As television viewers, we watch some cooking shows to learn the host's recipes and techniques (how wonderful, we think, to wield a knife like Jacques Pepin). We watch others to spend fantasy time with the chef (how cool to cook alongside Julia Child).
Now meet Tina Nordstrom, the latest chef in the PBS lineup, who is definitely in the second category.
First off, there is no getting around the very politically incorrect observation that Nordstrom is a stunning, tall, blonde 31-year-old with a sunny personality, a dazzling smile and an image of herself as the girl next door.
In Sweden, she is a household word. She's been a popular television personality there since her first cooking series in 2001, says Marie Burewall, North American director of the Swedish Travel and Tourism Council, which has helped with the series production costs. Nordstrom can rarely walk down the street without enthusiastic greetings from her admirers. (It's a small country.)
PBS is introducing her to America in a 13-part series that will be shown nationwide. The show is already airing in cities from New York to Los Angeles, Boise to St. Paul, Dallas to Nashville. In the Washington area, starting this weekend, the program will be shown at noon on Sundays on WHUT, the Howard University-operated public television station, and starting Oct. 23, the same series will air at 6 a.m. on WETA.
Nordstrom came to Washington last week as part of a publicity tour to promote the series. She is the host and star of each episode, acting as a guide to destinations all over Sweden -- she fishes on a frozen lake in the far north; she dives for oysters on the west coast; she whitewater rafts through the Stockholm archipelago. And in each place, she introduces viewers to contemporary versions of the country's traditional, local foods. Herring has never looked so good.
Nordstrom has followed a career path something like a traditional European chef's -- at least until she went on television. She's been cooking most of her life, she says, from the time she began serving coffee at restaurants in her family's golf clubs when she was 6. After graduating from catering school at 18, she worked her way through the ranks at a series of restaurants in Denmark and Sweden.
There weren't many women chefs in Scandinavia then, she says, but she was determined. "I just loved it," she says. "I worked from 7 in the morning until 1 to 2" the next morning. "It was never too much work, and I learned a lot."
She thrived on the experience and garnered media attention fairly early on. "There were not so many female chefs then," she says. "I was the first to struggle and work in good restaurants, so people started to talk about me."
She got even more attention after becoming the first woman to be a finalist on Sweden's Chef of the Year contest in 1999. "I've always loved cooking competitions," she says.
She didn't win, but soon after that, Swedish television contacted her to see if she'd be interested in her own show. She said yes immediately without realizing what it meant to her private life.
Nordstrom copes with the intrusive aspects of public recognition by living away from Stockholm with her boyfriend (the business manager of a sausage company) and by staying off the party circuit, avoiding the tabloids and trying not to take herself too seriously.
"I'm there to cook," she says. "And I want to do it for a long time. I don't want to get tired of my own story."