In the latest instalment of My Life in Plates, F&W contributor Élodie Noël speaks to the Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt.
After training in the kitchens of el Bulli and The Fat Duck, Niklas Ekstedt has become one of the most prominent Swedish chefs, opening his first restaurant at age 21 and hosting many culinary shows in his home country. In recent years, he has gone back to basics and decided to revive traditional Swedish cooking techniques. In his restaurant Ekstedt in Stockholm, he has ditched electricity and gas and cooks all raw ingredients over an open fire.
This September, Niklas Ekstedt will be hosting Foodstock in Stockholm, a two-day festival which will open up the kitchens of influential Swedish and international chefs to spectators and show the process from raw produce to plate. For this occasion, we chatted to him about the dishes that have marked his life and made him the chef he is today.
What is your first memory of taste?
"It would probably be in the woods with my parents picking berries. It was probably blueberries or lingonberries. When I eat those berries, it brings back fond memories of when I was young, being with my mum."
What is the plate that made you want to be a chef?
"When I was a child, my parents had a vegetable shop, then my dad switched job and started travelling for work, it used to be my dad who used to cook in our house. When my mum was alone with us, three boys at home, she didn’t have a lot of time to cook, and she wasn’t a good cook, she was pretty s*it at it! I loved food so I started cooking at home. I was about 8 or 9, I made pancakes, eggs baked in the oven. When people would come over they would say “He will probably be a chef when he grows up”. I wasn’t very good at school so getting compliments for my cooking drew me to that."
What is the dish that could make you cry?
"When I see fish dishes that used to be very common when I was a child and are less common now, because of overfishing and pollution, that makes me sad. Pike, monkfish, squid are disappearing from our waters. So it’s not a happy cry but a sad feeling, knowing that my kids won’t be able to eat those dishes."
Is sustainability an important topic for you?
"It’s something I’ve been thinking more and more of. It’s not something that bothers me all the time but it’s one topic that truly makes me sad. I think chefs should definitely make more effort on that front."
What is the dish you wish you had created?
"It would have been amazing to invent the hamburger! I love a good burger once in a while."
What is the dish you can’t admit you love?
"Dominos pizza… a simple one, without too many toppings. We don’t have it in Stockholm so sometimes I like to get it when I am abroad. I have many sweet guilty pleasures. I love sweets and candy! Right now, all the berries are in season and I love them with cream. But it’s not really a guilty pleasure."
What is the dish you could eat every day for the rest of your life?
"I eat muesli every day, I make it myself with roasted nuts, seeds, buckwheat, raisins, cranberries and dried blueberries. I have it for breakfast with yoghurt, and coffee."
What is the dish you are the most proud of?
"Beef fat fried oysters. I really like those, they are our signature dish and I make them everyday, I don’t get tired of them. We had a chef in the restaurant called Gustav and he was experimenting cooking scallops like that. He left for another restaurant but all the tools were still there so I thought of trying this technique with oysters and it worked really well."
What is the dish that reminds you of your family?
"I really enjoyed hanging out with my granddad. He used to make meatballs, the traditional Swedish way, with pork, veal and beef, and a little bit of cream and bread in the mixture. He fried them and brewed his own beer as well. When I was young, like 12 or 13, I used to eat meatballs with potatoes and drink beer with him without my dad knowing. That was fun!"
What is the last dish you had?
"I just had a meal with the staff, it was roast potatoes with cheese and salad with pointed cabbage."
What is the dish you’d cook for the person you love?
"When I leave work and I text my wife if she wants me to bring her back something from the restaurant, she always says Champagne! But she loves seafood, especially lobster and crayfish. We boil the seafood with dill seeds, and we make a pie. My sons, they are 10 and 12, they love grilled food. I have an open fire in the restaurant so I’m a little tired of grilled food when I get home, I often feel like boiled or oven-cooked food, but they love anything grilled."
What is your death row dish?
"Maybe something that’s dangerous, like fugu. I may as well eat it if I’m going to die!"
What is the next dish you have in mind?
"I’m working on a mushroom dish, we have a lot of mushrooms in Sweden this season. It’s such an everyday food here, everyone eats it. The difficulty is that people have had it, so you need to come up with something new with it for the restaurant. I’m working on a starter, I’m thinking of making mushroom mousseline with fish liver."
Foodstock runs from 31st of August to 1st of September. For more info, click here.