Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 1, Episode 6 - Magnus Nilsson - full transcript

A look at chef Magnus Nilsson and his restaurant in Sweden.

[Magnus] As a creative person,

you're always influenced
by the experiences you have.

And if one of them is that

you're constantly relating to
other similar restaurants,

that's inevitably going
to affect what you do.

If you look at the whole restaurant world
and you look at a certain bigger city,

there is a feeling to many of
the restaurants that tie them together.

At Fäviken, we don't have to relate
to anything that we don't want.

'Cause it's just us here.
Just this little universe.

It's kind of limitless, you know?

[opening theme playing]

[Lotta] To start a fine dining restaurant
isn't easy.

To start a fine dining restaurant
in the middle of nowhere,

it's impossible.

What Magnus has created is special.

[Bill] It's flat,
it's trees, it's water...

and it's on the way to nowhere.

It is, therefore... extreme.

And in extremity,

you discover...

something new in food.

[Adam] Fäviken is built on

things that would never work
for any other restaurant.

Depending on where
you live in the world,

you're flying up to Trondheim, Norway,

and then you're renting a car,
and you've gotta check your GPS,

and you have to drive
through little Norwegian fjords,

and then you find this fairy tale world

of this giant, sprawling
Swedish hunting lodge and farm

with nothing else happening,
except this 12-seat restaurant.

There's a sense that you've stumbled
on this ancient Nordic hideaway.

A version of that, that's been translated
through Magnus' imagination

and obsessions, and passions.

And so before you eat a bite of food,

you've gone along for this romantic ride.

[Bill] The biggest part of Magnus
is he got put in the middle of nowhere.

And in the middle of nowhere,

you cook food more or less
like it was always done.

[Magnus] Counting and plating
in one and a half minutes.

Mikey, you can spread.
Start plating.

[Bill] So he is discovering
all these things

that people did for the previous
150,000 years as though...

it's new and it's now.

Nobody else is doing it.

[Emilia] When I was at Fäviken
the first time,

it was magic.

It was really the intensity of
the taste that struck me.

You feel that every single element,

every tiny, little piece of meat,
of fish, of leaf,

it's necessary.

[Adam] He's sort of stripped away
all the trappings of

the classical, Michelin-starred,
fancy cuisine.

He's doing things exactly his way
and no other way.

But at the heart of
everything that he makes

is this quest to make delicious food.

[Magnus] You guys ready for us?

Looks very nice.

[Emilia] Running a restaurant
at that level,

in a place where six months a year

there is nothing growing,

that is one of the most incredible
challenge that a chef can have.

[speaking Swedish]
Are you getting the peas out?

Are you getting them out, Jesper?

We're ready to plate now,
and there are no peas in place.

[speaking English]
Shake it, shake it.

[Mia] Yeah.
[Magnus] Come on, Mikey.

[Magnus] Anyone can learn
to duplicate a technique,

but that's not creative expression.

What's interesting is true development.

It's not something that happens over,
like, a couple of weeks or a year.

But to me,
it gives the base for true creativity.

[cows mooing]

[Magnus] I didn't work with beef before.

'Cause most of the time,
beef isn't very interesting.

It's just proteins pumped up,
with very little flavor.

Fifty years ago,
it was, like, one kind of cow.

And because of the way
we farm in the Western world,

the whole development has split

all of these old dual-purpose breeds
into two lines.

One that produces just milk,

so there is a cow
which stands there for,

perhaps, eight or ten years,

consuming vast amounts of grain
just to produce milk.

On the other hand,
you have beef cattle,

which do nothing.

They just stand there,
also eating vast amounts of grain

to grow as quickly as possible
so that they reach a really big size.

And they're fed into becoming
these sort of living monsters of meat.

It's enormously ineffective.

I think that that was kind of
what triggered the idea

of using the dairy cow in the restaurant.

Because it just seems stupid
to do the way it's done now.

The first dairy cow that we bought,
it had a depth of flavor

and things that
I didn't find in ordinary beef.

And that was when it started
to turn really interesting.

The dairy cow that has mostly
eaten grass during its life

from a nice farm
where they are allowed to pasture,

you will have much more flavor,
you will have much more texture,

and you will also have
much more natural marbling.


It's very exciting
when you kind of hit that moment

where you realize
that you're onto something,

when you realize
that there is knowledge that's just

lying there in the open,
it's just that no one is using it.

[Magnus] Mikey?
[Mike] Yes?

-Pick up.

[Magnus] To create true understanding
of produce and technique,

it's a long process.

And most chefs don't even think
about that as the chef's job.

And that's not very constructive,
it's actually very lazy.

I think for any restaurant like this,

it's very important to not just
accept things the way they are,

but to actually...

Like, the things that you are
intrigued by or interested in,

that you actually go and investigate.

Like, "What's there?"
and, like, "Why?"

And if it doesn't make sense,
how can it transform to become greater?

[indistinct chatter]

-[man] Yep.
-Will you clean this up a little bit?

-Yeah, yeah, for sure.
-Thank you.


[Magnus] Mia, for the mushroom sauce...
[Mia] Yeah?

We can have a little bit more
of this birch syrup in it,

and maybe a little bit more salt.

-Just a little bit.

[Magnus] I notice everything
that happens in the kitchen.

I notice every little single details
because I was there to develop them.

Overall, pretty good.

It wasn't one of those fantastic evenings.
It was just a very ordinary evening.

[laughs] But, like, good.

Um... this, I don't like.

No one asked me if it was fine
to do carrot flakes there.

Uh, I don't know, Jesper,
if you okayed it,

but I think it's an absolutely
crazy decision because it's like,

how can you come up with

the idea to exchange the flavor of
cured saltiness with fresh carrots?

Like, why don't we take
a piece of pickled carrot then?

Unlike other creative professions,

cooking at a very high level
in a restaurant,

it means that you get no second chances.

[Magnus] Okay, first tray, prioritized.

I've got some crab coming.

I can't go to my customer
and say that, you know, like,

"Crab wasn't very good today,
but, you know, sorry about that.

You'll have to come back here
to have that crab again."

Okay, be ready to pick up.

Very nice looking, the crab today.

A little bit too much cream
on the two last plates,

on the third tray.

[Mia] I mean,
everything has to be perfect.

As long as you do your job properly,
it's not too bad. [chuckles]

-I think half of it then.

-And then continue cooking the rest.

[Magnus] The way the kitchen
is kind of structured at Fäviken,

it's a little bit backwards.

In many big restaurants,

there is a bunch of trainees
doing all kinds of leaf picking,

and then the mise en place
gets filtered up through layers of people.

Finally it ends up on the pass
where people like me stand and plate.

So there is no accountability
for the lower end of the hierarchy.

Very nice looking, the cream.

Have you started cutting?

-Start cutting. Mikey!
-[Mike] Yes.

[Jesper] Come on.

[Magnus] Fantastic cooking, people.

[Magnus] And then here,
we've done it the other way around.

So we'll have one person announcing
everything and controlling the service,

then we'll have,
on the pass with him,

we'll have the trainees,
the people that are the least experienced.

And we'll have the most experienced cooks
in the back, actually cooking.

It's much better to have no filters
until they arrive on the pass,

and then having
everyone actually doing

their things perfectly
from the beginning instead.

[timer beeping]

[Peter] Now?

[Magnus] Looks very wet, eh?

I will... uh... fix it.

Have you vacked?

Like never vac meat.

We talked about that earlier, haven't we?


Do you have one that's un-vacked?


It should be there,
you know, on the grid. Right?


[Anders speaking Swedish]

It's fun to see these pictures.
Time passes so fast!

[Anki laughs]

[Magnus] Sure does.

These are a perfect snapshot of that time.

We're eating the "julbord" buffet.

The classic 1980's
Swedish Christmas feast.


[Magnus speaking English]
I never thought I was gonna live here

when I'd grown up. I like--

I shouldn't say that I liked living here
growing up, because I didn't.


I tolerated living here.

Like most kids in Jämtland,
I grew up close to nature.

Being outside, hunting, fishing,
surrounded by fantastic natural beauty.

When you're exposed to it every day,
you get blind to that after a while.

I never thought it was going
to be possible to actually

live life here and work with

the profession that I had chosen,

a very, very high-end,
very ambitious cooking.

'Cause there were
no such restaurants here.

I did what, I think, many other young,
ambitious chefs do.

I moved out of my parents' house
and went to cooking school.

[speaking Swedish]
We sat here, and Magnus came to ask

if he could go to cooking school in Åre.

[Anders] We told him, "There's a perfectly
good cooking school right here!"

Then he said,
"But this school is the best one.

And that is that!"


[speaking English] So this is our
hall of fame, we call it.

It's students
that's done something special.

Here's Magnus.
[clicks tongue] Magnus.

The first day he came here,
he was so small and tiny,

and, you know, a little bit shy.

And he was just waiting
to climb out of himself.

He was an inventor.
He wanted to try out spices.

Sweet when it was
supposed to have salt

and sour when
it was supposed to be sugar instead.

There was no limit at all.

And we just,
"Oh, well, Magnus, wait, wait a bit.

Are you sure about that?"
"Oh, let's try it." "Okay."


When he was given
boring, traditional recipes,

you can't change them
because the recipe says like this.

He didn't like that at all
because he was--

It was choking him and you could see it,
it was choking him.

The people who went to school with him,
they say, like,

"Oh, Magnus, I wouldn't--
I would never have thought

that he should go all the way
to make a place like Fäviken.

How come he succeed
on the other side of the mountain?

What is he doing so well
that we don't do?

What does he know
that we don't know?"

The thing is,
they read cookbooks.

But Magnus, he doesn't read cookbooks.
He create.

[Magnus] New is not always better,
as with almost anything.

But what's interesting with food culture,

and also a little bit scary,
is that the second you stop practicing,

it tends to die out really quickly.

After one generation,

you will have no one left who knows
how to do something with their hand.

And after three generations,

the only thing that's left is the photos
or something like that.

And you can't go back
and understand

how someone did something
1,000 years ago with food

like you can with

sculpture or painting
or whatever it might be.

You can actually look at a marble block
carved in ancient Greece,

and you can see how it was done.

But there aren't any
cured hams from ancient Greece

that are still there
to show us how that was done.

It makes food culture very special,

because it is also the most important
cultural manifestation that we have,

'cause we all have to eat.

[camera shutter clicking]

For most people,
I think that Nordic food is,

it's like gravlax and herrings,

and open-faced sandwiches
and stuff like that, which it is.

But that's a tiny,
tiny, tiny, little part.

A lot of the things that are passed,

they are becoming extinct
or getting forgotten.

My job is to keep the original alive

in a way that people
can actually understand.

I was asked by my publisher
if I couldn't do...

a documentation on Nordic food,
from a home perspective.

What people actually eat in their homes
and why, and where it comes from.

It's a region that spans from Finland
in the east to Greenland in the west,

and there's so much diversity
and so many different things.

I started doing research for the book.

So I traveled around in the Nordic region

to interview people
and to search for recipes,

and to find and document cultural
occurrences within the realm of food.


There are so many things
that I found during these trips

that I didn't know existed,

that has in some way influenced
what we do now in the restaurant.

There's one dish that we do, which
is a little quail's egg rolled in ash.

And that comes from
something that I found on Iceland.

In the spring,
they will take wild ducks' eggs

and they will put them in boxes,
which they fill with ash.

The ashes, they get from cleaning out the
bottom of the traditional smoke houses,

which are fueled with sheep's shit,
dried sheep's shit.

And this sort of alkaline ash,
it cures the egg a bit.

Like a 1,000-year-old egg
would have been done in Asia somewhere.

And it was just so fascinating.
They still maintained these traditions.

So I went there, I found it, I ate it,
and documented it for the book.

And two years later,
ended up on the menu.

Not at all as the dish in Iceland,

but I can clearly see the link to
that particular moment when I found that.

The only way for traditions
in food to be kept alive

is to let them adapt.

Because, if you keep them in museum,
they will eventually die out.

-[people laughing]
-[silverware clinking]

Uh, we have 14 tonight,
and 12 is staying for breakfast.

It's two companies of four
and three companies of two.

No allergies... today.


[Jesper] The, uh, menu tonight.

It's a new dish,
and we call it Välling.

We're going to do as many of these
new dishes as we feel where we can.

But if we can't do them,
we're going to do the old dishes,

because we have prep for them.

Look at Mike, he has, like,
prepped for 15 services.

[all laughing]

[Magnus] I sometimes get the question
if our cooking is seasonal.

And I think that is really intriguing,

because what's seasonal
here in February?

Nothing, you know,
nothing grows here.

But we have a lot of
vegetables on the menu still.

And they're not fresh.
They're from last autumn,

and they've been stored in some way,

and that adds layers of complexity
to the dishes.

[Adam] To choose to be hyper-seasonal,
and hyper-local,

and just use what's there,
when you're covered with snow

and you're in pitch blackness,

is a kind of crazy, Magnus-style
suicide mission for a chef.

[Magnus] I got an introduction to
the world of preserving foods,

because some of the techniques
were used when I grew up.

If you want to have potatoes in March,

well, then you better harvest
some potatoes in August

and put them in your root cellar.

That's just how you do it.

In a way, it's about kind of
defeating the seasons.

Then I saw that many
of these old techniques

for preserving food really worked
well for the restaurant,

because it produced a different style,

a completely different kind of...
something in the food.

So we started just researching more and
more about these particular techniques.

Curing meats, for example,
like charcuterie.

Picking root vegetables
and storing them in your root cellar.

Brining cucumbers, or...

harvesting game meat in the autumn
and freezing it for the winter.

[Bill] It's kind of a no-brainer.

It's like, "All right,
so I'm trained to cook.

All these things that people did
are actually really effective.

I can take my old ingredients and...
make them into a modern meal."

The result is a food
that's vital and wonderful,

and that he's then got
the chops to do stuff with.

[Magnus] What's interesting is
to interpret and to work with techniques

that aren't used commonly in restaurants,

and to gradually improve dishes into

as close to perfection
that you can ever come.

-[Magnus] Tacy, where are you?

There are plates to be cleaned here.

There. The one
Hewin is plating right now.

-Your hands nice and clean, Mia?

[Magnus] That looks about right, right?

When I started cooking school,

the dream was to have, you know,
the greatest restaurant on the planet.

How to achieve that
was something that I thought a lot about.

[man] Mikey.

[Magnus] After cooking school,

I went somewhere where I thought
it was going to be so much better.

[chuckles] And in my case,
that was Paris.

[Bill] You go to France to be trained,

and there's a tradition of it,
and it's brutal, and it's brilliant.

It presupposes
a knowledge of your ingredients

and what to do with them
that nobody else has.

It doesn't mean that
you're gonna be creative,

it doesn't mean you're gonna know...

That you're gonna come up
with new recipes.

It doesn't mean you're gonna be a success,
but you have the tools.

And you can't get 'em anywhere else.

[Magnus] When I went to France,
the fact that I didn't speak French,

it naturally led to
difficulties finding a job.

I handed out resumes

to every restaurant
in Paris almost, like to--

All of the three stars,
and all of the two stars,

and many of the one stars also,
and few of them even called back.

That was very, very difficult.

Pretty close to where we lived,

there was this little place
that had one star then, called L'Astrance.

It was kind of a last call before
giving up and going home to Sweden.

I went in there,
and I met the chef, Pascal.

I introduced myself,
I handed him my CV,

and I asked if he had a job for me.

And... he didn't have a job, basically.

But he didn't say specifically that,
"No, you cannot be here."

He just didn't say "Yes."

That was a mistake by him in the sense
that I went back there the day after also,

and almost every morning
for a couple of weeks.

I guess he grew tired of me

disrupting his morning cigarettes.

So he invited me into the kitchen...

and I stayed there
for a few years.

The most important thing
that I learned from L'Astrance was

the dish will never be
better than the produce.

The difference between good and fantastic,

you would be surprised
how many chefs don't see that difference.

[indistinct chatter]

[Magnus] Are you guys ready for us?
[Jesper] Yes.

[Magnus] I choose the tasting menu format

because I think that is
the foremost expression of food.

The running of the kitchen,
it's not the difficult part,

because that's just about
structure and planning.

Difficult part is to be able to see when
you're crossing the line with the eater,

and also to be able to see
when you need to push the eater.

How many courses
is an average tasting menu?

Maybe, I don't know, 20,
something like that, perhaps.

That's a lot of time.

That's like a full work-day of eating.

And for us,
the first six or seven little bites,

they come in a very rapid succession,
one every 180 seconds.

So basically, when you had a little bite,
the next one just arrives.

Then after a few delicious bites,
it's a little bit slower.

A new plated course landing on your table
every seven or eight minutes.


After the half hour,
a little bit of wine,

the pace will change again,
and we just increase it very rapid.

Then after that you can go back
to plated courses again.

You're gonna sit down for
two-and-a-half hours in my restaurant,

I'm going to give you 30 courses.

When you control it perfectly,
no one thinks about it being too quick.

It's just delicious.

[speaking Swedish] I'd like this to be
done a little better from now on, Jesper.

You can't leave a mess
on your baking sheet.

Or anything else.

Because it's you who's doing the most work
and setting the example.

It's hard to tell the others to improve
if you don't set a good example.

[Mia speaking English]
Just take that peel outside.

We're gonna take this one early.

[Magnus] I decided to leave L'Astrance
after three, three-and-a-half years.

And I had this project
in the Champagne region,

which was set up by Pascal.

And we were discussing
opening a restaurant.

Um, but then the financial crisis hit,
and that project was put on ice.

So I got a job in Stockholm instead.

It was very unenjoyable,

because the great produce wasn't there,
you know.

More importantly,
when I tried to do my stuff,

many of the things that I made
were so strongly...

colored by my time at L'Astrance.

So it didn't feel like they were mine.

Just felt like less well executed copies
of someone else's stuff.

As a creative person,

to feel like
you're cooking someone else's food,

is not particularly... nice.

It turned me off from cooking completely.

We're all here for
a certain amount of time,

and we're going to have to do something.

And to me, I always thought
that it seems really stupid

to do things if they're not good.

I usually make
my big life decisions spontaneously.

There is no sitting down

and writing lists of pros and cons,
and all that stuff.

It's just that-- Oh, you know, no.

I didn't have to cook,
therefore, I stopped cooking.

I was just done.

[Magnus] A friend of mine
worked at Fäviken...

and he knew that I didn't have a job.

And he asked me if I didn't want to come
up and help them sort out the wine cellar,

as a little consultancy.

I had no intention at all
to ever get back into a kitchen.

And I basically,
I took the job up here,

because me and Tove
were expecting our first child,

so I needed to do something.

I tricked myself into believing

that it was just
going to be a short consultancy,

and that I was not going
to work in the restaurant.

Then it turned out that I got along
really well with the owners,

and they asked me
if I didn't wanna stay

for another year

and help the restaurant
to become something.

The reason I got back into the kitchen

was basically because I'd made a promise
to kind of get things going.

There were no one else to do it.

In any creative craft,

what's produced is a reflection
of the person doing it.

And everything that
that person has experienced,

and what makes that person up.

[Mia] Seven. We may need an--
[Magnus] Ah! No, no, you should not--

You should not--
Never use a template.

-Like, um...
-[Mia] Oh.

So it's more like this?

It almost looks somewhere in between,
maybe, like eye shaped.

Mine is like an angry Egyptian Sphinx eye.

[Mia chuckling]
Yeah, that's what we thought.

We thought it looked, yeah, too Egyptian.

-On the plate.

Like rounded, yeah.
But they don't have to be the same, Mia.

They're sort of the same.

In Jämtland, we have access
to all these fantastic products.

All of this
unspoiled nature and wildlife,

and all the great produce
and all that stuff.

And when I grew up,
I never appreciated them for that

because it was just part of everyday life.

I used to think that the best products
came from France.

Actually, this is closer to
where high quality scallops grow

than most other great restaurants
of the world.

[Magnus] You keeping a consistent quality
on those scallops?

[Mike] The scallops that just came in
are really nice and big.

[Magnus] Is the, uh, juniper done?

When we had
the best scallops at L'Astrance,

it came from 200 kilometers from here.

[Magnus] They smell good.

It smells when you come in, like,
when you open the door to the kitchen.

The idea with the dish
is that you'll have this scallop,

which is better
than anyone else's scallop.

We've just cooked it,
we haven't added anything.

We haven't even added salt,
there's nothing in it.

It's just perfect product
cooked in a very simple way,

over a burning fire of juniper branches.

The look of that dish,
it is also a representation of this area.

It looks like a piece of the forest floor
is picked up and placed on the plate.

We cooked thousands of scallops,
and that's still on the menu today.

It's a perfect representation of
the restaurant and this place.

The first big review that
we got was in Dagens Industri,

which is a, sort of,
the business daily of Sweden,

the national business daily.

And they gave us 25 out of 25.

[Jesper] Hey, picking up.
Mike, you have second tray?

[Mike] Second tray.

[Jesper] Yeah, next is the trout, guys.

[Magnus] And that led to much more people
coming into the restaurant.

Cooking felt more intriguing
because it was actually fun again.

My background is in this, kind of,
very ambitious restaurant.

But it is also here.

[Bill] It is kind of
a magical circle he's completed.

Not just by realizing that

there's all these local ingredients
that he can work with,

but he's come home.

He's become Magnus, the Viking.

[Lotta] I understood some way,
wherever in the world he was,

that he would come back here,
because he is very much Jämtland.

[Magnus] This whole part of the world,
the Scandinavian inland,

has a particular feeling to it,
because not that many people live here.

There's a lot of forests,

and a lot of little lakes,
and mysterious hidden places.

Feels almost like
a children's fantasy book.

[Emilia] He completely reversed the game.

Instead of saying,
"I want to open a restaurant in New York,"

he created the best restaurant
in the middle of nowhere,

where everybody will come.

[Magnus] I think it's really nice
that I got the opportunity

to run the restaurant like this,
in a place like this,

in a region where
I didn't think that I liked back then,

but realized that
I've always liked... now. [chuckles]

And I don't think that
a lot of people get to do that,

because most of the time you have
to move yourself to somewhere

where the opportunity is presented.

And, in my case,
I had to move back...

you know,
to where the opportunity was presented,

which is different.

It's still exactly the same place.

It's just that I see it differently.

[closing theme playing]