Early on in the meat chapter of Magnus Nilsson’s cookbook, Fäviken, named for his restaurant, the Scandinavian chef explains how he sometimes uses meat as a seasoning: “For example, a dried piece of moose meat could be ground into a powder and used to season sweet root vegetables that have been cooked over a fire during winter.” (Just, you know, for example.) The book will be released in October and Nilsson was in the West Village yesterday cooking at the Spotted Pig for a handful of people, a kind of pre-book-tour event.
Fäviken Magasinet, the restaurant, seats twelve people and is in the northwest of Sweden, on a 20,000-acre hunting preserve in Järpen. Nilsson was born nearby and trained at L’Arpège and L’Astrance, a Michelin three-starred restaurant in Paris, before moving back to Sweden and opening his own place. He gets every ingredient (except salt, sugar, and wine) from the property. Some diners call the restaurant the most daring in the world, the next big thing. It is currently No. 34 on S. Pelligrino’s list of the world's best restaurants.
Fäviken, the book, introduces Nilsson’s philosophy, day-in-the-life, and recipes to readers not lucky, or intrepid, enough to fly to Stockholm, then take another plane or an overnight train or drive over snowy mountains for hours to reach the teeny establishment. Beautiful, meditative photographs depict a barren landscape, a single fluffy lamb asleep in the grass, a tray of wildflowers. The dishes are mostly inapproachable for home cooks, unless you happen to have Scandinavian pantry staples on hand, such as “6 pieces Icelandic moss, rinsed and cleaned” (used in Nilsson’s “crispy lichens seasoned with dried egg yolks and very lightly cold smoked fish”).
At the Spotted Pig lunch, anticipation was high among people who had seen the book proofs. Would the 28-year-old chef make his famous “marrow and heart with grated turnip and turnip leaves that have never seen the light of day”? (The dish calls for “a perfectly fresh cow’s femur, at room temperature” which Nilsson saws open in the dining room each evening at the restaurant.) Or perhaps we'd eat “wild trout roe in a warm crust of dried pigs’ blood.” Had Nilsson smuggled some pulverized moose meat in his carry-on?
Alas, no. “I’m making kams,” he said, gesturing to a sheet tray of rolled dumplings. When asked what “kams” meant, he replied, “Nothing. It means ‘kams.’ It’s something my grandmother would make when I was growing up. I haven’t made these for fifteen years, and I didn’t want to replicate Fäviken dishes at all here.”
Made of grated raw potatoes, barley flour, and salt pork, the dumplings, boiled in water, were rustic, simple, workman’s food. They had a consistency somewhere between an undercooked gnocchi and a doorstop, the kind of food you'd eat on a cold winter day before heading out into the tundra to hunt moose. Nilsson served them with a plate of salted butter and some macerated cranberries.
“We normally use lingonberries,” he said. “But there were no lingonberries at Whole Foods.”