Fäviken Magasinet, Järpen

Is it right that I force my customers to kill a chicken at their table before I cook it for their dinner?’

This was how Magnus Nilsson, flushed with excitement, accosted me one afternoon during February’s Omnivore food festival in Deauville. ‘A couple of Russian ladies just asked me this during an interview,’ he gushed. ‘This is what people are saying about me’.

Although these two journalists were in fact incorrect – Mr. Nilsson insists on doing any killing himself – their spurious speculations were still testament to two truths: many people were now talking about somewhere where some special things were happening in northern Sweden; and that very few people actually knew what these special things really were.

Lying literally on the navel of the Nordic peninsula, on a line of latitude (big number° N) seemingly shared solely by the likes of little villages in Iceland and Alaska and a few hours from the nearest non-domestic airport, Mr. Nilsson does not reside in the most readily accessible of regions. Without doubt, today it is increasingly acclaimed as a destination with the international press talking up and flocking to faraway Åre just to visit it, but it was only a year or so ago, when Fäviken Magasinet was really merely a whisper on the lips of well-informed Swedish diners who spoke of some distant, new place north of Stockholm – the best restaurant in the country, maybe, they would mumble. Soon enough though, such murmurs became more and more material. A name and address were added to rumours before finally, at Cook it Raw Lapland, Magnus Nilsson met the world’s food media and Scandinavia’s best-kept secret was a secret no more.

Now, this young chef is winning cooking competitions abroad (Qoco 2010 in Italy, for instance) and is a regular on the food festival circuit – he was invited to Paris des Chefs, Identita Golose, Omnivore, Flemish Primitives…all in just the first three months of 2011 – whilst the restaurant, in an area inhabited, on average, by a single person per square kilometre, boasts a two-to-three month waiting list.

Indeed, gastronomy has not always been the first priority at Fäviken. Whilst the actual estate upon which the restaurant sits has some history – dating from the late eighteen-hundreds and once one of Sweden’s very largest privately owned properties before being divided into two and slowly trimmed down to its current 10,000 hectare size – Fäviken Magasinet itself has only been open a fraction of that time. Since 1986, to be exact. Furthermore, whereas recreational outdoor activities have been attracting guests to these grounds since the nineteen-sixties, it was not till the present owners, the Brummer family, took it over in 2003, that it was decided that this eatery ought to be anything more than a canteen. Yet even then, it was not until February 2008, when Magnus Nilsson started here, that things really started to happen.

Born and raised in the nearby provincial capital, Östersund, the teenage Magnus had to pick between two passions – cooking and marine biology. Clearly he choose the former – though he maintains an interest in the latter – and, straight out of school, joined Pontus in the Greenhouse as a pastry chef whilst spending the summers before and after at Kattegatt Gastronomi och Logi. At twenty, he left Sweden for France and an internship at a small, new venture in Paris, run by a pair named Pascal Barbot and Christophe Rohat. The place was l’Astrance. Completing this, that spring he traded one Michelin star for three and a permanent position at l’Arpege. But barely three weeks later, he had been fired. It was a language issue: Passard spoke French; his then head chef, Mauro Colagreco, spoke Portuguese; and Nilsson spoke neither. He went home to Sweden, intending to stay there, however before long Barbot offered him a raison d’être to return to France. By Christmas 2003, he was in Paris again.

The switch was successful and Nilsson went on to spend the next three years there. It was a dramatic and exciting period: soon after, the restaurant had a second star; in two more, it had three. His relationship with Barbot was a rewarding one too and he credits the Frenchman with teaching him the value of impeccable ingredients – a lesson that has ordered his own approach. Ironically though, once he had left l’Astrance and was cooking in Stockholm, the young Swede started to recognise that it was becoming increasing difficult to separate his own style from Barbot’s. It was a realisation that led him to leave the kitchen altogether and, in 2006, he enrolled on a year-long oenology course.

Subsequently, Mr. Nilsson was hired at Fäviken – but as its sommelier, working under the then-incumbent chef, Hans Erik Holmkvist. It was a situation that did not last long. On 1st November 2008, at a tender twenty-six, he took over the kitchen too. By replacing Holmkvist, he was left the restaurant’s lone employee and therefore, for the first year of his charge, had to double up as chef and front of house. To make it work, he served one sitting at dinner for at most eight diners altogether on a communal table. Still, in those early days, on some nights, even eight customers was eight more than he could find. He was not discouraged.

Although Mr. Nilsson had arrived intent on never cooking again, soon the allure of the stoves proved simply irresistible. The lush lands of Järpen and natural richness of the surrounding area gave him a new lease of life and allowed him to exercise again the diversions of his adolescence that had been impracticable in Paris – fishing, farming, the chase. Even constrained as he was there, Barbot was quickly able to appreciate this side of him: ‘he is a born botanist, hunting is in his blood’; whilst Nilsson admits that ‘most of my inspiration in the kitchen comes from nature and the unique circumstances at Fäviken’.

The grounds around the restaurant are indeed the model set for this young chef. Seven-hundred-and-fifty kilometres north of Stockholm, the estate entails thousands of hectares of woods, waterways and undulating meadows resting on the eastern slope of Åreskutan alongside Lake Kalljön. It is an area comprising more game animals than people with streams and lochs loaded with local char and brown trout. It is even covered in a calcareous soil that encourages the growth of rare mosses and other plants.

Nestled amidst these moors and meres, assembled about an old grain barn built in 1745, there is a small collection of cottages that form Fäviken Magasinet Restaurang och Logementet.


There are seven lodges in all. Of the newest four – all coloured cream and maybe subtly more rococo in appearance (provoked by the style’s brief popularity in Trondheim during the eighteenth century perhaps) – one is privately owned, another houses a fully-equipped spa and the two remaining are made up of very handsome guestrooms.

The oldest buildings, discernible by their traditional Falun red timber facades, are also the largest; one is a renovated warehouse and office whilst the other holds the games room, some accommodation and is where guests dine. The latter is divided into two separate spaces entered through different doors. To the left, there is a large salon boasting leather settees and a beautiful snooker table; this is the eye’s natural focus, but the horde of various animal’s heads, stuffed and mounted on every one of the very tall walls, vie for one’s attention too. An adjacent staircase leads to bedrooms upstairs.

The building’s other half contains the kitchen, lounge and dining room. Betraying its original barn function, inside the walls are made up of wooden beams and bear no windows; instead light comes from gas lamps and a fireplace. The talking piece is suspended near the doorway – the only item left behind by the former owner: a tailor-made, hundred-year-old coat fashioned from the pelts of four wild wolves. The downstairs drawing room, where today guests enjoy aperitifs and snacks, was in fact Fäviken’s first dining room during the initial year that Mr. Nilsson took over. As the restaurant’s reputation improved and he was able to expand to twelve covers, the meal was moved upstairs and a maître d’hôtel taken on. This was Johan Agrell who was once a promising chef himself before becoming a manager at Esperanto in Stockholm. The new salle does have some windows albeit small, spherical ones that are again supplemented by lanterns and a little fire. There are more tables now, but these still number only ever three or four and are arranged along three sides of the room. As decoration, large hocks of ham dangle from the exposed rafters of the roof. Classical Swedish folk music completes the scene.

Dinner is served promptly at seven in the evening and there is one menu, which Mr. Nilsson decides and everyone eats in chorus.

Apéritif: Fermented Rhubarb Juice and Gin. Upon sitting down downstairs, Miss Roth prepared each diner a drink of ten-year old rhubarb juice and Hendrick’s gin. This sherry-like juice from Bengt-Johnny and Jan-Anders in Öster-övsjö was originally intended to be sold as rhubarb wine, but the pair had made it before acquiring the proper licenses needed to trade alcohol. It took the two almost eight years to get these and even then they were not certified to sell the pre-licence juice…

Fäviken Magasinet

Amuse Bouche: Fermented Arctic Char ‘Rakfisk’ with Sour Crème. A cube of coral coloured, brine-cured Arctic char sitting atop sour crème came in a long wooden spoon atop a stone slab. Salted and stored for months underground, this small piece of fish had punchy odour, but surprisingly mild and subtle savour; its dense yet yielding texture and mouthfeel were most agreeable. The cream underneath, tangy and unctuous, was an excellent and classic counterpoint to the char. A terrific start.

Amuse Bouche 2: Wild Trouts Roe served in a Warm Crust of Dried Ducks Blood. Baby-sized ebony baskets of desiccated duck’s blood bore bright burnt orange bubbles of unsalted trout caviar. The fragile, charred crust, flavourful and savoury, seasoned the superbly fresh roe that burst with a slightly sweet taste that was more of egg than of fish. Some sauce of cheese, cream and more blood, secreted inside, imbued each warm bite.

Amuse Bouche 3: Crispy Lichens with Dried Egg Yolks and Smokedried Fish, Lightly Soured Garlic Cream. A couple of stone tablets were presented with two different types of foraged and lightly fried lichen prepared in two distinct ways. Upon one, reindeer lichen was served with shavings of lightly cold-smoked trout; on the other, Icelandic moss was covered with cured egg yolk. The former, named for reindeer’s fondness for it as well as its similarity to the same animal’s antlers, is the most common and commonly eaten kind of lichen. Each a small, celadon construction of compacted, crispy branches, they were rather mild themselves, but enlivened by the smoky trout on top. The latter have long been used in Iceland and other Arctic regions as medicine and to supplement grain in the local diet; there they are consumed as candy, soup and mixed with dairy. These darker morsels of Icelandic moss – a misnomer – were flatter and resembled seaweed; they were brittle and bitter, but worked well with the salted and dried yolk. The garlic sour crème alongside had great texture.

Amuse Bouche 4: Shavings of Old Sow and Wild Goose. Cerise slivers of home-cured pork, taken from the plumpest sow and hung since Christmas 2009 in a dry room, arrived with glistening segments of wild goose coloured carmine and fringed with a nice skirt of ochre fat. Aged for nine months, the goose pieces were pleasingly meaty, complex and intense – almost beefy – with an agreeably gamey and lingering aftertaste.

Bröd och smör: Tove’s Bread and the Very Good Butter. As the bread was brought out, an old kneading trough was shown off. It was served with a story. This was the same tray that once belonged to Magnus Nilsson’s grandmother and her grandmother before her; it still harbours traces of the same sourdough culture she used – now over two hundred years old. The family connection does not end there: with this ancestral starter, flour from Järna near Stockholm and from an island in lake Storsjön processed together at a mill in Östersund, he uses his wife’s recipe to bake a pain au levain loaf that possessed a thin yet crunchy crust and dense, dark yet moist and fluffy crumb. It was simply excellent. The very good butter (its official name here), from close by Oviken and with a texture like melting cheddar, was superb too.

Förrätt: Scallop ‘I Skalet Ur Elden’ cooked over burning juniper branches. A triangle of sizeable scallop shells sat closed atop straw and leafy stems at the centre of the table; a small lump of coal sat smouldering amidst them. The scent stemming from this burning birch charcoal – woody-sweet and smoky – was a catalyst, at once awaking the senses and agitating one’s appetite.

One of the sea’s most evocative symbols, suggestive of the setting sun, of Venus, pilgrimage, femininity, fertility and more, each shell was an incomparable intermingling of pale pinks, creams and pastel greens. After admiring their gentle geometry, the covering carapaces were removed to reveal bronze splashs of scallop jus surrounding the shellfishes’ muscles whose burnt rose hues matched the hints tinting their alabaster coffers.

An impeccable Norwegian scallop had been cooked alive above branches of fresh juniper and birch coal. As it started crackling, it was taken off the heat and its contents emptied. Nothing was discarded nor additional added. The scallop was replaced immediately whilst the skirt and insides strained then returned too. This whole process took no more than ninety seconds. It is a seemingly simple system, but the results were brilliant. Eaten by hand, the shellfish itself, satisfyingly firm to bite yet barely cooked through, was succulent and sea-sweet. Drunk straight out the shell, the strong, iodic juices were just as delicious.

Förrätt 2: Langoustine, Toasted Grains, Sprouting Barley, Mature Cheese, Vegetables Stored in Whey since last Autumn and Almost Burnt Cream. A single substantial langoustine, inset with a sprig of birch, dominated the dish; a small mound of muesli mounted with vegetables, hard cheese and barley sprouts, along with a spoonful of reduced cream, shared the plate. Lightly pan-fried till lustrous orange, the shellfish separated nicely into its individual, luscious filaments whilst the toasted grains, tasty and savoury, tendered welcome crunch. Almost burnt cream, full of dairy flavour yet clean, was well met by the acidity of the roots, which had been pickled in whey for almost nine months. The inclusion of mature cheese was a nice nod to the native Swedish custom of eating crawfish with Västerbotten.

Förrätt 3: Slices of Cod Lightly Brushed with Honey and then Seared in a dry pan, Rutabega Roasted Slowly in the Good Butter, Alcoholic Vinegar, Green Juniper Berries and a Cream of Duck Eggs and Gammelost. An ivory ingot of cod, caramelised perfect persimmon colour yet its centre still nearly translucent, sat skirted on one side by a long wedge of slow-roasted swede that was straddled with some vivid green juniper-infused vinegar and whose own orange shades mirrored those of the fish, and on the other by an immaculately rounded drop of cream; each piece was placed on the dish at parallel diagonals bearing from bottom to top.

This could be the best cod that I have ever been served. The fillet’s quality was immense and it had been handled and cooked extremely well too. The juniper vinegar was also impressive. Upon touching one’s tongue, this substance turned from an innocuous jade liquid jelly into unadulterated electric currant that disseminated through the mouth and animated every taste bud. Whilst the al dente rutabaga was decent, this sizzling sauce and cod alone could have been enough. The cream, which was actually a mix of Gammelost – old Swedish cheese – and duck eggs, was rather a little rich for me.

Förrätt 4: Raw Mussels, Very Fresh Cheese and Very Light Broth of Beef Filtered Through the Spring Forest Floor. A bowl was brought bearing a bed of fresh cheese, above which a brace of raw blue shell mussels laid level, side by side, sprinkled with almost raw baby blades of nettle; at the table, a delicate beef broth was poured in from a leaf-filled teapot. Not normally seen served so rare, these tender, tubby North Atlantic bivalves, did not remain so for long – the consommé gently warmed the mussels, carefully cooking them. Made to order literally five minutes before being plated, the cheese beneath resembled tofu in terms of taste and texture. The nearly raw nettles – again something rarely seen – offered some easy bitterness and pepper whilst accentuating the grassy notes of the crystal clear and subtle stock. Having been resting with mosses, replete with their roots, and other random forest flora, the contents took on a tea-like quality with an aroma as well as flavour instantly evocative of the forest floor.

Förrätt 5: The First Foraged Vegetables of the Year Wilting on a Plate, Sheep’s Cream Whisked with Vinegar Fermented Beer and Ground Cods Roe. A considerable, curved dish, its surface flat, was set down. Across its centre, a bundle of assorted greens rested delicately arranged – they appeared as if freshly cut and still moist with the same morning’s dew. At symmetrical spots either side of these could be found a porcelain-like spoon of sheep’s milk cream and some dried cod’s roe grated in a small gamboge heap. The minimalism was imposing. The vegetables, which really had been foraged that very morning from a nearby verge just behind the restaurant, were each toothsome and distinct. The coiled, plump fiddlehead ferns were mildly nutty and bitter (akin to asparagus), the fireweed similar if a little sweeter whilst the ground elder, crisp and refreshing like celery. The cream, made with vinegar-fermented beer, immediately reminded one of malt vinegar; a reference to Kalles kaviar maybe, the homemade roe was the smoky seasoning.

Förrätt 6: Dices of Cows Heart and Marrow, Grated Carrots. Mr. Nilsson and his sous chef ascended the staircase and marched into the middle of the dining room. They had not come empty-handed. They carried with them a large, already-grilled thighbone, which was placed upon a pedestal standing in between the three tables. Here, they sawed the bone open. Whilst stacks of toasted sourdough and vibrant clusters of lovage salt were handed out, Nilsson mined the soft, pinkish marrow out of the bone and onto awaiting plates of raw beef heart tartare and rough-chopped carrots.

The instinctively self-made open-faced sandwiches that inevitably ensued tendered rewarding, contrasting chews of cool, tender meat; warm, melting fat; and deliciously sweet, crunchy carrot.

Förrätt 7: Ribeye of a Pensioner Milking Cow Dry Aged since early January, Panfried and then Rested on the Charcoal Grill, Sour Onions and Wild Herbs, Fermented Mushroom Juices from last year. A carving of dry-aged rib-eye, its crust chargrilled and centre burgundy, came fringed with a nice bronze border of fat; colourful wild herbs covered a mass of caramelised onions whilst dark dots of mature fermented mushroom juice punctuated the plate.

The beef, from a seven-year old, retired dairy cow, had been dry-aged by Nilsson himself for five months – from Christmas till summer almost. It was exceptional. Melt-in-the mouth tender, the meat was full of smoky, charred savour. Its unctuous adipose was especially toothsome whilst pungent like good cheese. The moreish, creamy-crisp onions were a great complement; having been cooked in reduced whey, their sour-sweetness cut the steak well. Year-old mushroom jus packed a punch.

Efterrätt: Wild Raspberries Ice; Fermented Lingonberries ‘Vattlingon’ Thick Cream and Sugar. As a pre-dessert, sugared ‘lingonberry water’ with cream and some wild raspberry sorbet were presented on a pair of wooden spoons, nostalgic of those that the first snack arrived on. The latter was fresh and fruity-tart whilst the former a more intricate, but finely balanced bite. Traditionally Swedish/Russian vattlingon that originated when sugar was so expensive that these berries were preserved by simply storing them in bottles of water at room temperature for a year or so.

Efterrätt 2: Sorbet of Milk, Whisked Duck Eggs and Raspberries Jam. Once upon a time, the barn within which Fäviken Magasinet now rests was a dairy school. Consequently, when Mr. Nilsson moved in, he found, amongst other things, a 1920s ice cream maker and it is with this that milk sorbet is made à la minute in the dining room for the last dessert.

A bright white quenelle of it is deposited, semi-submerged, in a foamy sabayon. Immersing one’s spoon into the snow-shaded, ersatz crust, a cache of raspberry jam reveals itself. It is an easy-to-eat, classic marriage of milk and berry.

Petit Fours: Pine Tree Bark Cake, Buttermilk; Dried Berries, Meadowsweet Candy and Tar Pastilles. A selection of different sweets awaited diners with their coffees and teas downstairs. Alongside them, three interesting homemade liquors were also ready: raspberry, duck egg and sour milk.

Atop a block of rock rested ebony pieces of dried blueberry and blackcurrant, separated by a peachy streak of meadowsweet candy pearls; a small wooden treasure chest held tar pastilles too. All these were precise in flavour and somewhat addictive – especially the liquorice tar, which is apparently an acquired taste. Brought out shortly after the drinks, some excellent pine tree bark cake with buttermilk was warm, moist and tasty.

The wines were all very good and matched the food well. The delicious 2008 Schwarzhofberger Riesling Kabinett from Egon Müller was the standout, but it was also great to see the inclusion of Fäviken’s own Pale Mead from Bengt-Johnny and Jan-Anders in Öster-övsjö on the menu.

Service, directed by Mr. Agrell and assisted by Miss Hanna Roth, was first-rate. Efficient, elegant and humorous, we were entertained and tended too superbly well. Agrell especially was engaging and very knowledgeable about the cooking, beverages and the restaurant, regaling us with many interesting stories about both Fäviken and, much more amusingly, Mr. Nilsson. Although it was literally only the two of them running the front-of-house, one never had to wait for anything nor was it ever any effort attracting someone’s attention. Furthermore, timing – of food and wine – was expert.

The dining room itself is the romantic incarnation of a fairytale imagination. It completely lived up to expectation. Rustic and quaint, it was warm and charming. If there was anything that could be described as imperfect, it was dinner’s soundtrack: this local folk music was sometimes a little distracting during the meal’s quieter moments.

Nilsson and his team made several appearances throughout the meal in what has almost become de rigueur in these parts – service à la nordique, if you will. A couple of courses also entailed à la minute elements completed in front of the guests, including the sawing of the bone and churning of the ice cream. Where possible, some sort of family style interaction was encouraged too: snacks and sweets were served from shared plates, as were the scallops and additional cuts of beef.

Dinner made an impression.

From the first morsel of fermented arctic char – a seemingly simple, small square, maybe enough for a single mouthful – it was evident that this meal might be something special. This minimal nibble was in fact full of flavour and surprise: its pungent musk initially misleading one into assuming something quite intense and powerful, it actually seduced the tongue with subtlety and its instantly recognisable quality. This was quickly succeeded by a series of delicious tastes that showed off Mr. Nilsson’s persistence and patience. Wild goose that had been curing since last August, fatty sow from Christmas over two years ago – such forethought and consideration were remarkable and certainly delectable. The courses proper, preceded by fantastic bread and butter, started with arguably the finest dish, the scallop. More on this shortly. Next, the langoustine and cod really revealed the wealth of amazing ingredients that Nilsson has to hand. Later plates boasted restraint and delicacy, prior to the matured, beefy main that reminded the diner once again of the chef’s providence and planning. Desserts were nice, but arguably not as notable as what came before.

My abiding thoughts from Fäviken are focused about the produce and the personality of the cuisine.

The ingredients were incredible. The shellfish especially were some of the best that I have seen – the scallop and cod perhaps both new benchmarks. The beef here could also include this restaurant in the number of places that I would return to just to eat this meat. It was almost as good as that of Asador Etxebarri and Japan. The repeatedly praised bread made from carefully sourced flours and the wickedly moreish butter deserve yet one more mention here. The eggs do too. Upon arriving at the estate, we were able to visit one of the chef’s suppliers – the increasingly famous Mr. Duck, Peter Blombergsom. This gentleman breeds half a dozen organic and free-range varieties of duck and chicken whilst providing Nilsson with his eggs and bird blood; he has also recently expanded into snail farming. The eggs are certainly of a high standard and I was privileged to try them once more a week later at his newest (and second) customer, noma. The exceptional wild trout roe that arrived super fresh and unsalted must be singled out as well.

Nothing in Nilsson’s kitchen comes from more than two hundred kilometres away. Meat is from Fäviken; vegetables are from the estate too, grown by gardener Magdalena Engberg; the seafood is from Trondheim; with only sugar, salt and wheat sourced from southern Sweden. One might suppose such geographical concentration a constraint – especially considering that snow covers this land six months out of twelve – but not this chef who confides that he has ‘never worked with better produce than here’. He is in a fortunate position. Upon the restaurant’s own grounds, he is able to hunt for moose, grouse and hare; fish in its lakes; and forage for berries, mushrooms, moss and lichen. ‘Of course we could buy vegetables from somewhere else during winter,’ Nilsson declares, ‘but by using our own produce and preparing it in the way that used to be necessary to survive, we force ourselves into thinking in new ways’.

Mr. Nilsson’s own attitude towards ingredients is simple: the initial step in every new recipe must be finding the ‘perfect raw material’. The second step is maximising that product’s potential. The chef enjoys focusing on one principal protein when building a dish, keeping it as intact as he can and altering it as little as possible. It is in the garnish that spicing and additional flavours may augment that of the main meat/fish/vegetable. The prime example of this is the scallop ‘i skalet ur elden’. This course corroborated Nilsson’s argument that the ‘combination of the perfect ingredient and the perfect cooking technique’ negates all need for extra seasoning. It is a total eating, drinking, sensory event where everything you taste, all that you taste is scallop – it is the essence of scallop. Stunning and memorable, it conjured up similar sensations as René Redzepi’siconic langoustine dish did the first time that I ate it. The chef himself admits that his wish would be a menu composed of a dozen such dishes.

Time and place’ is an expression that is becoming more and more established – and important – in the average eater’s everyday lexicon. Fäviken has both in abundance. It is a terrific illustration of where the eating experience is the essential digest of what one sees and feels around them filtered through the imagination and intelligence of the chef cooking their meal. Accordingly, this is an immensely personal cuisine.

Nilsson explains it best himself. ‘We do things as they have always been done on Jämtland’s mountain farms: we follow seasonal variations and existing traditions. We live with the community. During the summer and autumn, at the peak of each ingredient’s ripeness, we harvest what grows on our land and refine it using methods that we have discovered from our rich traditions or which we have found through our own search for quality. We build up our provisions ahead of the dark winter months; we dry, salt, jelly, pickle and bottle. The hunting season starts after the harvest and is an important time, when we take care of the exceptional food that the mountains provide us with’.

This restaurant could not be anywhere except in Jämtland. And its chef could not be anyone but Magnus Nilsson. Besides the fact that the restaurant relies nearly fully on its surroundings to fill its stores, many of the techniques and routines of the kitchen are informed by indigenous customs of preserving, curing, fermenting and the like. Rightly so then that the chef is a native too. More than that, he fulfils all the expectations of a Jämt given that the etymological root of the word derives from the Proto-Germanic term meaning persistent, efficient, enduring and hardworking.

Indeed, no shortcuts are allowed. This is one expression of the old-school ethos here – that there are no thermometers and all the cooking is judged by touch are others. As is the open charcoal fire in the centre of Fäviken’s kitchen, which the chef enjoys using as much as he can and where he experiments with the flame and different kinds of wood. These are responses to Nilsson’s childhood and reminisces over the wood-fired oven at his grandmother’s farm. Other idiosyncrasies of the chef are easily distinguishable too. For example, Mr. Nilsson has a sweet tooth and fondness for candy, something that the petit fours, a choice of different confections, are doubtless indicative of. There is also an uncommon incidence of dairy during the meal, which is actually acutely reflective of where one is eating: in Jämtland, there is a strong appetite for milk and thus many milk products, especially cheese, as it is the easiest way to conserve milk. Consider it carefully and this food reveals Nilsson’s terroir, upbringing, personality, tastes and even those that have influenced him too.

It is in such ways that the chef articulates his own character and thus colours his cuisine with individuality.

The chef that has made the greatest impact on Nilsson is Pascal Barbot. This is from whom the Swede has learned the most. The striking minimalism, optimistic use of colour, seasoning style and indifference to saucing of some of the courses all intimated that this is someone who might have spent time with the Frenchman, but it was really the cod that was the single largest clue of this. The cut, cuisson and even caramelisation of it reminded me immediately of Barbot. That being said, this is not in any way an implication that this is imitation in any form. Not at all. This is clearly Magnus Nilsson’s food and one of his greatest gifts is his originality.

His methodical approach and his curiosity are two more of this chef’s strongest qualities. These are perhaps the automatic manifestation of Mr. Nilsson’s scientific mind. Like a scientist, he has an innate affection for researching and testing new techniques and ingredients. Such keenness might be behind one of dinner’s most interesting items: the juniper-infused vinegar. This is basically alcoholic vinegar – the same that is used to clean dishes – yet in such small amounts, it was superbly effective. There was also a logic and attention to detail here that was at times so subtle that it might have been missed. My favourite demonstration of this was with the Icelandic moss. These lichen possess a bitterness proven to whet the appetite and stimulate hunger – hence, they are inherently ideal as a snack. Another symptom of this mind-set is his insistence on an evolutionary process with new dishes rather than a saltational one: ‘the menu is changeable, when one ingredient runs out, it needs to be replaced by another. We never replace dishes ‘just because’, instead we would rather wait for a new ingredient, idea or dish that is actually better than the one being replaced. Much of what we serve has its own lifespan and remains on for a long time, slowly becoming something entirely different to the original, despite having the same name throughout its existence’.

Magnus Nilsson sums up his philosophy as Rektún food. Real food. ‘[The] literal meaning is very simple, but for me it has a lot more values than that. We respect our raw ingredients for what they are, what they look like and where they come from. We strive to monitor production of each ingredient from seed to plate. We accept nature’s own choices as the primary factor and apply our own knowledge in order to maximise every product’s potential before we select the ones we are going to use. We concentrate on harvesting, preparing, cooking and then serving it in most thought through and exact way possible. We present every single ingredient in a manner that conveys feelings that arise in the process to create rektún food…We don’t follow trends. We serve what we want, when we want. Respect, control, selection, concentration, presentation. [This is] rektún food’.

It is inevitable that similarities will be drawn between noma and Fäviken. Both restaurants reside in the same region and both limit the ingredients they cook with to that area too. This is enough for many to conclude that they are essentially the same. This is wrong. Where the two overlap is only on ideology, geography and thus some basic foodstuffs and methods.

Whilst the raw materials might be similar, the results are certainly not. For one, at Fäviken there are three in the kitchen; at noma, there are thirty more. Redzepi has the resources to create perfectly complete new dishes quickly and in quick succession; Nilsson pursues a more measured pace where recipes evolve over time and with the seasons. Here, the cuisine is a little simpler, more straightforward and direct – and rightfully so. But it is not just about what is on the plate. When leaving Fäviken, one departs with the most abiding, brightest conviction of a potential immense and not yet met. The chef is refining – still cultivating – his craft and even now discovering what is realisable with what he has still waiting, unearthed, around him. To see the impending consummation of such a beautiful ideal as his is compelling enough reason to return.

Today, terroirism is trendy and sexy. Thanks to the adherents of new naturalism, eating natural, local food has become cool again. Chief amongst these is indeed René Redzepi, who has shown chefs worldwide – and instilled within them a confidence – that cooking what is native to each is a realistic ambition and, more than that, meaningful and worthwhile. It is not a new idea, but a forgotten one remembered again.

When Magnus Nilsson arrived at Fäviken, it was not with a calculated mission to cook with ingredients as immediate to him as possible. His superlocavore attitude was an intuitive, subconscious – and eventually self-fulfilling – impulsion that grew from an increasing intimacy with the natural world directly around him. It was a slow, steady success and it was not without stress. However, it is Redzepi who Nilsson cites as the one who showed him that it was not a futile effort, but something fundamentally valuable and actually viable.

Food is currently fashionable and the greatest interaction that the average urban individual now has with nature  – real, raw nature – is arguably with what they find in their refrigerator or on their plate at a restaurant. Thus, what chefs like Magnus Nilsson and René Redzepi are doing – though doing differently – is incredibly relevant.

They are changing how people eat. They are renewing man’s relationship with nature.

Fäviken Magasinet
216 83005 Järpen Sweden
Tel: +46 647 401 77


Cook it Raw 03. Lapland 2010 – the meeting

It is the most romantic way there, I think’, was how Andrea Petrini justified the midnight train ride from Helsinki to Lapland over the phone. Coming from anyone else, a thirteen-hour journey (trapped) with some fifty semi-strangers on what could only have been a former Soviet mass-transit train might have sounded less than alluring, but the inimitably whimsical articulation with which Petrini is prone to embellishing each syllable proved convincing enough – and, sure enough, time proved him prophetic.

At 21.23 one frosty early autumn Friday night, this fifty boarded that train. And the bonding began at once. Up and down the three final carriages liberal hands passed about beers, Finnish vodka and cigarettes whilst aquavit-marinated sardine sandwiches and handfuls of juniper-smoked salmon were consumed in such haste that one might have thought they were about to go out of fashion. The mood resembled that of a reunion: old friends exchanged fresh news; new introductions were made; and relations were formed. Although some turned in early, most stayed up as late as they could or as late as jetlag would allow.

At 10.40 Saturday morning, when these travellers descended at their destination, they all did so in shared and tied spirits. Moreover, together they had learned that thirteen hours spent in each other’s inescapable company were indeed an effective way in which to become well-acquainted with one another…

Clearly, this 995 kilometre ride along Finland’s longest single train line to the country’s northernmost station, Kolari – the end of the line – was not the end of their adventure, but nor was it its outset either. Beginning two days before, this international cast of chefs, journalists, photographers, publishers, cameramen, supporters, bloggeurs and even a professional masseuse had started a slow, but steady dribble into the country’s capital, all in time for a press conference on Friday 03 September at the Savoy Hotel. They had come from all over Europe and from as far as Japan and Argentina. But they had good cause.

Helsinki was but a pit-stop; the finish line was the Finnish Polar Circle – that is to say Northern Finland and specifically the ski resort of Levi, not much more than one hundred miles from the actual Arctic. This faraway, isolated site was where the Cook it Raw tour was due to have its latest rendezvous.

Labelled as a think tank of cutting edge cuisine, this open workshop for the world’s most admired avantgarde chefs (accompanied by a flock of ‘extreme foodies’) is organised by two Italians, Alessandro Porcelli (Nordic Gourmet Tour) and Andrea Petrini. Their debut endeavour at noma in June 2009, run in coordination with the UN’s conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, was an instant and total success. It led to another gathering in Collio near the Italian-Slovenian border in January 2010, wherein the harsh winter was celebrated.

This time, the third time, was to be a little different. Tiptoeing upon the edge of civilisation, the intention was to take these chefs out of their comfort zone, to force them to ‘reboot their culinary poetic under the sign of nature’ with a focus on the secondary sense of raw – wild. Furthermore, there was also to be a secondary theme; one of ‘controlled collaboration’ with the chefs ‘like musicians…declin[ing] the lure of the authorship preferring instead a more collective approach, sharing the kitchen stage in different formations.’

The roll call of attendees this occasion round read…

…Albert Adrià, Iñaki Aizpitarte, Fredrik Andersson, Alex Atala, Pascal Barbot, Claude Bosi, Massimo Bottura, Dave Chang, Quique Dacosta, food snob, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Magnus Nilsson, Petter Nilsson, Daniel Patterson, René Redzepi, Davide Scabin, Hans Välimäki…

…indeed a list strong enough to attract anyone to the icy emptiness of Lapland.

Eighty kilometres from Kolari, deep in Lapland, lies Levi Spirits – the tour’s home for three nights and four days. There, a light Lappish buffet of muikku, reindeer and the like awaited everyone’s arrival. As they fed, accommodation was assigned…no doubt, the semi-random allotment of two to a room, five twos to a villa meant to make for a more interesting dynamic.

A couple hours of rest were permitted before a presentation on local produce by Timo, chef of close by Hullu Poro and, for all intents and purposes, the native attaché. For the majority of onlookers, this was an initiation to what this terroir had to tender. Indigenous varieties of cepe and chanterelle mushrooms, apples, carrots and beetroots sat beside an array of berries, wild herbs and flowers. Fresh-caught bleek and other whitefish lay on ice together with their roe. Snow grouse – a delicacy – and hare were also on show. Their curiosity aroused, the chefs touched, smelled and tasted every ingredient. The inspection, intended to incite its inspiration, also succeeded in rekindling the crowd’s appetite…

That night’s dinner was at the mountain-top restaurant, Tuikku, where a one-meat-feast had been prepared. Slow-cooked ‘stove’ reindeer; reindeer wrapped in lamb thigh and baked beneath the soil; sautéed reindeer; reindeer blood sausages; reindeer hamburgers; as well as assorted accoutrements were offered along with afters of lingonberry porridge. Cloudberry brandy and beer kept the masses merry till past midnight when the coach returned.

For all Jarkko – the host’s – efforts, that evening the spotlight was really stolen by René Redzepi, who had literally just received the first copy of his new work Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine from Phaidon. As one of the most keenly anticipated cookbooks in recent history, the expectation around the room was immense. Everyone present, from chef to photographer to journalist, was excited by the prospect of a preview – and, judging by the animated and impressed looks on each face, this beautifully accomplished book earned unanimous approval.

Upon returning, some were not ready to rest and the night rolled on, firstly with stories around an indoor fire before finally ending with Massimo Bottura and Davide Scabin arguing over the right to use reindeer milk the next day. Their quarrel neared a climax as each bet the other his restaurant…

Wrestling was involved. Bottura won.

For an especially eager few, the next day began before sunrise…unsurprisingly, no Italians could be counted amongst them. Andersson, Iñaki and the two Nilssons set off on a pre-dawn trip to Lake Jeris. By the time the rest of the tour turned up – several hours later – the early-starters had already finished their fishing, cleaned their catch and Iñaki and Petter were smoking their share.

When at last altogether, it was time to forage in the forest. Dinner that night and the next would depend on what was gathered there that day. Chefs and guests alike hunted for wild blueberries, lingonberries, sorrel, tansy, mushrooms and more… Iñaki , Andersson and Petter picked berries, Adria sought out plump chanterelles whilst Scabin, armed with a large axe, shaved the bark off fallen trees. The local ladies who tended the land helped out, supplying tools and advice to those needing them.

Having spent some hours toiling amidst the tress and with plastic bags full to overflowing with the wealth of the woods, everyone retired to the beach where their efforts were acknowledged with a fisherman’s soup of just-caught whitefish, its roe, offal and potato cooked over a hot fire.

This collation complete, it was back to base and immediately to work. Previous Cook it Raws had culminated with a single meal the final night, but here a ‘pre-dinner’ was also scheduled for the penultimate evening so that the few chefs – Bottura, Aizpitarte and Barbot – who had to leave a day before everyone else could also participate properly.

Actually, some had already started their preparations. Iñaki and Petter for instance who, having been rewarded for their dawn rise with their bounty of char, they themselves then smoked. Bottura meanwhile had begun even earlier and gone to even more interesting lengths. Deciding to cook reindeer tongues, he had set up two of his own water-baths to slowly poach them for twenty-two straight hours. As it was essential that he remain near these, regulating their temperatures, he had in fact (and to much common amusement as well as his own pleasure) assembled them in his ensuite toilet.

Whilst other chefs chose more conventional spaces – kitchen counters, dining room tables, etc – to ready their mise en place, those not preparing for that night, prepared for the next. Rene Redzepi, for example, spent hours snipping the tips off spruce needles so that eventually he could make spruce oil…a task that would have taken him even longer had it not been for a press of excited journalists that arrived quickly to assist.

To cater for the occasion, the indoor kota-style hearth of chalet number one had been converted into a makeshift kitchen. Portable stoves sat on small fridges, tables were requisitioned from wherever they could be removed whilst benches were laid side by side to create an improvised pass upon which dishes were plated. Suggestive of some sort of remarkably ritzy canteen, diners were supposed to stand in line, collecting courses themselves and consuming them anywhere they could find space enough to sit or stand.

Although the six-course dinner that then ensued will not be detailed here – one will be able to read about it in a subsequent post soon enough – it was a success in execution and effect.

After the last dish had been digested, attentions were turned to an impromptu debate between the chefs chaired by John Lancaster. The discussion was a wide-ranging one, touching on such topics as what they hoped to achieve there; what they thought they could leave behind; how they felt fine-dining could influence the public; and so forth.

The discussion carried on a couple hours until, all of a sudden, Albert Adria stood up and shouted out, ‘I love Lapland’. Laughter erupted; the crowd scattered.

Monday morning started in sobering fashion. The tour was led to a Lappish reindeer ranch. They were there to spectate a live slaughter. In truth, it seemed that there was but a single animal on the entire farm and this one happened to be lashed to a pole within a large pen. The throng circled, cameras flashed and the deer was steered out and shot with a stun gun.

Within forty minutes, what was once living, breathing beast was now mass of raw meat and it was time for the tourists to move onto their next stop – the sauna.

A sensible majority kept to the schedule and headed to a lakeside retreat, but a few went directly to document the chefs ready dinner instead. The event’s climatic meal was to be at Skylight near Levi; a place that guests had been cautioned beforehand resembled ‘a cross between the Overlook Hotel of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead opening sequence’ and which is also the annual meeting place for the international congress of shamen…

Split into small teams, the eleven remaining chefs worked diligently in the crowded kitchen. Its restricted size, limited capacity as well as the scarcity of essential ingredients ensured a testing day lay before them, but the cooks pushed on. Having sequestered the required raw materials, soon they had spread out from the kitchen and across the grounds. Actually within the dining room, Patterson and Petter Nilsson took over a small fireplace whilst Andersson, Chang and others crossed the vast estate to a large hut that held a charcoal grill. Bosi tried and failed to bake potatoes in a sauna and Scabin, going a step further still, simply made a brand new cooking area with his own hands, digging himself a large hole wherein he could cook his fish underground.

However, once again, the details of their endeavours and their endeavours’ outcomes will follow. Needless to say though, this night of ‘wild instant composing’, as it was billed, was greatly enjoyed by the guests.

The morning after the night before was spent sluggishly. Having packed up, the tour was packed off to the local airport. This time expediency was favoured over entertainment and, ninety minutes later, their little Lappish plane landed at Helsinki International. Upon arrival and some mandatory airport drama – connections missed by minutes, missing luggage, mistaken luggage, iPhones left on airplanes – the rabble slowly disbanded. Most never left the terminal, catching another flight soon after; a handful headed into Helsinki to spend the night; whilst an even smaller number were able to take a taxi straight home.

It’s the sense of being something genuine. Genuine dedication from the chefs, genuine products and genuine cooking,’ is how Magnus Nilsson explains what is special about Cook it Raw. Alex Atala is a little more lyrical describing it as ‘where barriers of the kitchen and dining room have fallen and brotherhood prevails.’ Both are clearly keen on the concept. And it is no surprise why.

Cook it Raw represents a quiet revolution, the next evolution of the gastronomic event. Large-scale conferences are useful for reaching mass audiences more immediately, but this more intimate style meeting is the way forward. Individuals are able to really immerse themselves in their environment, to engage fully with everything around them as well as with each other.

Instead of simply standing upon a stage, playing a video or preparing a couple plates of food, here there is true interaction. Chefs must search for their own ingredients, see them in their natural state and collect them themselves. Moreover, they also talk amongst themselves, sharing their knowledge, learning from one another. Those accompanying benefit too. They can establish a connection with the chefs that extends immeasurably beyond that realisable during the regular question and answer session after a demonstration. Furthermore, they are able to see firsthand the entire creative culinary process from crop to finished course.

How many would have been conscious of the hours and energies spent picking, snipping, sorting spruce needles just to deliver a few drops of oil onto their dish had they not had to pick, snip and sort them with their own hands?

Indeed it may be argued that what the tour witnessed was a romanticised rendition of reality. Its members might be forgiven for imaging that a native Sami led a life symbiotic with nature and tied to tradition, living off the land in a steady state of serenity mixed with subtle mystic meditation. This is not the total truth. Most locals buy their meat and fish frozen at the supermarket whilst deforestation, gold and uranium mining by multinationals as well as global warming are threatening wildlife and way of life in this once unspoilt spot. Fishing, hunting, foraging, reindeer rearing, wolf breeding…such activities do persist, but in general they exist as tourist attractions – a role that ironically might be what saves them from extinction.

If these facts make an event such as this seem irrelevant or indulgent, then that too is untrue. For those involved, the significance of taking part – as detailed already – was incredible and even if the memories from this meeting might be limited to those that attended, its merits were certainly not.

Returning home and writing up their experiences, those present will give Lapland its go in the gastro-spotlight. Articles around the world will raise awareness and direct attention on this area as well as, at the same time, dismissing popular myths of its arctic austerity whilst chefs will leave with an improved knowledge of ingredients and of sourcing – wisdom that they may be able to apply within their own terroirs. What is more, there was definite appreciation and delight from the native residents to have such a collection of individuals visit. One lasting memory that illustrates this is from the day spent foraging in the forest. Several elderly Lappish ladies, who had spent that morning gingerly following in René Redzepi’s footsteps eventually approached and asked him, ‘are you the one from Denmark?…the chef from Copenhagen?’ His muted affirmations were met with excited smiles and irrepressible whisperings.

Believe it or not,’ Petrini remarked during that debate Sunday night, ‘I am not happy everyday’. This was not the start of a manic depressive’s desperate plea for instant intervention, but the beginning of a tribute to all those who had left their hectic lives behind for a few days to meet in the middle of nowhere and share in a rare experience. Personally, those precise, poignant words were utterly relevant to why those fifty people had travelled the world and collected in Lapland. Echoing Atala’s words, Andrea went on to reveal that what did make him happy was to see his friends – all those whose passions were parallel whether they be chefs or writers or anything else – able to enjoy each other’s company, free from distraction and everyday agitation: to be together and to see them all happy…

After all, at its core, what is Cook it Raw if not a celebration.

noma – 6 years, 2 meals, 1 day

This will be a one-off post, a special entry – special to me anyway – as it concerns a special day, a special experience in every sense. For that reason, I shall abandon all the little rules, conventions and obsessive compulsions that have come to order my work. That means less script, more feeling and, as can be read already, writing in the first person.

This is the story of a day spent at noma. One entire day at a restaurant to which I have returned many times, but of which I have written only once. My original lunch was an enlightening event that changed how I eat – how I live. Successive visits have been equally as influential and have, without doubt, included the greatest meals of my life. I have, however, felt unable to share them – although not for a lack of wanting to. I filled that first post with (what I believed was) the best I had, with all my facts, thoughts, with every impression, inspiration – with everything. 6,633 words of everything. Another sentence, an additional word I feared would merely be redundant, repetitive or worse, might blunt what went before. This may have been miserly, neglectful…égoïste even, but it was nonetheless completely true. True until the 16th of March 2010 that is.

That third Tuesday of March saw the release of Michelin’s Main Cities of Europe 2010 guide, relevant to Copenhagen and the rest of the Continent’s major cities. In anticipation of the announcement (although in fact after any excuse at all), I made two reservations for the same day – this day. It was a triply thrilling notion: lunch then dinner at my favourite restaurant plus an opportunity to eat at the world’s newest three-star…

The night before the big day was an anxious one, heavy with a similar nervous excitement to that which comes about each Christmas Eve. At the same time though, it was also bizarre to be even having those sorts of thoughts myself – as someone unconnected to noma – but then again, such is the contagious effect that Redzepi and his team have: they enthral, they charm, they make you feel as if you too are part of something more, part of something together.

The morning prior to the pronouncement was almost worse. And, as history would have it, it was also anticlimactic. Nothing for noma. This time. That meant an awkward entrance at the restaurant – mostly for me than for anyone else there. The staff, their composure immaculate, seemed utterly unaffected; I, on the other hand, was uncertain how to act and so just attempted to follow suit, ignoring the earlier news.

Soon enough I was seated, ready to start. I was – maybe even more so than ever – eager and intent, excited to see what untried dishes would be tasted today, curious as to how they would structure the two meals. But I was not left ignorant for long. Moments later, the chef came to the table to explain…

With a typical puff and characteristic caress of his boyish wisps, Redzepi revealed how the day would unfold – for table four at least. He had a theme devised…

for lunch, every dish will be over three years old; for dinner, each would be less than three weeks old.

Save for an impulsive if less than eloquent, ‘cool, OK’, I was left at a loss for words. Speechless.

As I alluded to previously, this post will be full of fewer words than ones past. Instead, I prefer to let the photographs speak for themselves.

Please scroll slowly…

Lunch – Then – Only dishes created over three years ago…

Forret 1: Boghvede crepe med rygeost og löjrom. Buckwheat crepe with smoked cheese and bleak roe.

Forret 2: Kammuslinger, kogt porre og ‘tør mayonaise’. Scallop, cooked leek and ‘dry mayo’.

Forret 3: Kartoffelmos. Mashed potatoes.

Forret 4: Kongecrabbe og muslinger. King crab and mussel.

Forret 5: Blæksprutte og kartofler; mayonaise og brunet smør. Squid legs and potatoes; mayo and brown butter.

Hovedret 1: Søtunge og blomkål, honningkager og enebær. Brill and cauliflower; gingerbread and juniper.

Hovedret 2: Torsk; syltede svampe. Cod; pickled mushrooms.

Hovedret 3: Stegt terrine på kalvehaler og færøske jomfruhummer. Fried terrine of veal tail and Faeroese langoustine.

Hovedret 4: Farseret vagtel med løg i forskellige teksturer. Stuffed quail with onion textures.

Dessert 1: Fåremælk yoghurt med mynteolie og Granola müsli. Sheep’s milk yoghurt with mint oil and granola muesli.

Dessert 2: Geleret kærnemælk, malt og roeiscreme. Buttermilk jelly, malt and sugar beet syrup.

Dessert 3: Æble og hasselnød. Apple and hazelnut.

(Dessert 4: Valnødde pulver og is. Walnut powder and ice cream)

Petit Fours: Flødebolle med yoghurt; chokolade kartoffelchip med fennikel. Yoghurt flødebolle; chocolate potato crisp with fennel.

Dinner – Now – Only dishes created in the last three weeks…

Snacks 1: Havtorn læder og syltede hyldeblomst. Seabuckthorn leather and pickled elderflower.

Snacks 2: Småkage med kogt kalvekød og solbær. Veal speck cookie with blackcurrant and sorrel.

Snacks 3: Rugbrød, kyllingeskind, stenbiderrogn og rygeost. Chicken skin sandwich with lumpfish roe.

Snacks 4: Syltet og røget vagtelæg. Pickled, smoked egg.

Snacks 5: Radiser, jord og urteemulsion. Radishes in a pot.

Snacks 6: Æbleskiver. Æbleskiver.

Snacks 7: Toast, vilde urter, torskrogn, eddike og andeskind. Vinegar dust toast.

Forret 1: Rødbeder; Havesyre og rapsolie. Beetroot, sorrel and rapeseed sauce.

Forret 2: Rejer og søpindsvi; Fløde og strandurter. Shrimps and sea urchin; cream and beach herbs.

Forret 3: Tørret kammusling og karse; Biodynamiske gryn og bog. Dried scallops and watercress; Biodynamic cereals and beech nut.

Forret 4: Unge grøntsager og torskelever; Løg bouillon. Søren Wiuff’s baby vegetables and cod liver; onion bouillon.

Forret 5: Østers grød; Muslingeskaller og søl. Oyster porridge; mussels and søl.

Hovedret 1: Blæksprutte og havesyre; Brombær og slåenbær med æggeblomme. Squid and sorrel; blackberry, sloeberry and egg yolk.

Hovedret 2: Årgangskartoffel og valle; Løvstikke og Prästost. Vintage potato and whey; Lovage and Prästost.

Hovedret 3: Ramsløg og hvidløg; Timian. Ramsons; thyme.

Hovedret 4: Spejlæg; Svenbo og Gotland trøffel. Fried egg; Svenbo and Gotland truffle.

Hovedret 5: Oksekæbe og julesalat; Syltet pære og jernurt. Ox cheek and endive; Pickled pear and verbena.

Dessert 1: Bladselleri og knoldselleri. Celery and celeriac.

Dessert 2: Mælk og Gammel Dansk is; Dild. Milk and bitters ice cream; dill.

Dessert 2: Jordskokke; Æble og malt. Jerusalem artichoke; apple and malt.

Petit Fours: Flødebolle med yoghurt; chokolade kartoffelchip med fennikel. Yoghurt flødebolle; chocolate potato crisp with fennel.

The service at noma is incredible. Since I have expressed many more thoughts more fully elsewhere, I will try to be brief here. The front-of-house staff are delightful and amiable, brilliantly attentive and expertly coordinated. Servers move in flawless synchronisation, still always smiling. They are led by Lau and Pontus – two gentlemen of whom I could not think more highly or ever praise enough. Furthermore, engaging with the youthful, exuberant chefs as they surrender the plates they have just put together with their own hands, enhances the entire event immeasurably and is an idea that has already been revolutionary – restaurants literally around the world now do likewise. To quote what I scribbled afore: ‘breaking down any imaginary boundaries between customer and kitchen, there is also something very emotive and effective about this approach. Chefs, as they proudly present them before the diner, describe their dishes with the natural affection that the maker has for what he has made – and rightly so. After all, what they are achieving with these is worthy indeed: with each, they are giving back Nordic cooking its identity.’

One of the numerous little details that made lunch great was how the kitchen and staff shared in the experience. Only René and Torsten had cooked these dishes before whilst no one but Lau and Pontus had served them. Thus, there was a tangible and manifest animation and enthusiasm from everyone as each course was created and delivered. This was coupled with the nostalgia and clear sentiment of those for whom it had been some time since they had last seen them. Emotional moments – as the source and significance of the recipes were explained tableside by noma’s nestors – littered this meal. It was truly touching.

This also happened to be my first dinner here and it never ceases to surprise how different the same restaurant can be during the day and at night. Dining seems a near impossible choice between the two. At lunch, there is the vitalising light that sweeps in through the many windows and washes the room with brightness and energy. Evening, meanwhile, has its own charisma. Sunshine is traded for candlelight, intensifying the intimacy and making the room rather romantic. The waxy illumination adds something indefinable yet snug and quintessentially – and there really is no other word for it – Scandinavian.

Both meals were beautiful.

I am almost too abashed to admit that during the day’s first couple of courses, I was so unstrung and skittish that I was nearly unable to enjoy the food properly. Maybe it was the adrenaline from earlier or the consequence surrounding the occasion, but I did have to take a pause ahead of the next plate. From that moment onwards though, it was easy…

Each serving was one of quality and creativity; of alluring aesthetic and ethereal appeal. A delicate crepe concealing smoked cheese started the meal. This was proceeded by the kartoffelmos, an amusing deconstruction of a traditional Danish dish, that was light-hearted and toothsome; its colourful assembly suggestive of some child’s plaything. Then, after a superbly poached piece of king crab paired with quail eggs and mussels in many forms, a sequence of four fantastic courses followed, commencing with the delicious blæksprutte og kartofler, an instantly recognisable noma classic. The tender squid tentacles, teamed with various textures of potato and enlivened with vinegar tapioca, were outstanding. The søtunge og blomkål that arrived with a small burning branch of aromatic juniper was one of – to my mind – most Nordic things I have ever tasted; the gingerbread’s spicy-sweet inclusion here, inspired. Next came the immensely satisfying slow-baked and tasty cod perked up with pickled mushrooms. Stegt terrine på kalvehaler was another stunner. The 2004 Årets Gericke winner comprised sweet, supple langoustines together with a rich morsel of veal tail, all seasoned nicely with mustard seeds and balanced with bitter endive.

Desserts too were excellent. They began with a lovely sheep’s milk yoghurt that played very will with minty oil and crunchy, subtly sweet breakfast muesli. Buttermilk pudding implanted with malt tuile wafers and surrounded by raisins imbued with aquavit and a drizzle of sugar beet syrup was sublime. Æble og hasselnød, painting-like in its design, was a delectable ending.

I did not know what to expect from these older dishes. I suppose that deep down, if pressed, I might confess to assuming that they might not live up to the exceptional standard of today’s ones. However, any such presumptions were proven foolish – and not surprisingly so. After all, these were the plates upon which noma made its name, earned two Michelin stars and forced its way into every aware eater’s consciousness.

Dinner picked up were lunch left off. The composition of snacks that one starts with has changed a little – evolved – since my initial visit and are still very much my favourite series of amuses anywhere. Subsequent to these, two of the traits that separate noma’s cuisine apart from that of the crowd’s were displayed with the rejer og søpindsvi foremost and then tørret kammusling og karse immediately after. The former, something simply stunning to receive, was evocative, intriguing and boasted raw shellfish combined with dairy. In fact, since tasting Redzepi’s blæksprutte og grønne jordbær; fløde og dild, I have been almost incapable of enjoying uncooked squid, oysters, mussels, etc without a similarly creamy complement. For me, this is one of the most genuinely intuitive of ingredient pairings – and, having first found it here, it is one I now inseparably associate with this kitchen. The dried scallops and watercress, alternatively, highlighted another asset altogether. Every time I have eaten at noma, entirely brand new taste profiles have been revealed to me. By this, I refer not to simply sampling the unusual, like a cloudberry, beach mustard or woodruff, for the first time – all unknown to me themselves yet with an essence essentially familiar (tart, pungent, sweet) – but something broader. Dishes show off a whole scale of flavours utterly unrecognisable – without frame of reference – and irritatingly difficult to articulate into text. More remarkably, Redzepi consistently creates such courses.

Lissom octopus legs, entwined amidst acidic sorrel stems and sat in swirls of sharp sloe and blackberry with rich egg yolk, left behind another lasting memory ahead of an amazing act of table theatre. A small wooden tray carrying Danish cheese, grater, goat’s milk butter, oil and felt-tip tattooed egg was placed before me. This odd arrival was eventually accompanied by a sizzling hot iron pan as well as a set of specific instructions: oil the plate; crack the egg; add the butter; shave the Svenbo. The splendid smells along with the hiss and sizzle of the cooking captivated and entertained the entire room. This was a frugal dish in a fine-dining setting – until the final flourish. When the egg was just about ready, the chef reappeared and ladled Gotland truffle purée around the finished plate. Delicious. And I had made it myself. The meal’s terrific rhythm continued with a real climax – oksekæbe og julesalat; syltet pære og jernurt. Since June, the main course has improved every single time I have been back and this was definitely the best yet. Ox cheek, tender and intense, rested under a canopy of pickled pear slivers that, alongside redcurrant wine-infused endive and lemony verbena sauce, cut the meat’s richness impeccably well.

At the risk of relentlessly repeating myself, desserts too were tremendous. This is another part of the carte that seems only to have become better during my time. A refreshing mix of celery and celeriac was succeeded by tantalising milk and bitters ice cream sprinkled with sharp lingonberries and dill. The final sweet may have maybe been even better. A scoop of Jerusalem artichoke ice cream, in a shallow pool of apple sauce punctuated by ink-like spots of malt oil, sat smothered with super-thin slices of the same fruit and studded with matching ebon discs made of malt oil – these biscuits being addictively good.

I cannot say which of today’s two meals I enjoyed more; it is too difficult a thing to decide. However, what I can comment on is how lunch and dinner differed; how the cuisine has changed – and how it has stayed the same.

The clearest distinction was that during lunch it was arguably possible to see some external influences on the cooking. Any such inspiration was very subtle and perhaps only observable as these older dishes were juxtaposed so directly against dinner’s newer ones. Those earliest plates featured, for example, more el Bulli-esque foams whilst the farseret vagtel smacked strongly of something classical – something more likely to be found on Kong Hans’ menu than noma’s. In contrast, the evening’s recipes seemed to have had any such residues removed – these were incomparable to anything that I had seen before. The kitchen had clearly and markedly improved and matured over the years. Although, of course, development over time is to be expected everywhere. What is so special here is the pace and the product of this progress – a cuisine supreme and singular.

Some of the most distinct dissimilarities were seen during desserts. Those at lunch were noticeably sweeter whilst crafted from a wider range of raw materials; the geleret kærnemælk, for instance, contained now-uncommon alcohol (aquavit-suffused raisins). Wary of satiating diners and keen to leave them feeling comfortable at the meal’s end – plus the chef’s personal preference and pursuit of something distinctive – afters have become seriously more savoury and almost strictly vegetable-based. Further observations may be less significant, but were nonetheless interesting. They included the occurrence of scallops, which I had not yet seen at noma; that portions, if not larger, were more substantial; and the incidence of some products at the restaurant’s start that continue to be employed today – the crispy potato ringlets, various fish roes and vinegar tapioca amongst these. As well as using some of the same signature components, some of the original style of plating has also still survives even after six years; examples being same-shaped smears and swirls; entire, intact stems; and upstanding vegetable cylinders.

Individuality and unbroken betterment at noma is undeniable, but it is not limited purely to this one restaurant. It is endemic to Copenhagen. Initially, it was indeed René Redzepi that drew me to Denmark, but what I have found whilst there is a dining scene unequalled by any other anywhere else. It is my favourite city to eat in. Sure enough, I do have my most regular tables – MR, Paustian v. Bo Bech, Søllerød Kro – but there exists here a whole host of ambitious places teeming with potential including the Paul, Kiin Kiin, Mielcke & Hurtigkarl and Herman to name but some. Not only is the standard so high, but the style at each so individual. And – just like noma – they are not standing still. In merely the last ten-or-so months, I myself have seen an evolution at many of them – Paustian v. Bo Bech and Søllerød Kro especially. I must also single out another place that has impressed me considerably: Restaurant AOC. Only opened last autumn, the huge strides made between my two meals – the foremost straight after its launch, the second six months later – are astonishing. Its momentum is simply immense and it is one of the city’s most exciting kitchens. Nor is it solely me who thinks thusly – it has already made headlines and been recognised by Michelin with a first star (coincidentally on this same day).

Recently, the results of the annual San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best poll were announced in London. The next morning, the world awoke to realise that noma had become its best restaurant. It was a suspicion shared by many beforehand with Redzepi long-accepted as one of the most influential chefs cooking today. The consequences of what he has accomplished at the Grønlandske Handels Plads are overwhelming and can be sensed in kitchens and dining rooms worldwide. The tables have indeed turned: it is now his cuisine that inspires those of others. Nonetheless and although totally deserved, the attention that this latest acknowledgment has brought with it has still been incredible and, more so than any earlier, pervasive – ordinary people now know the name noma. And now that they know noma, it is my own hope that they will learn about all of Copenhagen as well…

noma changed my life. It changes it still. As I have explained, I owe those there for the introduction to Nordic cuisine, but my debt is decidedly deeper than that. In countless visits to the Danish capital, I have met many new people – people whose instant acceptance and warm affability have quickly compelled me to consider them friends. There are few places now that I am more comfortable – few places I miss more.

Although I do suffer a certain affection for it, I remain a relative newcomer to noma, having missed its first five years. Therefore, to be allowed a day like this and be given a glimpse of into the restaurant’s history was a most amazing thing and spectacular present. It was an experience I cannot compare to anything else – just like with René’s cooking, no reference points exist. I am sure that anyone for whom noma means anything will understand and appreciate the significance and relevance of these meals.

Finally, I must end with some mention of the enormous gratitude I feel towards René Redzepi. I exaggerate not when I write that he amazes me anew every time we meet and too few are those about which such a thing is true. He is the best man I know. And that’s enough about him.

An incredible tale of six years told in one day, in two meals, in thirty-five smashing courses. It was a gesture unexpected, a gift undeserved.

Strandgade 93, Copenhagen, 1401
tel:+45 3296 3297
nearest metro: Christianshavn

la Grenouillère, la Madelaine-sous-Montreuil

March 1979 proved a prolific month for Roland Gauthier – within ten days he had acquired not just a restaurant, but a son too. Gauthier junior was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer into a Jura family who found themselves in the Pas-de-Calais after his father became chef de cuisine at the Château de Montreuil. By taking over l’Auberge de la Grenouillère however, Roland had made a decision to plant roots in the region. They have remained there ever since.
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