Magic out of mould: inside the world’s wildest restaurant
Jordan Kisner reports in the Guardian:
Magnus Nilsson, the 32-year-old chef at Fäviken, Sweden’s premier fine-dining restaurant, is not fond of repeating himself, but there is one sentence he repeats with such frequency and resolute force that it takes on the quality of a koan: “Do it once, perfectly.”
He says it when observing that one of his chefs has failed to place the dollop of burnt cream in the same place on every dish, or when explaining why he paid so much for his elaborate recycling and composting facility, which has reduced the restaurant’s waste to practically nothing.
This, too, was the guiding principle behind his most recent book, an encyclopedic record of the past several hundred years of Nordic home cooking comprising 730 recipes, including about 30 that Nilsson expects no one ever to cook. (“That is not the point,” he explained. “It is a documentary.”) When the publisher tried to strike one recipe from the collection because it was both impractical and, they feared, controversial (it included whale meat), Nilsson offered to return his advance and put the manuscript in a drawer, rather than publish it incomplete. He explained his reasoning with an amused shrug: “Do it correctly or do not do it.”
One of the central theses of The Nordic Cookbook is that a country’s dinner table reveals a great deal about its culture’s values, economy, landscape, religions, politics, and even family structure. This idea is not original to Nilsson, but the Nordic Cookbook is the most exhaustive recent attempt to catalogue a segment of the world through its food. To compile it, Nilsson amassed 11,000 articles and 8,000 photographs, interviewed hundreds of people, and travelled to the farthest reaches of the region, from Sami country to the Faroe Islands. He did this in his spare time.
Nilsson’s day job, however, is running Fäviken. Set 375 miles north of Stockholm, deep in the forested province of Jämtland, Fäviken’s 32-course tasting menu demands a journey: an hour’s flight from Stockholm to Östersund, then a 75-minute drive north-west. Nilsson is quick to point out that the flight from Stockholm actually makes Fäviken relatively low-fuss in terms of destination dining – nevertheless, the restaurant is positioned like the prize at the end of a quest. Its setting is, especially to non-Swedes, otherworldly. In Jämtland, timberlands and mountain vistas unfold and unfold with little human interruption. There are only three people per square mile. At the height of summer, the sun shines for 24 hours a day. In the winter, the temperature drops to -40C. Reindeer wander the woods. . .