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What is Lutefisk? Ask the 'Real Men' of Farmington Hills Swedish Club

The Scandinavian 'delicacy' is the centerpiece for the annual meal.

Russ Simms of Orion Township isn't Scandinavian, but he knows a bit about one of the culture's most infamous foods.

Simms, who claims Irish, English, Scotch and German heritage, said his wife and father-in-law introduced him to lutefisk, which is dried cod softened by soaking it in lye, then well rinsed and boiled. For the first time Saturday, Simms was in charge of cooking it for the Nordic Fellows Real Men Eat Lutefisk dinner held at The Swedish Club in Farmington Hills. 

Fortunately, he had some experience behind him. David Pederson of White Lake, who began eating lutefisk as a child, has been cooking it for about 25 years. 

Pederson, who turns 71 today, said lutefisk is part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner for Norwegians.

"They did a survey about five years ago, and the transplants all over the world were who was consuming the lutefisk," he said, adding the dish has caught on once again in Norway. 

Norway's Honorary Consul to Michigan Dennis Flessland of Huntington Woods presided over the event, which he said was about more than the meal.

"We do this also to celebrate male bonding and male fellowship," he said. 

The 48 who attended included fathers who brought their sons and grandsons, said Bob Giles of Huntington Woods, who is president of the Norwegian Club of Detroit. There were even a few sons-in-law, like Vince Oltoboni of West Bloomfield. He may be Italian, but he has for the past 20 years participated in the lutefisk-eating tradition, thanks to his father-in-law Torkild Nielsen of Novi. 

What is it that he likes about lutefisk? 

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing," he said. "It's the company and beer and the Akvavit (Danish spirits)." 

As part of their tradition, the men drink toasts to the King of Norway, the King of Sweden, and Queen of Denmark, the President of Iceland and the President of the United States. And after their meal, they share stories, jokes and the pleasure of each other's company. 

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