"A tiny slice of top blade from a retired dairy cow, dry aged for nine months, crispy reindeer lichen, fermented green gooseberries, fennel salt. " This is one of the dishes guests are served at Fäviken Magasinet, a restaurant in the hinterlands of Sweden, surrounds by abundant wild game and even more abundant forest. It's also one of the recipes in the recently published Fäviken cookbook, a book that is more about inspiring readers to a way of life and cooking, than it is about specific recipes.
Fäviken's Chef Magnus Nilsson was classically trained and worked in kitchens throughout Sweden and France, before returning to Jämtland, the region where he grew up, hunting and fishing as a young boy. Nilsson took over the kitchen at Fäviken as René Redzepi was turning the International spotlight on Scandinavia with his "New Nordic Cuisine" at Noma in Copenhagen. Nilsson, like Redzepi, focuses more on old-fashioned techniques like smoking, curing, and pickling, to preserve the short growing season in Scandinavia, than importing produce from warm climates year-round. Except for pineapple, which is a favorite pizza topping for staff meal at Fäviken.
Enigmatic is what I kept thinking as I read through Fäviken, and Nilsson's preference for cooking over hot coals, instead of sous vide, and foraging for fallen leaves and lichens, instead of growing micro-greens. When he goes out hunting however, he straps a GPS on his bird dog Krut. And to release excess juice from frozen raspberries, Nilsson pops them in the microwave. And yes, despite the nearest pineapple being grown over 6,000 miles away, Nilsson still wants it on Hawaiian-style pizza, even if the ham was cured in-house from a pig Nilsson slaughtered himself.
The narrative in Fäviken is incredibly engaging, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the philosophy and work done by Nilsson and his staff. The "Wednesday at Fäviken" chapter is a blow-by-blow of Nilsson's day leading up to dinner service, and the precision and care that goes into creating each plate for the 12 diners Fäviken hosts each night. If you are dining at Fäviken though and do not make the courtesy of calling to say you will be late, be warned that the doors are locked promptly at 7:05 p.m. Reading this chapter provides a description of how each dish is prepared and served on a single evening, which makes the recipe for "Monkfish grilled slowly over burning birch coals, a leaf of kale steamed so briefly that it is dying on the plate, green juniper and alcohol vinegar" make a lot more sense. And perhaps understand why Nilsson can't let one or two diners hold up the entire show.
In some recipes in Fäviken, one can feel like they're being goofed. Recipe headnotes include techniques and information such as, "the first step is to chop down a pine tree in early spring." I had great fun reading recipes for nuggets such as this. In all seriousness though, there is in-depth information provided on butchering fish, meat, and game, pickling, storing vegetables, making butter and cheese, and foraging. There are also great recipes for a basic pickling solution, making herb salt, a multi-grain porridge, and gluten-free crackers made with flax seeds.
Fäviken grew on me, perhaps because the surname on my mother's side is also Nilsson. And because we have good family friends from Jämtland. There's a rugged simplicity about the recipes, stories and techniques that most Pacific Northwesteners will likely appreciate. I don't know if I'll be making "Vinegar matured in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree" anytime soon, but the "Pork chop and semi-dried pickled root vegetables" seems like something I could make on any given Wednesday night.