IMG 4413
Produsenter | 21.02.24

The entrepreneurial pastry chef who takes the cake on TV

Pastry chef Marthe Kilen is busy on Norwegian TV these days, as Saturday night prime time airs the Norwegian version of The Great British Bake Off. Here she gets to judge all things cake and pastry. But what she's really busy at, is taking her business to the next level.

By Mai Løvaas/Oi! Trøndersk Mat og Drikke. Front page photo: Anders Myhr Nielsen/NRK


It's quite a normal and grey February morning when we talk to Marthe Kilen from her office on the Fosen Peninsula in Trøndelag in Norway. Fru Nelik (meaning Missis Nelik) is the name of her business, and Nelik is her last name Kilen, read from front to back.

- Today I'm setting up an electricity contract, picking up an industrial freezer, packaging the Smellkyss merengue, calculating ice cream recipes, sorting out bar codes, things like that. Back to work, she says.

Marthe Kilen and her business Fru Nelik won Pastry of the Year at Trøndelag Food Festival in 2022 for her strawberry merengues called Smellkyss (which means 'blow you a kiss'). Photo: Albertine Vestvik

Times are busy with lots of orders for cakes for various events coming up in spring.

Last year she was in Bergen for six weeks filming the Norwegian version of The Great British Bake Off, now showing on national TV with The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. Marthe Kilen is a judge on the show, assessing the contestants' baking contributions within the different categories.

- I'm eating so much cake it feels like I'm dying! she says smiling.

First episode aired: The premiere in Rissa

A few Saturdays ago the first episode aired on TV, and she threw a big premiere party in Rissa, her hometown. Rissa is a small rural town on the peninsula of Fosen, a few hours ride including a ferry ride across the fjord from Trondheim. 

They had a big flat screen and aired the first episode at a restaurant in Rissa.

- There were probably a hundred of us, friends and family, and people gave me flowers and held speeches. It was a superb evening. My mobile phone didn't stand still, she says.

The county office of Fosenregionen made Fru Nelik t-shirts for the party, so that everyone could get one. The bank Sparebank 1 SMN sponsored the t-shirts.

- It's so wonderful to have friends and family who cheer me on, tell other people of my business, shop at my business and 'like' my posts on social media. I totally depend on things like this. I work a lot and usually say no to social events, but the fact that they are still there for me is so nice, she says.

At the big premiere party in Rissa. The Norwegian version of The Great British Bake Off is now in full swing on national television every Saturday night. Photo: Private

The phone call from national TV, audition and casting

It all started one day she was at work, at Fru Nelik headquarters in Rissa. Fully engaged with various bowls of pastry dough, spatulas and mixers in the kitchen, the phone rang. She answered while still working, using her shoulder to support the phone towards her ear, hands still working.

- I get 20 phone calls like this a day, and it went something like, who are you and what do you want?! I had never heard of a baking show and when he repeated he was from national television I had to put down what I was doing and listen more to what he was saying. My first reaction was something like, I don't know if you have heard the dialect of someone from Trøndelag on television, but they sound retarded! Are you sure you want that?! He said, oh that's just charming, she recounts with a smile. 

She doesn't know how The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) found her, because Rissa isn't exactly the center of the earth. She suspects it's because she was the captain of The National Pastry Chef Team up until 2022. 

She's never been on TV or had any thoughts about that, but she has always loved being a baker and a pastry chef and it has always been her profession. At the audition she was given some tasks, there was filming at various angles and then she said goodbye and flew back home.

- I wasn't nervous either, because it's not going to be me anyways I thought. When they called and asked if I wanted to be a part of the show. I was like, what?! Then I was told that the other judge would be André Løvaas. During filming we worked really well together. We have very different kinds of knowledge and as judges we really match each other. Then Ulrikke Brandstorp came in as the show host, and we're a super trio. Very different people, but we get along great, she says.

The judges Marthe Kilen and André Løvaas together with show host Ulrikke Brandstorp in The Baking Championship on NRK. Photo: Anders Myhr Nielsen/NRK

The concept for the Norwegian version of The Great British Bake Off, is to find Norway's best hobby baker. 12 participants get a task in each episode, from creating their own specialties to technical tasks and a master presentation. Some participants have to leave the show, and the ones who do well get a yellow apron to wear.

- What's nice about the show is that the guy who's great at baking bread is also going to decorate cake, and the lady who's really clever at stacking tall tier cakes is also going to bake bread. Everybody gets to show what they're good at, she explains.

- We make the rounds and give feedback to everyone. André and I have a discussion before deciding and we talk about flavor, consistency, appearance, how they have worked, how they have thought, everything is part of the evaluation, she says. 

The judges Marthe Kilen and André Løvaas are eating a lot of cake during the filming of The Baking Championship. Photo: Anders Myhr Nielsen/NRK

The tasting of 200 cakes and a number of kilos later

Have you gotten to eat a lot of good and exciting cakes?

- Yes, well, both. I thought the participants were surprisingly skilled for being hobby bakers who have been in the kitchen at home, have a full time job and kids and all that. But I've eaten both good and not so good cakes. Somebody did the numbers and figured we had tasted over 200 cakes. One thing is tasting each cake, but in order to evaluate you have to taste the crust, the filling, the glaze separately. It's a lot of cake eating. I gained six kilos while filming, she says and laughs. 

- Sometimes it can be too much of everything in a cake, for example too much alcohol. That doesn't taste good. Other cakes can be really boring and give you nothing. A cake has to taste really good, and I'm very fond of different kinds of textures; a bit of crunch, something tart. The participants get feedback and learn along the way. I think they are really good at adjusting and learning. 

The participants are creative and there will be some fun creations at The Baking Championship. Photo: Anders Myhr Nielsen/NRK.

The Cream Boy and the Crunch Girl

As judges did the two of you have very different preferences flavor-wise?

- Yes, André loves cream, and I don't. I want more crunch and other things. During filming that became the big thing; the cream boy and the crunch girl, she says and laughs.

- But we were on the same page when there was too little or too much of something.

She explains that André Løvaas is very good at everything that has to do with bread; from various kinds of grains and flours to dough. He can immediately see whether a dough is kneaded by hand or spun in a machine. She doesn't think she can bring anything to the table in regards to bread, not more than evaluating good flavor and consistency, so she was glad he was the expert in that area. 

- He's a bread nerd. I'm more over on the pastry and sweets side of things. I love working with glazes and ganaches, things like that, she says.

So she was actually chosen as the TV judge for the show, and how many people came to casting for that role she doesn't know.

- I'm completely aware that I'm not the world's best pastry chef, but I do have the passion for it. I have worked with it my whole life. And at the beginning of filming I was a bit nervous. Am I good enough for this? You know, having a bit of poor self esteem, which is silly. Throughout the process I found that, wow, I'm actually quite good at this. When we are evaluating the cakes we forget about the cameras, then it's all about work and that's something both André and I know how to do so it all went really well, she said.

During filming she was impressed with what the participants made. But she also points out that there are differences between doing a competition and running your own business. When you have your own business you have to make cakes that will sell, and it's about economy and efficiency. In the competition you need to make one cake to impress. But she thinks the show will inspire people to try out being cake artists in their own home kitchen.

- It's a really great bunch of people that are part of this show. I think the audience will come to care about them, because they're all really fun in their own unique ways. This is feelgood TV, it's to inspire people in the joy of baking. I hope and think it will, she says.

The whole crew of The Baking Championship on NRK, with a new episode every Saturday night. Photo: Per Olav Sølvberg/NRK

Rural gossip: Marthe is in jail

Last year when she spent six weeks in Bergen filming the show the whole project was confidential and not to be broken to the public. Neither her or her employees at Fru Nelik were allowed to disclose anything about where she was. People in Rissa and customers coming to the shop were asking her employers, where is Marthe? And all they could say was, well... she isn't around. That's when she found out that people around town were talking about how she was probably in jail.

- It's become a thing we laugh a lot about. Somebody commented on my post on social media that they would put a file inside the cake so that I could get out of jail. When I came home from filming I posted a picture of a file and wrote 'thank you so much Terje for the file now I've been able to get out of jail', she says with a smile. 

- I'm going to make a post that I very soon have to go back to jail, it must have something to do with 'bad behavior' so that I have to go back in again. As I say, this is the best reputation I've had in a long time, it's great!

Hr. Mister and Missis Nelik. Morten and Marthe Kilen at their stand at Trøndelag Food Festival. Photo: Mai Løvaas

A lot of work as an entrepreneur and many great supporters

Up until going back to Bergen at the beginning of April for the filming of season 2 she's training her employees who will be there without her for two months. She also has a pastry apprentice. The employees are getting specific tasks and responsibilities, so that everything no longer needs to go through her. The warehouse needs to be stocked before she goes, and the ice cream she will be launching for summer needs to get going now. She delivers products to the big grocery store chain in the region, Coop Midt-Norge. For Mother's Day and Valentine's Day she delivered 156 cakes, which is a lot for a small business.

She is doing wholesale through Trøndelag Mat, they ship cakes and products and together they collaborate on finding more shops and sales venues to carry the Fru Nelik pastries, cakes and sweets. She also has a shop in downtown Rissa on the Fosen Peninsula.  

The TV show will be an interesting part of the rural innovator journey..

- I'm thinking that I'm living in rural Fosen and spend most of my time at work, so how I will notice this new thing I really don't know, she says.

From having worked in the café at the county house in Rissa 10 years ago and up until what Fru Nelik is today there has been a lot of work. The business is run in a building that is 260 square meters, she has several employees and has invested in a lot of equipment, lately an ice cream factory. She does get support and help, one of them being the county office of Fosen Regionråd and her business advisor Paul Sverre Røe.

- Fosen Regionråd helps me a lot with paperwork, I wouldn't be where I am today without them. And I get a lot of help from the people on my board; Mats Redergård, Christian Johnsen, Otto Gregussen og Kjetil Dahle Aas, she says.

This summer she will again have a stand at Norway's biggest festival for locally produced food, Trøndelag Food Festival.  She is also a Living Lab participant in the EU project GRASS CEILING a research project about rural women innovators in agriculture and local food production.

Marthe Kilen is one of the participants in the Norwegian Living Lab in the Horizon funded GRASS CEILING project. The project is doing research about rural women innovators and also creating training platforms across nine European Union countries. Eight rural women innovators from the region of Trøndelag in Norway are participating. From left: Torunn Bjerknes/Kulturgården Bjerknes, Anita Galåen/Galåvolden Gård, Liv Bogen/Hogna Brygg, Marthe Kilen/Fru Nelik, Kari Øye/Havfruene, Turid Mjønesaune/Åstfjordlam, Sissel Langørgen/Høstadsand Gård. Not present: Jenny Domås/Jørem ved Namsen. Photo: Mai Løvaas

She is also getting support from a mentor from the organization Connect Midt-Norge and has gotten help from Innovation Norway.

- I'm a trained chef, baker and pastry chef, and I don't know how to do all that other stuff. But that stuff is important of course. I do great work in the kitchen, and that's where I'd like to be and not all the other places. But fortunately I think it's fun! Otherwise all this would be extremely difficult, she says.

Soon she will be packing her bags to go to Bergen for two months to film season 2 and being in a 'bake off bubble', and later this year she will also be the judge of the baking championship for juniors, also filming for NRK.

For Marthe Kilen and Fru Nelik it will be a very busy season eating and judging cake, baking cakes and serving up ice cream for summer.


Follow Marthe Kilen and Fru Nelik on Facebook and Instagram.