Gambled and fell in love with cooking

Apprentice Leon in the kitchen at Britannia hotel. Photo: Henriette Louise Krogness

Everything was washed, he was exhausted, and his 10-hour shift was over. The only task that remained was emptying the deep fryer. A minute later, oil was flowing across the floor.

Fortunately, 20-year-old Leon Haarberg Nilsen was not frightened by the oil spill. He is now an apprentice at what is considered Trondheim’s most exclusive hotel. I meet him at the entrance of Britannia Hotel, where I am greeted with 195 cm of burning commitment. Perhaps in a few years his name will be on everyone’s lips. Leon loves cooking competitions.

Gambled and won

As a young boy growing up at Sverresborg in Trondheim, becoming a chef is not what Leon dreamed of. When it was time for upper secondary school, he applied to study electrical engineering at Strinda. After the first year, he felt something was wrong, so he decided to gamble. He gambled and won, as he puts it. He wanted to try something different and applied to study restaurant and food processing.

The first year went well, but it was not until he started year two that things really took off.

“I had a girlfriend during the first year and that took up far too much time. When we broke up, I could immerse myself and go all in,” says Leon with a smile.

A phone call that made his heart miss a beat

His focus now is on the path forward. In October, he will take part in the “Chef of the Year” competition as Håkon Solbakk’s assistant. His role then will be to clean the kitchen and get it ready for the next round and help with the little extra so Solbakk can get as much rest as possible between rounds and have full focus on his dishes. When one of the five finalists in the “Chef of the Year” competition called Leon to ask if he wanted to be his assistant, it was almost enough to make his head spin.

“I was insanely happy. It was completely surreal,” says Leon.

Leon loves cooking competitions and has watched all the “Chef of the Year” videos accessible on YouTube.

“Culinary arts and cooking competitions really motivate me. I have participated in apprentice competitions and found it very rewarding,” says Leon with a smile.

He has finished second in two competitions during the Corona pandemic but has not yet come as far as he would like. Everything he learns will help him towards achieving his craft certificate. When that box is ticked off, his next goal is to work towards being selected for the junior national team.

Martin Mørch, Christopher Davidsen, Leon Haarberg Nilsen and Espen Laumann.
Martin Mørch, Christopher Davidsen, Leon Haarberg Nilsen and Espen Laumann.

You need to be motivated

If you are going to offer advice to those following in your footsteps, what does it really take to become a chef, I wonder. 

Leon answers quickly. “It’s hard work and it’s time consuming, but when you get into it you get a lot of respect from everyone around you,” says Leon before laughing.

“When others are out enjoying themselves, you’re in the shit and at the top!” 

He brings up the good environment at his workplace on several occasions, noting the strong bonds formed by working 10-hour shifts together each day. There is often a fast pace and it’s best to avoid mistakes. Consequently, it feels even better when you get a pat on your back from your colleagues after you have done something well.

Leon skjærer opp laks i små biter
Leon always applies full concentration because he wants to be the best.

Fortunately, there are many places where chefs can get work during the daytime, but that is not the goal for Leon. He wants to work his way up the ladder and eventually learn from the best in the world.
The most important characteristic of a chef is to keep one’s cool, Leon believes.

“It doesn’t matter how long your legs are because it’s what’s in your head that matters,” says Leon referring to his height of 1.95 m.
Leon checks his watch again because an apprentice with ambitions does not arrive late for work.


Written by Henriette Louise Krogness

You might also like