Charged: Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken
Experiential luxury in the northern reaches of Sweden, where all of the provisions come from the surrounding land
The first signs of spring are just starting to show in the low mountains of the Jämtland region of Sweden (600 kilometers northwest of Stockholm) and the stores of preserved wild grasses, cured calf liver and other uniquely Scandinavian delicacies are wearing thin at Fäviken. To describe chef Magnus Nilsson's remote restaurant set on a 19th century estate as another farm-to-table joint would be a vast understatement. Nearly everything served at Fäviken—hailed as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world in 2013 by Zagat—is grown, foraged and hunted on the 20,000 acres of farmland surrounding its dining room, then preserved and stored using methods both old and new. (The only things sourced from afar are coffee, pineapples and certain wines and spirits.) At just 30 years old, Nilsson and his inventive dining concept has challenged both palates and sensibilities, upending the status quo of luxury dining by asking his guests to immerse themselves in the experience: to steep themselves in the land, culture and seasonal cycle of his food.
While the ingredients are all hyper-local, Nilsson's background as a chef is anything but. He logged time at Michelin-starred L'Arpège in Paris under Alain Passard in addition to becoming a trained sommelier—the wine pairings at Fäviken are just as important as the technical preparation of the courses. With a menu that changes daily depending on the available provisions (and what the chefs procure from the surrounding land), forecasting the offerings at Fäviken requires a Farmers' Almanac and a seat at the chef's table. In other words, visiting diners should bring an open mind and a belief in Nilsson's combination of New Nordic cuisine with age-old techniques.
A tour of the restaurant's root cellar reveals a library-like collection of vegetables, foraged herbs and root stocks that bolster the menu over the long and cold Swedish winter—an unfamiliar experience for modern diners more accustomed to, perhaps, visiting a wine cellar at a restaurant set in an international city that relies on global trade for exotic and "in-season" produce any time, anywhere. It's Nilsson's intense focus on one place, one set of provisions, that inspires an inventiveness that most chefs in most cities are never called upon to employ or develop.
Fäviken just serves dinner and there's just one seating at 7:00 PM sharp. Arriving at the restaurant takes both time and dedication—one must travel by air, rail or a lengthy drive (about seven hours from Stockholm). This is not a mere meal to be remembered. Rather, it's a destination and trip in and of itself. The seating is intimate, with a maximum of 16 diners per evening and a team of seven chefs who forage and prepare everything served—that's a customer-to-chef ratio of nearly two to one.
Diners also spend the night in one of the six rooms on the premises. Check-in is promptly before dinner service and check-out is the following morning following an in-house breakfast. After 14 courses of Nilsson's culinary creations (smoked vegetables, fried pigs' trotters served on a bed of stones, two-year-aged herring), diners simply walk the few paces to their rustic, simple rooms for a sauna and a sleep. The experience is intimate to say the least, where getting to know your fellow diners and the chefs is part of the fun. Contrary to pre-existing constructs of luxury, Fäviken asks something of its guests in return; it's a give and take that is exemplary of contemporary high-level experiential travel. As René Redzepi, the culinary genius behind Copenhagen's Noma and fellow pioneer of new Nordic cuisine, put it: "If I had a chance to go anywhere in the world right now, I would go to Fäviken." When he got there he'd find a new way of eating, experiencing and travel, one that is rewarding on both sides of the kitchen.
For more about Nilsson and to make a reservation at Fäviken, visit the website. And, for a closer look at the chef's process and produce-rich backyard, check out his beautifully produced cookbook from Phaidon.
Images courtesy of Fäviken