Meet the chef: Talking food with restaurateur/chef Niklas Ekstedt
The rising trend of sustainable cooking and going back to our roots is not so much a trend as it is a way of life in the Nordic region.
“Pickling and smoking are pillars of Nordic cooking which really have begun to resonate with both chefs and diners all over the world,” says Swedish chef and restaurant manager Niklas Ekstedt.
Despite working in some of the world’s most inventive restaurants, Ekstedt favours stripped down cooking styles that help maintain the integrity of the dishes he serves.
At the end of the month, the island of Fjäderholmarna will welcome some of the world’s top chefs as Ekstedt hosts Foodstock, a gastronomic festival celebrating the best of Scandinavian cuisine.
Luxury Lifestyle Magazine food writer Ina Yulo speaks with Ekstedt about cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants and what he hopes to accomplish with his new venture.
You’ve spent time in some very covetable kitchens. What were some of your biggest learnings from your stints at The Fat Duck and el Bulli?
Many things! But most importantly, that it is an ongoing and very much an every day process to run a kitchen at that level. It also requires an open mind for curiosity and knowledge – this helps us to continue to grow and evolve.
Could you tell me a bit about your upbringing and how that has influenced your cooking style?
From a very early age, my family always enjoyed food and placed great value on dining experiences. We often spent long periods out in nature and this is where my love of cooking over fire grew; it’s how we’ve cooked food historically, and still do to this day. A fire is always relevant; it gives us heat, comfort, a place to socialise around and, of course, a unique and natural flavour for ingredients cooked over it.
Foraging and preservation techniques have become quite popular across the globe in recent years. Why do you think that is?
This growth has been driven by travelling chefs looking to innovate, but also an increased focus on sustainability and zero-waste practices, of which preservation is the oldest technique.
Name a dish from another type of cuisine that you know you would never be able to recreate.
There are so many types of sushi and I have no doubt it takes a lifetime to master just one style.
What is your favourite Swedish dish of all time?
Meatballs or really fresh butter-fried herring are definite favourites. Both served with creamy mashed potato and of course lingonberries.
What are some of the ingredients that characterise Nordic cuisine and what are your favourite ways to use them?
At the restaurant we forage for pine, spruce, juniper and birch. These work well in pickling but we also use them to build our fire which flavours the food.
My fiancé is Norwegian and so I’m quite familiar with Norwegian flavours. Would you say the different Nordic countries have a shared flavour profile or are there specific items favoured by each country?
There is a common thread which runs throughout the cooking of Norway, Denmark and Sweden – hence the use of the term Nordic cuisine – however there are specific ingredients which influence flavours at both a national and regional level. These include sea buckthorn, herring, cloudberries, and juniper.
Why did you decide to launch Foodstock in Sweden?
Our idea for Foodstock was to open the kitchen for the spectators and show them the process from raw produce to what finally ends up on the plate. We also wanted to focus on traditional techniques and look at how they have developed both from a Nordic and international perspective, hence why we have balanced the invitees between Swedish and international names.
What sets Foodstock apart from other culinary festivals?
There are many things, but I would probably say that our “Four Hands Menu” is something which is unlike anything else you’ll see at an outdoor food festival. This is something which grew from me and my chef friends when we were hanging out on holiday. It usually ends up with us sourcing some seasonal ingredients and cooking together. At the end of the day, it’s just great fun and so inspiring!
What do you hope guests feel after they have their first Foodstock experience?
Our aim for Foodstock is to create something which hasn’t been done before and to celebrate Swedish craft. We hope that guests will leave having enjoyed their time in Stockholm but also having learned a little about our food culture and the traditions that drive it.
Foodstock takes place from 31st August-1st September. Tickets including return travel to the island and the additional Four Hands Menu and Banquet with Tomos Parry can be booked online at foodstock.se