Mette Presthagen

Interview: Bjarte Frøyland | Photography: Brian Benton | Location: Brooklyn (NYC), US

Just like so many others, Mette Presthagen fell in Love with New York City the first time she visited. However, unlike most people she was not satisfied with just visiting. She wanted to live there. In 2012 she packed her bag in Norway, caught a plane and never looked back. Now she is living the dream in Brooklyn, working with companies that are doing something more than just making profit; companies that are targeting the UN sustainability goals and focusing on creating a better future.

We crossed the Atlantic to meet up with Mette and to spend some time with her, so that she could show us here favourite spots in her neighbourhood, and let us take part in a Brunost Party with her friends on a rooftop in Brooklyn.

Mette! How are you?

I'm good, thank you! It is such a great day today. Wonderfully sunny and 26 degrees.

It truly is. I bet you have had a lot of wonderful days since you moved here for almost five years? How has it been?

Good, without a doubt. The two first years had a special magic to it where everything was always wonderful; even the subway system was a gift. After that I got harder and started taking things for granted, it is like the city was mine at last. Since then I have had zero patience for people standing to the left in the escalator or walking ineffectively on the streets. It is like falling in love, you are crazy in the beginning and when the butterflies calm down you are perfectly confident that what you have is real and yours, and no one better mess with it.

Mette Presthagen at Rooftop in Brooklyn

Why did you end up in New York?

I wish there was a better story to it, but it is the same as everyone else´s; the cliché of coming to the city and feeling you belong here. Everything just made sense. I fell in love with it the first time I came, when I was backpacking in 2010, and I just knew I wanted to live here once. However, I went back to Norway and stayed there for 2 more years before moving to the New York in 2012.

Did you have a job or something specific waiting for you, or did you just pack your bag and move?

I pretty much packed my bag and moved. I was studying Public Relations and Business in Oslo at the time, but I did not want to stay in Oslo anymore. So, I made sure to apply for a school here and went as soon as I could.

And today, what is it that you do in the city? I got your business card and it says “Mette Presthagen – Gets shit done”. Nothing less, nothing more. 

Pretty much (laughs). I've realised that a lot of people are in need of exactly that; getting shit done.

Mette's Business Card

What exactly is it that you get done?

I would say my specialty is coming into a project where things are burning, to put out the fire. I tend to be hired as a project lead for teams and projects that basically are in a cramped time when it comes to deadlines. I then get to work with them until deadline and execution, before I am off again.

You enjoy that there is an end to things, if I get you right?

I do. Also, deadlines make me work. It makes me get shit done.

What projects have been on your agenda lately?

The last two years I have been working with technology and impact work, which is something I am passionate about. That is definitely the road I want to keep going down. I want to work for and with companies that are doing something more than just making profit.

Inspiring. Also, we understand that you have worked on a project in Norway for the last few months?

Correct. I was working on Katapult Future Fest.

I think that needs an explanation? 

Katapult Future Fest is a two-day tech festival in Oslo, Norway. It is focusing on the combination of exponential technologies and impact investing towards a better future society. By gathering investors, entrepreneurs, start-ups, change-makers and corporates from all over the world, we aim to build a community, a movement and a hub, where the combination of these will answer the UN sustainable development goals.

So, what do you define as the key to reaching the goals set by the UN?

The UN says that, in order to reach the seventeen sustainable development goals, we need 2,5 trillion US Dollar annually from the private sector. So far, I feel there has been a taboo when it comes to making money from doing good. If we can create an eco-system where we are creating value and making profit, having business plans that are doing something good for the world at the same time as their businesses work well; I am eager to contribute to that.

If I get you right; you are optimistic about the future despite the challenges we are facing today; and you believe that technology is what will bring us further?

Absolutely. Tech is the solution. No, let me rephrase, tech is the tool that we have. Which is why I am so passionate about working with impact start-ups and entrepreneurs that are asking “What can I do in order to make the world a better place?”. By gathering people and creating communities - like we did with Katapult Future Fest - important conversations can reach more people and have a bigger impact.

Sounds very exciting! And I guess there are quite a lot of likeminded people, working to make the world a better place, also in Williamsburg – where we are today. Would you tell us what kind of neighbourhood this is?

Williamsburg is what most people will call hipster town; and in most ways it is. It is overpriced, filled with kale and beards and double-decker bikes, and holds all the hipstery things you can think of. Other than that, it has the vibe and the people and the thousand of options that makes it hard not to love it.

You can also easily get around by bike, which love! And actually, I figured we could bike around in the area today, if you would like to join me?

I cannot think of any better way to experience Williamsburg! What are you planning to show us?

Well, there are so many places I would love for you to see; you would need to spend a couple of weeks here (both laughs).

But to be serious, I have pinned it down to a few everyday-favourites. We are going to my favourite coffee shop, Freehold and Devocion, where I normally go to work if I am not at the office. We will head down to the waterfront and see the pretty skyline of Manhattan, go through the McCarren Park, stop for ice cream at Van Leeuwen, head to William Vale, a newly-opened rooftop with spectacular views, as well as having lunch at a popular spot called Five Leaves – which has the best pancakes in the city.

This sounds no less than perfect, let’s go!

Mette biking in Brooklyn
Mette playing table tennis in Brooklyn
Mette eating her favourite ice cream in Brooklyn

Thank you so much for showing us all these great spots!

My pleasure! But we are not done yet. A friend of mine has made his rooftop available for us to host a party, and there's rumours that we will be making brunost ice cream!

Homemade brunost ice cream?

Yes, homemade. We are going to cranck the ice cream in an ice cream maker from 1920. I found friends here who share my passion for ice cream and who tend to bring the maker to parties. It's a hit, I'm telling you! And just as deliciously Williamsburgy and hipstery as you can get it.

Have any of you made the ice cream with brunost before, or will this be the first time?

This is for certain our first, but the guys are always up for a challenge and we are very excited to try something new!.

A perfect combination. And probably very similar to caramel ice cream.

It sounds like it. Like Prim maybe?

We actually had to limit you, did we not?

/ Both laugh /

Yes, last-minute invitation on point. People are good at coming to events here so I created the event the day before in order to not get too many guests. With free brunost I pictured they would go nuts and create a line around the block. They are very excited to try the cheese and to get some bubbles.

And you yourself, do you eat a lot of brunost?

I do. And I get mocked for eating too many "knekkerbrød with brunost". It's so good though! One could safely say that I am an ambassador for brunost.

Is it first time people try brunost tonight, or have you already introduced it to many of your local friends her?

Some have tasted it and some have not. Some of them love it and the rest, well, let us just agree that they have no right to talk.

/ both laugh / 

I look very much forward to see their reactions when trying the ice cream tonight! Maybe we should serve a bit all natural as well – to see how they like it then?

We should! It is always fun to see people's faces when they try it and expect a savoury flavor

On a rooftop in Brooklyn?

We cannot go wrong!

Should we start preparing everything then?

Let’s do!

Mette preparing brunost for tonight's party
Mette Cooking
Brunost in gold letters on a rooftop in Brooklyn

/ One after one the guests arrive, and only one thing remains: Cranking the ice cream they all have been waiting for /

Guests arrive at the rooftop bar
Mette making the brunost icecream
Serving the brunost icecream
Brunost party on a rooftop in Brooklyn

We leave the party, grateful to Mette for showing us Brooklyn, and for giving us a so-far unique experience: Brunost Party on a rooftop in Brooklyn.  We may safely state that everyone had a great night, and who knows; maybe a new tradition or a new favourite type of ice cream can hit the US market?