Ingrid Espelid Hovig was the Julia Child of Norway, teaching Norwegian housewives and quite a few men how to cook on her legendary TV program Fjernsynskjøkkenet (literally, The Television Kitchen). On Tuesday she turned 90, and was hosted at a festive state luncheon by Norway’s Minister of Health, Bent Høie, and one of the country’s most famous modern-day chefs.
Terje Ness, the prize-winning Norwegian chef who’s been behind some of Oslo’s most famous restaurants with Michelin stars, composed the menu for Hovig’s 90th birthday lunch hosted by Høie, who, like Hovig, comes from Norway’s west coast. He carefully went through the menu for the festive occasion, and Hovig “oohed” and “aahhed” her way through it, before giving it her stamp of approval.
“Ingrid Espelid Hovig has been an inspiration for many,” Høie said in his prepared remarks. “For decades, her ‘Television Kitchen’ taught Norwegians how to make good and healthy food. She has given us knowledge and taught us the relationship between good food and good health, but the most important thing is that she taught us the joy of preparing food. And that making good food is something everyone can do.”
Hovig, who made her debut as a TV chef during Norwegian Broadcasting’s prototype TV shows as far back as 1956, stayed active long after “retiring” from her show in 1996, at an age of 72. She has written more than 60 cookbooks, made appearances at countless food festivals and cooking-related events, advised myriad chefs and won a long string of prizes. She also was knighted by King Harald into St Olavs Order with the distinction of First Class.
Her 90th birthday was also being celebrated with the publication of another new cookbook entitled 90 retter til Ingrid (Ingrid’s 90 courses), in which 30 of Norway’s top chefs present recipes for a three-course meal.
Her 90th birthday lunch, held in the government’s elegant official guest house just behind the Royal Palace, was attended by members of her family, state health director Bjørn Guldvog and celebrity baker Morten Schakenda in addition to Høie and Ness and many other invited guests. Bent Stiansen, who just won his latest Michelin star for his Statholdergaarden Restaurant in Oslo, was among those expressing his admiration for Hovig:
“I just say ‘hallelujah’ and ‘thanks’ that we’ve had her functioning for so many years,” Stiansen told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. “She has managed to combine Norwegian food culture, food traditions and nutrition in a sensible manner without being someone who scolded us or stressed what we shouldn’t eat. Ingrid is also totally impartial, she has never been bought or sold by any player in the food industry.”
Andreas Viestad, a Norwegian food writer, claimed her long-running program on NRK was revolutionary. “For the first time, making food became a matter of importance for everyone,” Viestad said. “She used her position to pass on important things about Norwegian food culture, but she also introduced many new things for Norwegians. Most heard about pizza and pasta for the first time from her.”
She’s remembered for introducing the use of parsley in Norwegian homes, and suggesting it was okay to “jukse litt” (cheat a bit) in the kitchen instead of rigidly sticking to recipes. Her programs just before Christmas Eve provided invaluable tips on how to get a crisp crust on a pork ribbe, or how to make Norway’s various traditional stewed vegetables. She invited prime ministers and many others into her TV studio kitchens, always smiling and speaking reassuringly in her soft west coast dialect.
In the end, the simplest things were still the best for Hovig. “I can’t imagine a day without bread,” she said on Tuesday. “Or potatoes! But you know, you don’t have to eat so much of either.”