Hotel owner and Director, Farmer and Entrepreneur
Olav Lie-Nilsen is a visionary and active entrepreneur who took over the Thorbjørnrud hotel at Jevnaker outside Oslo in Norway in 2008. He has since developed the hotel to an establishment widely renowned for its food and beverage profile, demonstrating a tireless go-ahead spirit for Norwegian agriculture and food production, among other things through the purchase of the worn-out smallholding Øvre Kjekshus, a few kilometres from the hotel. The smallholding has been transformed into a well-run farm, supplying the hotel with meat and cheese. Earlier this month the Norwegian organisation for rural tourism, farm food and inland fishing, HANEN, selected him as This Year’s Local Food Entrepreneur 2016. This week he shared his thoughts and experiences with HSMAI members and others attending the second annual HSMAI Region Europe event in Dublin, Ireland.
Q: What does a day at work consist of for you?
A: It is varied, starting at 05:30 am, some coffee, emails I didn’t catch the previous day. Work in the cowshed from 06:00 to 11:00. If I can, I take a trip to Thorbjørnrud, pop into the office, check the mail, bills, reports and figures, then a few rounds around the house to see if everything’s in order, an immense amount of lightbulbs to change and chairs to put in place, talk to the employees, or external or internal meetings.
Then a quick visit to the cheese factory to check on things, take stock of the storage and discuss production with the cheese maker. If I’m next in line to present the menu and serve as host, I’m usually in the hotel at night, depending on farm duties. It is an all-too rare activity, as I find it something of a favourite. I travel a lot in order to promote Thorbjørnrud, networking or acquiring qualifications. Also, I spend a lot of time passing on food and meal culture, to groups on the house and in other forums.
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: That I’m free to be my own master, influencing 100 percent on my own workday. There’s always a challenge at hand, so I feel that I get to use my skills and qualities.
Q: Do you have any nice traditions at your office?
A: Coffee and fibbing with Kjetil and the rest of the lot.
Q: How long have you been a member of HSMAI?
A: I got to know HSMAI back in 1998, when I started working at Thorbjørnrud Hotel.
Q: What do you think is the best thing about HSMAI?
A: Networking and professional updating.
Q: Are there any activities or projects you think HSMAI should start up?
A: The passing on of qualifications, the hosting role and meal culture. As skilled workers within experience, qualifications and sensitivity are crucial for success.
Q: Describe your perfect weekend.
A: Sailing in the summer, or strolling through the streets of a larger city, with no aim or purpose. Always nice to have the kids visiting, enjoying the company of good friends and good food.
Q: If you were Norway’s Prime Minister, what would be your highest priorities?
A: 100 percent protection of cultivable soil, a non-renewable resource, emphasis and focus on status and content in craftsmanship. We can’t all be economists or academics. Make the mutually dependent agriculture and hospitality a joint business area. Improve the focus on quality, and making sure my cabinet ministers don’t fuzz about food having to be so cheap all the time.
Q: How would someone who knows you describe you?
A: Slightly absent-minded, industrious, kind and spirited.
Q: What is your next travel destination?
A: An autumn vacation in Paris with the kids.
Q: Do you have any special hobbies?
A: My life is a great hobby, no, how should I put it? Has to be something related to food and food culture, at home and abroad.
Q: If you were trapped on a desert island, what would you take with you, if you could choose one thing?
A: A cow, providing food and good company.
Q: Thank you for your time. Do you have any personal comments?
A: I’d like to gather a group of people and make Thorbjørnrud a venue for those interested in learning and sharing knowledge and competence within the fields of food and meal culture.
Photo: Olav Lie Nilsen, owner and founder of the Thorbjørnrud hotel in Jevnaker, Norway. Photograph from Thorbjørnrud hotel.