Magnus Nilsson: Sweden's Youngest and Most Remote Chef

Magnus Nilsson Bruno Cordioli / Flickr

New Nordic cuisine is the food world’s Next Big Thing—culinary shorthand for food that is foraged, sourced locally, and quite often raw rather than cooked. In other words, virtuous food. The term is synonymous with René Redzepi and his Copenhagen restaurant Noma. But there is an equally talented and even younger chef creating stunning New Nordic Cuisine dishes in rural Sweden, just south of the Arctic Circle.

Magnus Nilsson, 27, who trained in two of the greatest Parisian restaurants (L’Astrance and L’Arpège), is now running a tiny place called Fäviken Magasinet in a centuries-old barn overlooking a lake on a 9,000-hectare private estate. This improbable destination is in the underpopulated region of Jämtland, which adjoins Lapland. An elegant safe haven, it is enveloped by pristine wilderness and snowcapped mountains 600 kilometers northwest of Stockholm. It is arguably the most isolated serious restaurant on the planet. Bears roam around the estate but are rarely observed, while occasionally a stray wolf turns up in the surrounding forests.

More to the point, there is an extraordinary abundance of readily available wild ingredients, ranging from trout, eel, moose, hare, and black grouse to a tantalizing range of mushrooms, herbs, and vegetables, all grown locally. Nearby, an island off Trondheim in Norway provides oversize scallops and langoustines, while on the edge of the estate, “Mr. Duck” provides the poultry. There are upwards of 100 other suppliers who offer delicious items to fill the restaurant’s abundant larder. In less than three years, Fäviken has made its mark on the world foodie scene, even entering the San Pellegrino World’s Top 100 restaurants at a respectable No. 71. Nilsson suspects that if the restaurant were located in Stockholm, such acclaim might have been gained in less than a year. However, such is its growing renown that parties of up to a dozen fly in on private jets both to savor the cuisine and to spend time fishing or hunting the elusive capercaillie (wood grouse) or simply exploring the forests.

There is nothing austere or minimalist about the cuisine at Fäviken, and the only imported ingredients are sugar, salt, vinegar, and the impressive selection of fine wines and coffee. “Many people expect something like Noma, but there are very few similarities—although we are probably even more focused on finding superior local produce than they are,” Nilsson observes. “Our cooking is very simple but precise. It is almost a ritual of ours that nothing is prepared in advance. Here we put our meat on a grill over direct heat, and that is the only way we cook it. I prefer to take a greater risk and, most of the time, achieving a greater result.”

Although the sense of isolation here does focus the mind and heighten the sense of anticipation, what makes the journey worthwhile is the boldness of Nilsson’s dishes and their utter simplicity. Upon arrival at the small complex of traditional buildings, you are offered what is virtually a dream picnic—a whole smoked trout, robust local pâté and cheese, homemade jams, freshly made bread and butter, and a bowl full of gulls’ eggs. This is the equivalent of nursery food compared with what follows, but it puts you in the right frame of mind—excellent natural produce presented in a straightforward yet memorable way.

On the night I was there, the starters for the evening’s main event were served on polished granite slabs on the ground floor of an elaborate 18th-century grain store: wild-trout roe resting in a tiny cylinder of dried pig’s blood that resembled parchment; a variety of crispy lichens; lip-smacking slices of cured pig’s belly; and, to cap it off, fried thrush heads, which we ate in their entirety, except for the beaks.

After this, we negotiated a steep staircase to the dining hall above, where dried fish, legs of pork, various mold-encrusted sausages, and bunches of herbs dangled from the rafters while jaunty folk music played in the background. The food was equally otherworldly, starting with scallops baked over a barbecue in their own juices and served on a bed of birch and juniper twigs. Then those huge langoustines arrived, along with toasted grains, shavings of local cheese, and a black-currant-infused burnt cream, which had a pleasant caramel flavor. The drinking options were either a local beer or superb wines from the most sought-after regions of Burgundy.

On reflection, the next two dishes sound bizarre if not downright challenging, but no diners failed to complete them with obvious satisfaction. The first was thin slices of raw cow’s heart with freshly grated carrot, accompanied by perfectly cooked bone marrow, theatrically extracted from large bones that were hacked apart at the table. Then rare goat’s liver with neck meat that had been marinated in mead and served with morels and thyme. I admit this might sound like some wild fantasy from an out-of-control slaughterhouse, but that was not the case. The desserts included a cake of pine-tree bark with frozen butter that was created in front of us in an old wooden churn, and a whipped duck’s egg with raspberry compote.

As this occurred during the summer, when we retired to bed after midnight it was still completely light, which added to the delight of the experience.

Nilsson is already in demand at top international food festivals, and while I have tasted his food at several places besides Fäviken, it invariably fails to reach the heights he achieves at home. He admits this to be the case, but thinks it is necessary to spread his message beyond the 12 covers per night at Fäviken. He is sanguine about the lasting interest in New Nordic Cuisine, though he doesn’t think it will have the same impact as Modernist Cuisine, as practiced by Heston Blumenthal at Britain’s Fat Duck or Ferran Adrià at his former Spanish restaurant, El Bulli.

“I think there is going to be a big focus on New Nordic Cuisine for a year or two and then it will fade away ... People will soon tire of the novelty, which is bad, but for the moment we are benefiting from the publicity,” Nilsson says. “However, I will still be cooking like this after it stops being trendy, as it is the only way I know how to cook.”