From This Story
Chef Magnus Nilsson slaps together his bear-paw-sized hands, announcing his presence in the cabin-like space that serves as his dining room. Bunches of herbs hung to dry and edible flowers adorn the sparse walls, and meat and fish hang lazily from the ceiling as they cure. Tonight—a Tuesday in early July—the restaurant is at full capacity, seating 16 guests around a handful of sparse wooden tables.
“Here we have scallop ‘i skalet ur elden’ cooked over burning juniper branches,” Nilsson announces. Staff members deliver two pink-shelled scallops nestled on a bed of smoking moss and juniper to our table. The dish smells like Christmas at the beach. “Eat it in one bite, and drink the juice, ok?” Nilsson says.
The scallops—taken from the fire in the kitchen downstairs no more than 90 seconds earlier—open to reveal a pearly dollop of meat marinating in its own murky juices. I place the entire succulent morsel into my mouth with my fingers, and then slurp down the broth, as instructed. I’m rewarded with flavors of the Norwegian Sea: briny, salty and sweet.
This is Fäviken Magasinet, a restaurant located in the heart of northwest Sweden’s forested wilderness, Järpen. The region is roughly the same size as Denmark, but with only 130,000 residents. The restaurant’s location requires hopeful patrons to embark upon a pilgrimage of sorts. You can either take a car or train from Stockholm—a 470-mile journey—or jump on a quick flight to Östersund, a town about an hour and a half east.
Described by Bon Appétit as “the world’s most daring restaurant,” Fäviken’s extreme remoteness, unique dishes and strict regime of locally hunted, foraged, fished, farmed and preserved ingredients quickly began earning the restaurant and its young chef notoriety when he took over as head chef in 2008. Just four years later, Fäviken landed 34th place on the British magazine Restaurant’s coveted World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, on which the judges pose: “Is this the most isolated great restaurant on the planet?”
A journey north
I enjoy food, but would hesitate to call myself a true foodie. I haven’t been to Per Se (#11 on the Restaurant’s list) or Eleven Madison Park (#5), both in New York City, and I wouldn’t plan a trip to Denmark just to eat at Noma (#2). Fäviken, however, was different.
I first learned about Nilsson in a short blurb in TimeOut New York, in a review of his recently published cookbook cum autobiography, Fäviken. The “uncompromising young chef (just 28),” TimeOut wrote, “has been pushing the boundaries or hunter-gatherer cooking” in a “groundbreaking restaurant in the middle of nowhere.” Something about sipping a broth of autumn leaves in the Swedish woods deeply appealed, and I began looking into this strange place. Seeing the restaurant’s website—a panorama of the property’s 19th century converted barns, that changes with the seasons—solidified my next vacation plans.
Nilsson grew up near Fäviken’s property, in a tiny town called Mörsil. Though he fondly recalls spending time in the kitchen with his grandmother, the young Swede originally aspired to become a marine biologist. But gastronomy trumped ichthyology, and Nilsson eventually landed spots cooking under three-star Michelin chefs in Paris. But he returned to Sweden after his Paris sojourn and tried pursuing his own kitchen aspirations, his efforts fell flat. His dishes were only poor imitations of his mentors’ creations. Discouraged, he stopped cooking and decided to become a wine writer instead.