Ingrid Espelid Hovig was Norway’s first TV cook who taught Norwegians how fish could be prepared in many ways and enjoyed, introduced them to parsley and brought international tastes and trends into their kitchens while also perfecting Norway’s own traditions. Norwegians were having a hard time digesting her death on Friday despite her age of 94.
“Ingrid was genuine, she was never bought up by an industry or a chain of grocery stores,” said Bent Stiansen, one of Norway’s most high-profile gourmet chefs whose Oslo restaurant has won Michelin stars for years. “She lived to present the good taste, the good raw ingredients,” also the “good food culture” that many Norwegians didn’t fully realize they had in the 1960s, when her weekly cooking show Fjernsynskjøkkenet made its debut in black and white on the country’s lone state-controlled NRK TV channel at the time.
“She was the unchallenged winner of how to filet a mackerel,” Stiansen told newspaper Dagsavisen with a laugh. He claims she inspired many cooks both in Norwegian households and chefs like himself, building a solid foundation for how to prepare food through her TV show and around 60 cookbooks that sold more a million copies in a county that had less than 4 million inhabitants when she was at the height of her career.
“As a child and in my teens, I viewed her as kind of dowdy and old-fashioned, the image of a grandmother on TV,” recalled chef and food writer Anders Viestad. “But when I got to know her, I realized she was revolutionary. She used her mild manner to introduce Norwegians to entirely new perspectives. She brought the world to Norway at a time when Norwegians weren’t very well-traveled or well-read.”
He noted how she used wine in food and showed Norwegians how to make pizza. “She was the godmother for a new generation of cooks in Norway,” Viestad said.
She was born in 1924 on Askøy near Bergen, and her soft-spoken Bergen dialect became her trademark. She grew up with two sisters and a cherished older brother who was killed during World War II, and she graduated from the state teachers college in Stabekk outside Oslo in 1950. She traveled around the country teaching school students how not only to prepare fish but to enjoy it, in a country that often took fish for granted and viewed meat as superior.
She also was a member of the Liberal Party and worked for the Peace Corps in Uganda in the late 1960s, taking a break from her TV kitchen to help people in need. She didn’t marry until 1977, to architect Jan Hovig whom she called “the love of her life.” He died, however, just 11 days after their wedding during an emergency operation, and she never married again, reporting back to work at NRK on the Monday morning after his death. The country grieved with her, but she went right back on the air and avoided discussing her sorrow until author Ingar Sletten Kolloen wrote her biography in 2013.
She was known for her smile and the twinkle in her eye, even late in her 80s, and how she adopted the saying “vi juksa litt” (we’ll cheat a bit), when the cakes she’d bake on air were finished in record time. The saying reportedly emerged in a parody of her TV cooking show that Hovig found so funny that she incorporated it into her own presentations.
Hovig, described by her publisher Gyldendal as “the tiny, thin food lady with the mighty force,” won a string of prizes and was knighted by King Harald V in 1994. She loved her work and was active past the age of 90, when the state also honoured her with a special lunch at Norway’s official government residence. It was prepared by another of Norway’s gourmet chefs, Terje Ness.
“Ingrid Espelid Hovig has inspired very many,” said Health Minister Bent Høie at that lunchoen. “She has taught us about the connection between healthy food and good health, but the most important is that she showed us the joy of preparing food.”