Fäviken restaurant: Pageantry of the plate
Fäviken is a restaurant in the small town of Järpen, roughly half way up Sweden, and now it is also the eponymous subject of a handsome cookbook, published by Phaidon and written by owner and chef Magnus Nilsson.
This year Fäviken was voted as one of the world's top 10 restaurants by the Zagat guide.
The best chefs in the world–René Redzepi, the Adria brothers–believe that they are giving their guests something they cannot get anywhere else. This is also certainly true of Fäviken, where you will be served vegetables cooked in autumn leaves, or steamed rose fish with a broth of "forest floor". The food is presented with parts of the landscape, and, as Nilsson says, is a "synthesis of the culture of Jämtland, its traditions and its food".
If this sounds a little exotic, Nilsson, a blond, bearded Scandinavian, tells us to read his recipe book with an open mind.
There is a great passage describing an evening's service–"a constant, uninterrupted flow of food, which only stops when it is finished".
The guests are ushered into a room with a big fireplace, which looks a lot like it did when the building was built in 1745.
Couches are draped in sheepskins and the diners have to interact, because "everyone in the room is here for the same reason".
Appetisers are served: cubes of curdled milk with a single petal of a lavender flower picked in the summer; little cups made from dried pigs' blood with trout roe; and slices of dried fish.
Guests are led upstairs to the low-ceilinged dining room. There is another fireplace, surrounded by dried herbs hanging from the walls. The diners are being introduced to drying and curing, and, in the early winter, Nilsson says, the place can resemble a "meat circus", with pieces of drying animals dangling from the ceiling.
The stage is set. He gives a colleague in the dining room a discreet nod, which is what they call the "seven-minute sign", and heads back down to the kitchen. Circles of "mossy forest" are placed on big ceramic plates while scallops are cooked on a griddle. The scallops are placed on the plates with a piece of hot charcoal. The charcoal heats a juniper branch in the moss and a thread of aromatic smoke, like "Scandinavian incense", can be seen as the plates are carried upstairs.
Another discreet nod, and another seven minutes until the next course–monkfish–is served. Nilsson coarsely chops green juniper ?berries, which are mixed with a jelly made from alcoholic vinegar and an emerald "forest" oil. Kale leaves are wilted in the oven and then placed on the plate "as though the leaf died there."
A piece of grilled monkfish and a small spoonful of the juniper and green jelly complete the plate. The oil in the juniper is heated by the plate, so again there will be the scent of the forest.
There are many more courses: a piece of the top blade from a retired dairy cow, dry aged for seven months, with crispy lichen and fermented green gooseberries, and an old favourite: bone marrow, toast and fresh, diced cow's heart and coarsely grated turnip.
Some theatre is involved: the cow's femur is cut with a hacksaw in front of the diners and the "lukewarm goodness" of the marrow is scooped out with a long spoon and mixed with the crimson cubes of heart and strands of turnip.
Plenty of preserving goes on. In his book, Nilsson reminisces about the time when he hollowed out the burnt trunk of a spruce tree and filled it with balsamic vinegar. He left it in his garage for a few months. When he finally got back to it, about half of the vinegar had seeped into the trunk, which needed topping up. This carried on for about a year, after which he bottled the liquid, now something used as a base seasoning.
Desserts and sweets make a sporadic appearance throughout the book and include wild blueberry ice cream, pine bark cake served with a pudding of sour milk and cream, grated lavender, mushroom and frozen buttermilk.
One other thing, if you're dining at Fäviken, don't be late, or, if you are, have the decency to phone ahead and tell them. If you don't, they'll lock the door and start without you.
A question remains: Can you actually cook from Nilsson's book?
As he says, try to follow the principles and, although the end result will certainly not be the same as that produced in the restaurant, it doesn't matter because every cook will produce a unique dish any way.
Some cookbooks, and this seems to be a recent thing, are not meant to be used in the kitchen. They are more like art books, something to be admired.
One is Cook It Raw (Phaidon), another hardback treasure, which deals with events to which superstar chefs are flown–for example, to Ishikawa in Japan, Lapland in the far north of Finland, Collio in Italy, or Copenhagen–where they are asked to consider a proposition, such as "zero energy cooking".
In this instance, the famous food fanatics, among them Albert Adria, David Chang and René Redzepi, had to cook without using electricity.The brief leads to acts of abandoned foraging: in Ishikawa, they find wild wasabi and some bright purple berries, the name of which nobody knows.
Once they have collected their baskets of weeds and strange flowers, they team up or cook it themselves and serve it to a small crowd, among them reporters. They create tiny, sculptural morsels, say, a dab of monkfish liver, persimmon, fresh chestnuts, white turnip, yuzu and black radish.
They prod, they sniff and, by the looks of it, have a lot of fun. Being chefs, there also seems to be a lot of liquor around.
There are plenty of black-and-white photographs of the chefs rubbing shoulders, busy making food and then full-page colour pictures of their inventions.
In Denmark, Massimo Bottura served up what looked like a plate of polluted water: oily, with some foam, with bits poking out of the sludge. He called the dish "Pollution". It was composed of layers of reduced squid, oyster and monkfish liver, with a "crisp" algae and citrus foam and made as a comment about the world's oceans.
Davide Scabin, who runs Combal.Zero outside Turin, made "steak tartare BC"–filaments of veal shoulder served on a slice of cinnamon bark. The meat looked like something aquatic, or insect-like.
As chef Quique Dacosta says: "You don't come here to learn but you learn. You don't come here to teach but you teach … Cook It Raw is distinct and unique. It's like playing jazz or pop."