Foodie Friday with Scandinavian cooking expert Judith Dern

Today on Foodie Friday meet Judith Dern, a Scandinavian cooking expert who has made the Ballard area of Seattle her home. Judith runs her own culinary consulting firm, Judith H. Dern Culinary Communications. She is a cookbook author, recipe developer adept at making our mouths water for whatever topic she is discussing. Most recently, she wrote a history of food and drink in Seattle, called The Food and Drink of Seattle: From Wild Salmon to Craft Beer.

What is your role in the food industry?

My primary role is as a food writer. From this foundation, I’ve explored various incarnations ranging from PR professional managing national programs for food clients to serving as ghostwriter for chefs’ cookbooks to managing the creative and production process for 11 Allrecipes eCookbooks. I think of myself as a storyteller writing about consumer food trends and insights, a role I pursued when writing the Allrecipes Measuring Cup Trend Report.

How did you first get involved in the food industry?

My first engagement was working with Cynthia Traina of Traina Public Relations in San Francisco. Creative, professional, and talented, she had several food clients, including a restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf and a local chain of ice cream shops. From there, I moved to D.A.Y. Public Relations in Los Altos, Calif., where I worked on the S&W Fine Foods and General Foods accounts, and then returned to San Francisco to join the Ketchum PR team, an agency specializing in food clients where my clients were the Norway Sardine Industry and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for Wisconsin cheese.

What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?

It was a choice between textiles or writing. Textiles became my first career after studying hand-weaving for a year in Finland. Returning to the States, I set up a production studio and taught for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, but writing won. This happened following a move to the San Francisco Bay Area and a series of job changes leading me into public relations. In the PR field, I could manage accounts as well as tap my creative side writing client materials ranging from press releases to text for websites and social posts. Add cookbooks to this mix and my culinary cravings were indulged.

My first cookbook for the Norway Sardine Industry shared ways to use the tiny super-healthful fish packed with Omega-3 fatty acids and calcium in contemporary recipes developed by the Ketchum Test Kitchen under Maggie Waldron and Zelda Gordon. Their recipes were for everything from sushi to dips and pasta sauces! Both Maggie and Zelda were pioneers and living legends in the food PR universe, creating a new channel for consumer food product publicity. A second Norway sardine cookbook soon followed.

Between this beginning and my earlier Scandinavian connections, there’s a link that has spawned 11 more cookbooks (most as a ghostwriter) and continues to inspire me. In 2008, my cookbook Danish Food and Cooking was published, and then wrapped into Scandinavian Food and Cooking in 2011 by its English publisher. My newest book, The Food and Drink of Seattle: From Wild Salmon to Craft Beer was published last month.

What food trends are most influential in what you do?

Consumer food trends: What’s going on in home kitchens and in grocery stores? Which ingredients and recipes are home cooks searching online seasonally or for holidays? What’s new on this spectrum? Trends span vegan and gluten-free to meat and milk substitutes, adventures in ethnic cuisines ranging rom Mexican to Korean (move over Italian!), and more vegetables. Bottom line, more and more consumers say “clean eating” is their primary goal.

What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the food industry?

The internet is more and more a driver in how consumers shop, from clothing and books to groceries. The result is huge changes happening in the retail grocery industry. They range from online shopping and home deliveries, to meal kits delivered to front doors, the “grocerant” trend, the proliferation of organic products and produce, and when we shop. It’s not about Wednesday as “Food Day” any longer, it’s about busy families running to the store on weekends, and then prepping and cooking on Sunday. You could also say the elephant walking huge on the grocery landscape is Amazon. Its purchase of Whole Foods Market in 2017 has upended the industry.

Tell us about an industry professional who influenced you most?

He’s a new influence for me, but it’s Chef Claus Meyer, the architect behind the New Nordic Food Manifesto and a co-founder of Noma with Chef René Rezepi, the internationally acclaimed restaurant that’s a showplace for New Nordic culinary concepts in Copenhagen. His vision is currently my compass for change. He recognized the richness of Denmark’s—and all the Nordic region’s—indigenous seasonal ingredients and launched a movement to persuade other Nordic chefs to cook and create within this regional culinary framework.

Why the appeal for me? Because it connects with what I discovered while living for a year in Finland after finishing college, and what I learned promoting Norway sardines for seven years: regional ingredients and traditional dishes are inspiring and worth celebrating.

What's your big splurge food item? Any particular brand you're willing to pay more for?

Copper River Salmon. I had never tasted wild salmon with this Alaska pedigree before I landed in Seattle, but the first summer I spent in the Pacific Northwest was my introduction. Yes, there’s a lot of marketing hype around these fish, but I’m a convert and believe their rich, awesome flavor is worth every dollar.

What keeps you going as a food professional?

Connections and sparks are the name of my game. Meeting food world people gives me an immediate grounding, a touchstone for sharing “Can you believe it?” ideas, tasting experiences, and being touched by someone admired.

What do you view as your greatest achievement to-date as a food professional?

Completing The Food and Drink of Seattle: From Wild Salmon to Craft Beer (2018, Rowman & Littlefield) It’s a title in the publisher’s series of books about various cities’ food histories. The project started in 2015 when the friend who wrote the proposal invited me to join her in researching and writing the book. We started like gangbusters making a list of target experts to interview and digging into the Seattle and UW libraries, but in early 2017, my friend had to back out of the project. I was determined to forge ahead since I’d made the commitment and the topic, while complex, was too fascinating to walk away from.

What’s your favorite food to make at home?

From A to Z, I could probably name something for each letter (except Q-X-Y-Z.) I started making pies from scratch, pie crusts and all, when I was a teenager because my dad adored lemon meringue pie. Once I conquered that tangy creation, it was on to berry pies, Key Lime pie, pecan pie—a Thanksgiving family favorite—peach and pear pie, and even maple pie, Quebecois-style. Yes, piecrust can seem daunting, but with frozen chunks of creamery-style Danish butter and icy water, success is guaranteed.

Name the food/ingredient you can’t live without.

Cardamom, a Scandinavian must-have.

Who in the food industry do you most admire?

Chef José Andrés, for his world-view community service outreach, which extends from Puerto Rico to Washington, D.C.

What cookbooks or cooking classes are most important to you and why?

Believe it or not, given its longevity, I still thumb the pages of the Joy of Cooking for basic, how-to instructions when I want a reminder. My unbeatable rolled sugar cookie recipe is there, plus butterscotch topping (an edible Christmas present) and a basic brownie recipe. I also browse the pages of The New York Times International Cookbook. It’s another oldie, but outlined recipes for many authentic dishes back when global cooking first entered American kitchens.

For Scandinavian cooking, two cookbooks I rely on are Norwegian Chef Anders Viestad’s Kitchen of Light, and The Norwegian Kitchen, a compilation of seasonal and holiday recipes from the Association of Norwegian Chefs. Of course, if I’m craving classic Scandinavian dishes such as pickled herring or rice pudding with cherry sauce, I grab my own cookbook: Danish Food & Cooking.

Where would you most like to live? Why?

Have passport will travel! To Scandinavia! Even after a zillion trips there since my year of living in Finland studying hand-weaving at a school for sewing and weaving teachers, my prime destination continues to be Nordic lands. As a place to live, Copenhagen stands out. I adore the city’s historic and modern architecture, walking streets, and seawater setting with canals and bridges, Tivoli Gardens (a downtown amusement park since the 19th century), the royal castle and gardens, the home of H.C. Andersen, and restaurants from innovative to classic pub-style and Mediterranean buffet. Danes love to eat—and appreciate aquavit! As a crossroads of cultures (French, Austrian) as well as a source of indigenous foodstuffs (rediscovered and celebrated anew in the New Nordic Culinary Manifesto) from an agrarian culture surviving in the far north, it is a bustling city where old and new intersect, and where creativity blooms on dinner tables, in homes, and in progressive cultural attitudes. Yes, it’s deeply dark in winter, but that’s the season of glorious candlelight and no doubt, you’ve heard about hygge.

Tell us about your favorite vacation destination.

LOL See above.

Connect with Judith:


Twitter: @JudithHDern

Instagram: @scandogirl/

Facebook: judith.dern

LinkedIn: judith-dern-2a2890b/

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