Anna Barnett falls under Sweden’s spell as she visits self-sufficient farms and takes cookery classes with its top chefs.
Food & Culture in Stockholm & Sörmland
As featured in the Evening Standard.
Recently I took a short hour and a half flight to Sweden and was quickly left wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner. Trips to France, Spain and Italy had always felt more of a natural destination to sample good food, wine and culture. How wrong I was.
Upon arriving, we were immediately taught the concept of ‘Lagom’ – the Swedish way of living through ‘moderation, just enough and nothing to excess’ – by our host. So natural for the Swedes, but perhaps trickier for us Brits. I love that this idea extends across every aspect of life – everything is modest, pared-back and simplistic with a focus on quality over quantity.
In Stockholm and its neighbouring landscape – the lush, green landscape of Sörmland, you can sample ‘New Nordic Cuisine’ as well as the more traditional, local ones Sweden is famed for. Here are some of the most interesting spots I discovered during my Swedish foodie adventure – from both, equally enticing ends of the spectrum.
During our time in Sörmland, we visited families that live entirely off the land around them and have made a business of doing so; living simplistic but rich lives. We started at Äleby Gård; a beautiful game reserve that has been passed down through the generations. The ethos there is all about moderation, sustainability, biodiversity and caring for the land responsibly. Hunting isn’t done excessively – instead, the family hunt for what they need and use up every part of the animal in respect for the life they’ve taken. They run cookery classes, offer a sense of community and grow many of the vegetables and herbs they use. They also offer the unique experience of ‘Nose to Tail dining’, where guests, hunt, butcher and prepare the game. This is then turned into a nine course dinner by chef and restaurateur, Daniel Crespi and Mikael Einarsson, author of Hedonisten, the most incredible book championing nose to tail dining.
This farm encapsulates every idyll you can imagine about living off the fat of the land. The husband and wife behind it spend much of their time foraging and teaching others to do so. They teach sustainability, respecting the land and preserving it for the generations to come; think endless pickling, fermenting and experimenting with edible flowers, buds, saps and berries. Even more excitingly, they often pair up with chefs to teach, share and develop new flavours from the land. Here the aim is to create small specialist batches that are to be cherished and enjoyed.
This is another game reserve offering simplistic, deserted accommodation on the water where groups often come to hunt, fish and be at one with nature. Thankfully for me, we skipped the hunting and spent the evening with the head chef who leads our cookery class with such spirit and enthusiasm that we would have happily returned every night for a week. We cooked up a four-course organic feast with ingredients farmed no further than a mile away. ‘Slow food’ through and through! Beautiful foraged mushrooms make their way into almost every course and rightly so. We smoke, char and fry an assortment of game and vegetables, crafting a restaurant worthy feast. This alone is worth the trek into the dark depths of forest.
After indulging in the vast and lush Spruce-heavy landscape of Sörmland we headed into Stockholm to explore the New Nordic cuisine and those making their mark within the city’s restaurant scene. Indoor food markets and modern fusion foods are dominating its food scene right now. Here are my highlights:
Tak opened a mere six months ago and celebrates traditional Nordic produce but with a heavy Japanese influence. Head chef Frida Ronge combines her knowledge of Japanese cuisine with her Nordic heritage and successfully so. Tak serves more than two hundred and fifty covers daily and offers 360 degree views of the city. It is one of the four restaurants that Ronge is currently heading up and certainly feels like the place to be or to be seen in right now in Stockholm.
Chef Mathias Dahlgren recently set aside his two Michelin stars to dedicate his restaurant to a completely vegetarian menu that is both inventive and exciting. Asian influences once again make their way into the menu as well as home-churned butters, freshly baked breads, smoked nuts and truffles. This modern approach and socially aware stance gives the sense that not only is Sweden’s food scene connected and respectful to its environment, but equally it’s modernising and evolving with it…just enough.
In amongst the dining out we make time to sample another cookery class at Stockholm’s restaurant academy; Restaurangakademin. This is a haven for anyone wanting to train within the restaurant sector with everything from culinary courses for budding chefs, sommelier training for wine enthusiasts as well as classes in hospitality and management. There’s something for everyone and those that simply want to improve their kitchen skills are more than welcome also. Our classes is taken by incredible chef Magnus Albrektsson where we learn restaurant-style food. His techniques, tips and passion have us all chomping at the bit for more as well as learning valuable skills.
All images Anna Barnett