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Finding Swedish Cooking with Magnus Nilsson

Magnus Nilsson

According to Magnus Nilsson, chef at the iconic Swedish restaurant Fäviken and author of the magnificent culinary opus The Nordic Cookbook, Sweden and Canada have something unusual in common, culinarily speaking.

Think beyond climate, and the fact that foreigners know their food and ours largely by clichés (gravlax, herring and meatballs for them, tourtière, maple syrup and poutine for us). Think of beans, specifically…

“Brown beans—no one else eats them,” Nilsson asserted, as we settled in for a chat.

Certainly not presented as we know them: sweetened (in our case with maple syrup, in theirs, beet sugar) and served with salt pork (which we combine with the rest of the braise while they fry it and serve it on the side).

You will find a recipe for bruna bönor i sirapssås (Swedish sweet-and-sour brown beans) in Nilsson’s latest book, but there are better reasons to buy the tome. It is a treasure trove of great recipes and, for non-Scandinavians, an encyclopedia of the unknown. Because, as Nilsson has often pointed out, traditional Scandinavian food isn’t found in restaurants, only in homes.

“If you go to Barcelona, close your eyes and throw a rock, there’s a good chance you will hit a restaurant serving dishes a Spanish grandma would make,” Nilsson explains. “Yet when you go to Stockholm you cannot find a restaurant that represents actual Swedish cooking. It doesn’t exist.”

The 800-odd pages of The Nordic Cookbook go some long way to filling the gap. Nilsson will add another pillar to that foundation come fall, when Phaidon publishes his next volume, The Nordic Baking Book.

Our conversation turned to things I did not know about Fäviken. Namely, that his 16-seat restaurant some 600 kilometres north of Stockholm is still licensed to seat 300—as the owners envisioned for the casual moose fondue emporium they opened in 1986. A decade ago, when Nilsson came on board, it was the first restaurant he had ever run. And that while the owners have no stated regrets about how his culinary initiatives transformed their country retreat into a foodie mecca that is number 57 on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Nilsson does have one.

“Ever since the Fäviken cookbook,” he says, laughing, “it has become annoyingly difficult to buy retired dairy cows.”

The same thing goes for seats at Fäviken. If you want to visit, and among other things try that celebrated, nine-month-aged beef from old dairy cows, be advised to start now.  

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