook foodie with thousands of fans.
His mouth-watering videos on Facebook were an instant hit with food-lovers and saw him land his own show on S4C, made by independent Caernarfon-based television production company Cwmni Da.
In a new development, Chris has now moved from working freelance to joining Cwmni Da as a member of staff.
He still has to pinch himself to believe his rapid success and the huge appetite for his style of open fire cooking, inspired by his Welsh ancestors in Patagonia, the Welsh colony in Argentina.
“It’s still crazy to think I’m a self-taught chef who’s never worked in any kitchen before,” he said.
“The other week I cooked a BBQ for a couple of very famous Hollywood A-listers and 120 of their friends at a beach near my hone. That was just on the back of doing my series in New York last year, and a very surreal moment!
“It’s also crazy when you have chefs with multiple Michelin stars asking for your advice! But I’m having fun with it.”
The new series sees Chris taking the plunge in the icy Fjords of Norway, sampling the Scandinavian sauna culture, diving for seafood in Norway and exploring the ancient Viking arts of salting and pickling while also rubbing shoulders with some of his all-time food heroes.
“Last year, we filmed in New York, and I wanted this series to be a complete contrast,” he said.
“I wanted it to be about the sea and about diving for seafood, about nature, foraging and cooking in the openair ‘Keith Floyd’ style.
“In the first episode, I have a 90C sauna. Sauna followed by a dive in the Oslo fjords which are 6C.
“My dad’s cousins live in Bergen, Norway. My great auntie Megan met my great uncle Olaf in the second world war. They had two kids and lived just outside Caernarfon for a while, then moved to Bergen and had two more kids.
“My dad and grandmother used to spend their holidays there and I just wanted to meet the extended family and explore the food culture there.
“We spent the day fishing in the North Sea, and they also cooked for me. It was really special to meet them and spend time with them. It was incredibly emotional, and I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so emotional as it was.”
Once again, the show will see Chris drawing on the gastronomic traditions of the countries he visits and blending the influences with his own unique style, with a little inspiration from his Scandinavian food idols.
“Scandinavia has traditions that date back to the Vikings and the same techniques of preserving food with salt, smoke and fermanting and pickling are used to this day,” he said.
“They have incredibly harsh winters and such a short spring and summer; everything is geared towards preserving and making the most out of the seasonality with various methods of fermentation. They really celebrate their produce which is something I admire as a Welshman.
“Throughout the journey I meet some of my ultimate food heroes including Michelin starred TV chef Niklas Ekstedt, owner of Ekstedt in Stockolm London’s prestigious Nordic restaurant Ekstedt at the Yard, who wrote one of the first books I ever bought on fire cooking.
“He’s a famous chef from Sweden and an absolute pioneer of open fire cooking. In Sweden, you must remember that open fires and wood ovens were not just a way of cooking but a necessity – if you didn’t have a fire you would die. It’s central to everything. It was cool to spend time with him. We went foraging in the woods and cooked in the outside.
“I also spent time with Rosio Sanchez (former head pastry chef at the two-Michelin starred Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark, who owns the Mexican-themed Hija de Sanchez restaurant in Copenhagen) She has has featured on massive Netflix food shows and it was so cool she wanted to spend time with me.
“In the Reffen street food market in Copenhagen, we set up a pop-up restaurant and cooked ex-dairy beef on the fire with bone marrow and then I meet another of my food heroes, Chef Jamie Lee, of Fiskebaren, my favourite seafood restaurant in the world, and have a first take on the national dish of Denmark – Smørrebrød – which is a kind of open sandwich with rye bread, salted butter and a variety of other ingredients.”
Chris added: “The series is not all about open fire cooking though. Copenhagen is known as one of the best food destinations in the world with many Michelin-starred restaurants but it’s not all about that. I wanted to taste the accessibility food – the street food – and meet the pioneers behind the New-Nordic cuisine. Street food is my favourite kind of food.”
With three children aged four, two and seven months and a flourishing TV career, life is much busier for Chris these days but he’s enjoying the adventure and the exciting opportunities his work brings.
He recently flew back from a road trip across New Zealand for a new TV series for Cwmni Da to be aired later in the year.
“It was basically a 22-day road trip with Welsh comedian and presenter Kiri Pritchard-McLean and S4C’s, Alun Williams. We started off in Queenstown in the South Island and drove up to Auckland,” he explained.
“We were going to use a campervan, but in the end got a 4X4. It’s actually not a food show it’s about three people bonding over a road trip and doing crazy stuff along the way. It was so much fun, and great to do something different.”
Cwmni Da managing director Llion Iwan said: “Chris is a complete one-off with a massive personality and loads of charisma so it’s no wonder the S4C audience have taken to him in such a big way.
“The new series about his epic epicurean journey in Scandinavia is going to be another must-watch for his growing legion of fans, along with the touching moments when he meets with his Nordic relatives.
“Chris was previously working as a care support worker for a local council for many years.
“He joined us full time in the summer because we were doing so much it was difficult for him to balance all his commitments.
“It gives us a chance to develop further ideas and explore new opportunities so we can continue our television adventures and keeping on teasing the nation’s taste buds.”
Siwrna Scandi Chris is on S4C at 9pm on Wednesday, November 29.