Dine like a Bad-Ass Gourmet Viking

Matthew Stein (left), as Odin, and chef JJ Gonson

When I was in high school, my gung-ho AP English Literature teacher giddily decided to host a "Beowulf Feast," in an effort to nail down the importance of the Anglo-Saxon mead hall in our wandering teenage brains. We were each responsible for bringing a dish worthy of a Grendel-slaying warrior, along with a poem of our own composing to perform in front of the class.


Unsurprisingly, everyone brought bread, and only one person dressed in a cape. Things definitely got real during his reading, as we all halfheartedly raised our plastic cups of apple juice.

All I'm saying is, had local chef JJ Gonson been in charge, this shit would have been epic. And there would have been real mead.

Gonson, the brains behind Cuisine En Locale, a shared-food program (think CSA, but in fully-prepared meal form) and the driving force between the coolest foodie outings since food trucks: ONCE ( One Night Culinary Event) dinners, which originated in 2008 as a backyard barbeque. Now, Cuisine en Locale is bringing a massive 10-course locavore feast in "Odin's Hall" back into our lives on January 21 with a perennial favorite Valhalla-themed smorgasbord.

"I was a personal chef, making wonderful parties with my team. I felt frustrated that they were only open to a few folks," she explains in an email. "So I decided to throw a party myself, for anyone who wanted to come, and ONCE was born."  

Back to Beowulf. I'm not saying that sometimes I dream about attending a massively out-of-control feast in a freezing cold tapestry-adorned castle somewhere, complete with danger-reaching levels of alcohol and hunks of meat and Viking hunks...but I'm not going to deny it either. When a close friend of Gonson's created a business called Short Army, making knitted hats in the style of Viking helmets, the two of them had a similar idea.

"We thought it would be a good idea to get a lot of Viking lovers together, put those hats on their heads and feed them Viking food," she says. "Turns out we were right!"

Right on, sister. Now, because people in the 21st century aren't usually crazy about under-seasoned legs of animal flesh, Gonson and her team tailor their Valhalla menu to modern day appetites in collaboration with a huge handful of local farmers. Duxbury's darling Island Creek Oysters make an appearance, paired with a tangy green apple mignonette, as does a cider and maple glazed Stillman Farm ham. Drool, much?

"There aren't a lot of cookbooks on Viking cuisine, so we have trolled the resources we have to get a sense of what was around in their world," she says. "They were great travelers, so they probably ate a lot of things. But, this is Valhalla-- the place you dream of going, so we are trying to reach an approximation of what they might have dreamed of eating, in the best of feasting times."

Last year's Nordic feast drew in 200 "honored guests, and many Gods, gnomes and Valkyries," Gonson says, most dressed in their 600 AD best. Don your finest battle fur and don't miss it this time.

ONCE: Valhalla takes place Saturday, January 21, at the Center for Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, from  7-11pm. Tickets are $75, and are available at Cash bar. Knit Viking helmets are available here.








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