Wild Food Spring #5: Fäviken

In this series, Dylan Gordon considers cookbooks, memoirs and fictions about wild, foraged foods. Reviewed in this essay:  Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson, Phaidon Press, 2012.

Landscape near Fäviken
Landscape near Fäviken.

Chef Magnus Nilsson, at “the world’s most isolated and daring restaurant,” deep in the heart of the northern Swedish wilderness, has been called “part Viking lumberjack and part Shaman.” Rebelling against the overly-fancified, highly technological cuisine of the late 1990s and 2000s, his preparations sport names like “broth of decaying autumn leaves” and “wild trout roe in a warm crust of dried pigs’ blood.”

In other words, rather than take your breath away with something you’ve never heard of, Nilsson does it with something you might have preferred to continue to ignore.

The point of this exercise? Developing a way to work with the raw materials of the local land in the most natural and intuitive way possible. Having returned home from one of Paris’s top restaurants, Nilsson found himself adrift in the kitchen of a remote mountain estate. Out of necessity, he discovered that the regional produce had, in fact, a flavour and quality unmatched among wholesalers’ offerings. And so he took to trading with the locals, and to hunting, fishing and foraging himself. In this way, Fäviken became what it is today: a model for the future of an international haute cuisine that is otherwise dependent on global reach, a cuisine quickly becoming unsustainable.

Readers who like to cook may well have sourcing troubles; my attempt to procure “1 very fresh cow’s femur” to test a recipe nearly ended in arrest. But the recipes and essays herein present a compendium of provocative, highly creative, though relatively simple techniques. In “a tiny slice of top blade from a retired dairy cow, dry aged for nine months,” we’re told:

The pure flavour of meat becomes secondary to the aromas of controlled decay…rather like a cheese. It is meat, but yet like a cheese.

Top Blade from Retired Dairy Cow
Top Blade from Retired Dairy Cow.

Elsewhere one finds other sorts of fermentations, and the unearthing of parts concealed deeper in the beast than its nose or tail. It’s early evidence of a shift of the global culinary imagination from the Mediterranean to the Nordic. And maybe, one can dream, it’s also harbinger of other cultural shifts to come: an implosion of our outsized desires into the virtues of decline, decay and degrowth. Disgusting? Perhaps, but yet delicious—and even, maybe, more truly connected to the nature of things.