Food
A Swedish chef finds his inner Bergman

Magnus Nilsson, the 29-year-old chef at Faviken, near Stockholm, is lauded for his pared-down, minimal style of cooking. Anissa Helou celebrates the simplicity.

Every few years a chef bursts onto the culinary scene and becomes the talk of the town — or perhaps I should say towns, given the global world we live in. I try to ignore the hype and wait until it dies down before eventually deciding for myself if I want to eat his/her food. Unless, that is, there is something particularly absorbing about the coverage, in which case I try to book a table immediately.

Magnus prepares Bone Marrow

This is what happened a couple of years ago when I started reading about Magnus Nilsson, the 29-year-old chef at Faviken, a restaurant with accommodations deep in the Swedish countryside north of Stockholm where no one is encouraged to spend more than one night. The restaurant is on a farm by a beautiful lake, and although there is plenty of space, inside and out, the dinning room has space for only 16 guests. The inn has seven practically identical twin bedrooms. The rooms may be cell-like, but they are stylish, as are the two shared bathrooms. The ascetic and rather limited setup was intriguing, but it was Nilsson’s food philosophy that really appealed to me.

Egg Ice Cream

For one thing, he relies entirely on local produce, much of it homegrown, which he cooks, in his words, in a “simple but not simplistic” way. This, along with his spare approach to preparation, fascinated me. I love simple food, but I also love the idea of serious thinking behind seemingly simple dishes. So I decided to head to Faviken once I was able to procure a spot - not such an easy feat.

I finally made it there last June, and at first I wondered if I was going to like the place. I was rather put off by the detached welcome I got. I was also not so keen on sharing a bathroom, and I wondered how comfortable I was going to be sleeping in a single bed. On the plus side was the wonderful serenity of the place, which quickly won me over. I settled on the terrace, overlooking gentle hills against a brilliant blue sky, and enjoyed a refreshing drink served with Nilsson’s homemade charcuterie and pickled carrots.

 

That feeling of wellbeing continued as the two friends who joined me on the trip and I moved upstairs to have dinner in a warmly lit rustic room that made me feel as if I were in an early Ingmar Bergman film. We had already sampled Nilsson’s virtuoso cooking with our pre-dinner nibbles, each one prettier than the one before and all perfectly exquisite — from the ethereal seed crackers to the fresh cheese, which was as silky as the silkiest tofu, to other amazing concoctions. Astonishingly good!

A box of sweets

 

Whereas some of the small dishes served with our drinks were rather intricate, everything about the dinner was pure and pared down, and just as sensational. The first course was a single scallop on the shell that had been perfectly cooked over burning juniper branches. We were told to eat it with our hands, so I eagerly picked up the barely cooked scallop with my fingers and slid it into my mouth for an intense taste of the sea. It was followed by the most perfect langoustine served with a dollop of burned cream. Incredible. And so it was with the rest of the dinner.

If you can apply the word minimalist to food, it is how I would describe Nilsson’s cooking. Each dish is made up of two or three elements, each prepared with incredible care and technique. And what made the evening even more satisfying was the chefs' involvement in serving the food or, in the case of Nilsson’s signature bone marrow dish, preparing it in front of us. He dramatically sawed the bone before extracting the marrow and plating it for each of us. Faviken is an absolute must-go if you are at all interested in food. As for me, I plan to return in winter to see what's on Nilsson’s menu at that barren time of year.

 

Anissa Helou is a food writer, art collector, journalist and broadcaster based in London. She is also the author of Modern Mezze (Quadrille Publishing) and Levant: Recipes and Memories from the Middle East (Harper Collins). She blogs at http://www.anissas.com/

Photos: Faviken and Anissa Helou