Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Faviken by Magnus Nilsson


  You know, at one point the line “If you build it, they will come.” referred to a baseball field in an Iowa cornfield.
Nowadays the same phrase serves as a motto for some of the best restaurants on the planet.
Years ago a young, talented chef brought a restaurant to national acclaim working out of a former laundry house in Yountville, California. Some years later, a wildly creative chef changed cooking forever, holding the distinction of best restaurant in the world via an old bed and breakfast in Roses, Spain. Now a young, wickedly talented chef is bringing diners from all over the world to the harsh Swedish countryside to dine on marrow scooped from whole steer femurs and meticulously prepared local produce. Such is the mysticism of the remote estate called Faviken, whose stove Chef Magnus Nilsson calls home.
                Nilsson spent years under Pascal Barbot at the 3-Michelin Star L’Astrance in Paris. It is apparent that the creative genius of the French master has been passed on to his Scandinavian apprentice. Rather than be content to follow the well-paved tracks of those who came earlier, Chef Nilsson questions the road that leads forward and forges a path through the rugged, wild Swedish jamtland. Where the vast majority of the world treasures the tender, young flesh of veal, Nilsson acknowledges that older cows have more flavour and logically, the tastiest cows are the old dairy cows that are no longer capable of producing milk. To tenderize such old and tough meat, he hangs and dry-ages his beef for up to 9 months in order to produce fantastic flavours with the tenderness of a younger animal.
                Who DOES that?!
                The chef who makes his life even more hellish than it already is to increase the quality of product and experience is a rare breed. To constantly risk reputation in favour of possibly delivering the experience of a lifetime is a rare feat. Yet here is this young Swedish chef who insists on roasting whole femurs for marrow and occupies two of his cooks with the task of perfectly roasting a single sea scallop over juniper embers. He serves 16 lucky diners per night, many of whom have travelled a long way to eat in his humble hunting shack in the frigid countryside.
                While you, the reader, are unlikely to prepare any of the recipes included in the book (unless you happen to raise dairy cows in Northern Swedish pastures, in which case, why, yes “A Very Fresh Lump of Cheese” is indeed within your culinary grasp!) the literature and photography are more than enough to foster future kitchen-facilitated adventures. To read an entire page on the rapture of Norweigian butter is more than to drool over the blonde-tinted coagulate of butter fats; it’s an acknowledgement that there is more to even the simplest of ingredients than one can even begin to fathom. At Faviken’s roots is that simple idea of appreciating the ingredients for what they are; he churns ice cream tableside with milk and cream that were still moo-ing when the sun rose that morning.  Simply observing the way in which Nilsson questions the conventional way of doing things is inspiring. His inability to accept “well that’s how it has always been done.” as a legitimate answer evokes equal measures of dash and maniacal genius.  Even fellow chefs have realized the potential and outstanding work of this young chef; Sean Brock of Husk declared him one of the “chefs to watch” at last year’s Cook It Raw event in Japan (think of Cook It Raw like FAO Schwartz-meets-League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for chefs).
                So in the end, I’d like to bring you back to the underlying theme of this review; that nowadays people are more than willing to travel long distances and pay money for a world-class meal. Can you imagine even 10 years ago trying to open a restaurant like Faviken in desolate Sweden? Faviken is a sign of the times; and the times, they are a changin’. Maybe you won’t be aging vinegars in the trunk of an old tree, but the point is that chefs like Magnus Nilsson are proving it possible that food can change the way people think. Like a farmer in Iowa, Chef Nilsson has given up a life of conventionality to do something truly special. While he isn’t painting baselines and assembling bullpens, Nilsson has created his own field of dreams in a restaurant that defies logic and brings forth an experience worthy of “memories so thick, they’ll have to wipe them from their faces.”

Book Review by Kevin Jeung

MAGNUS NILSSON will be hosted by The Cookbook Store 
Thursday October 11th, 2012, 7pm   Off Site Event
Please call the store for tickets, 416-920-2665

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