In the dark and cold of a Swedish winter comes Nobel fever. It culminates on December 10, at the Nobel Prize award ceremony and banquet. How do you host a dinner for 1,300 guests? Sweden.se finds out.
Can you imagine hosting a dinner for 1,300 people? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix
Take your dinner party of 10 and multiply that by about 150. Add in the Swedish royal family, government representatives, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and this year’s Nobel Prize laureates and their families, among others. Feeling the pressure yet?
In 2008, about 1,500 people will attend the Nobel Prize award ceremony and 1,300 guests the banquet. No wonder menu planning for the big day begins months in advance.
Jonna Petterson, Public Relations Officer at the Nobel Foundation, says: “Planning, planning, planning is the key to keeping everything running smoothly. We try to prepare and plan for everything, even the worst-case scenario.”
Hundreds of people work behind the scenes preparing copious amounts of food. The shopping list for a Nobel dinner one year included 2,692 pigeon breasts, 475 lobster tails, 100 kilos of potatoes, 70 liters of sweet-and-sour raspberry vinegar sauce, 67 kilos of Jerusalem artichokes — and the list goes on.
The kitchen begins preparing the meal three days before it is served. Twenty chefs and 200 waitstaff worked at last year’s banquet. More than 60 tables at Stockholm City Hall were decorated with 7,000 pieces of porcelain, 5,000 glasses and 10,000 pieces of silverware — all meticulously laid out by hands wearing white gloves.
The Nobel banquet is a formal affair, right down to the white gloves. Photo: Frida Hedberg/Scanpix
As always, the menu for this year’s banquet will be kept under wraps until December 10, but you can expect a Scandinavian touch — and it always includes the traditional Nobel “dessert parade,” which rounds off the three-course meal. Another sure thing is that turtle soup, often served as a starter from the 1920s-1940s, will not be making a comeback.
Judith Black, who attended last year’s banquet, says: “The food really lived up to its reputation; they obviously aim to present the best Swedish ingredients in imaginative ways. Another point is that you’re sitting at the table for nearly four hours, so everyone’s really pleased when the next course turns up.”
Maria Backelin, who works for Nobel caterer Profilrestauranger, says the most difficult thing is “getting everything to work logistically to ensure that the food is fresh and warm when it is served.”
All 1,300 guests are served the same food and sit at an equally elegant table, whether they are a Nobel laureate or a student. Two hundred students are invited to the Nobel banquet every year, one of whom is appointed toastmaster by the Stockholm Federation of Student Unions with the approval of the Nobel Foundation. The toastmaster introduces speakers and makes everyone feel welcome.
“A few years ago, the toastmaster was so nervous that he fainted,” Backelin says. “Not just once, but twice.”
Louise Hägerstedt is facing her third and final year as student toastmaster and hopes she won’t be sharing the same fate.
“As soon as the names of the laureates are made public in October, I start planning,” she says. “If there are laureates whose native language is not English or Swedish, I contact a translator to get the introductory sentence in that particular language, and to get some help with pronunciation. Then it is a matter of rehearsal; I try to rehearse every day up until the Nobel festivities.”
All students attending the banquet, whether working or as guests, must follow a strict dress code. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix
The Nobel ceremony is a formal affair and students working at the banquet are required to follow a certain dress code. Female students wear a black gown, black shoes, white gloves and the traditional Swedish student hat. (The student hat goes back to the mid-1800s. Today, high school students wear it when they graduate in spring.)
“I had the gown tailor-made for me, but the student hat presented more of a challenge,” Hägerstedt says. “The dress code demands a spotless, perfectly clean and white student hat without any decoration. As a student of Stockholm’s French School, my hat was decorated with the tricolor. Try finding a student hat in November.”
For the past 34 years, Hässelby Flowers has been responsible for the Nobel Prize ceremony flowers. As in previous years, thousands of flowers will contribute to the look and feel of the Nobel ceremony.
“This is the finest assignment you can get,” says Helén Magnusson, who presents her ideas to the Nobel Foundation already in June. “It starts with an idea and a shape or color, and is often about creating a feeling. I then choose flowers that suit that theme best.
“It is very important that the flowers and arrangements I suggest look good on TV. It is one of the most difficult and important aspects of doing the flowers.”
The flowers arrive five or six days before the award ceremony, and Magnusson and her team work flat out to have everything in place on time. Even with the best-laid plans, things can go wrong. “Every year something happens,” Magnusson says. “We might get the wrong color flowers, or maybe the shipment is delayed.”
Judith Black has alternative dinner plans this year. “Tickets for everyone apart from the innermost circle of guests cost SEK 1,700 (USD 215), so I’m making do with the prize ceremony in the Concert Hall, which is free. Then I’m going home to watch the banquet on TV.”
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The Nobel Prize has been awarded to people and organizations every year since 1901 (with a few exceptions such as during World War II) for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (the Swedish central bank) introduced the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Each of the prizewinners receives a medal, diploma, and cash.
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Having lived in Sweden for many years now, Canadian freelance writer Cari Simmons has come to appreciate the Nobel festivities and all the other Swedish traditions that bring warmth and sparkle to a dark December.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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