food / travel

The Swedish Chef Who May Just Be The World's New Culinary King

What many considered the planet’s best restaurant, Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli in Spain, recently closed its doors. So where to now for a genuine out-of-this-world meal? North – way north. In Sweden's Jämtland, a bearded chef named Magnus Nilsson is

Chef Magnus Nilsson at work in northern Sweden's Fäviken Magasinet restaurant
Chef Magnus Nilsson at work in northern Sweden's Fäviken Magasinet restaurant
Lorraine Haist

JÄMTLAND -- People are a rare sight in the north of Sweden. On average, two per square kilometer live in Jämtland province bordering Lapland. From here, it's just 350 km to the Arctic Circle. So why are we here? To eat at the restaurant that has the world food scene abuzz: Fäviken Magasinet. Its 27-year-old chef, Magnus Nilsson, was recently described by René Redzepi, of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma (currently considered to be the best restaurant in the world), as his "successor."

Anybody wishing to experience the cooking that a genius like Redzepi is willing to stick his neck out for will have to wait three months to book one of the 12 places in the restaurant where Nilsson serves a dinner-only, one-menu-for-all meal from Wednesday through Saturday. Not only that, they have to take a trip that makes negotiating the curving roads that led to Ferran Adrià"s now-closed El Bulli look like a trip around the corner to the convenience store.

Fäviken, the 8,400-hectare estate that Patrik Brummer, founder of the first Swedish hedge fund and a hobby hunter, bought in 2003 is really, really far away. It takes a good three hours to drive here from Trondheim, in Norway, past wooden houses painted Falun red, ochre yellow, powder blue. After a while the road seems as endless as stretches in the American Midwest.

This time of year the sun goes down in the early afternoon, over deep brown tundra, forests of conifers and birch, streams, gleaming black lakes and fjords, scythed fields and meadows with a few grazing sheep, cows and horses, all shimmering in the golden light. When we reach Lake Kalljön, on the western shores of which Fäviken lies, the thermometer reads zero degrees, and an icy wind blows between the estate's late 19th century wooden buildings.

Kitchen in the old granary

"That's nothing, in the winter it's minus 30 degrees up here," says Magnus Nilsson laughing. With his long blonde hair, beard, tight black jeans and Chelsea boots he is a commanding presence. We are standing in the tiny restaurant kitchen, formerly the estate granary built in 1745. Besides him, three other cooks work here. A large window looks out on fog-enveloped Åreskutan mountain to the left, and a traditionally built Swedish cellar storeroom to the right.

Flanked by blocks of granite in a hillock overgrown with grass, the entrance to the storeroom looks more like the doorway to an ancient burial chamber. Inside, however, are cabbages and artichokes buried in sand piles; carrots, radishes, turnips, grow in plastic crates filled with earth.

"Supplies last for up to 12 months," says Nilsson. "This fall we bought 2,000 kilos to last the winter. Our own small fertilizer and pesticide-free garden produces 3,000 kilos of fresh fruit and vegetables annually and is enough to supply the restaurant for the few months outside the cold period."

That the restaurant can exist virtually autonomously – 70% of the products are home-grown; the only products that come from a distance of more than 200 km away are salt (from France), sugar (Denmark), alcoholic vinegar (southern Sweden), coffee and wine – is thanks to Nilsson's careful planning and management.

Hyper-local, product-oriented cuisine

After training in Stockholm and in the nearby ski mecca of Åre, Nilsson worked for three years at L'Astrance, a Paris restaurant with three Michelin stars. The chef there, Pascal Barbot, is known for almost fanatically seeking ever-better products. Nilsson is part and parcel of his own hyper-local, product-oriented, terroir cuisine.

Born and raised in Östersund, Jämtland's capital, Nilsson – like most of the people from this area – knows where to find edible mushrooms, berries and herbs. On his grandparents' farm he learned techniques for conserving food: pasteurizing, preserving vegetables, berries and blossoms in vinegar or whey, pickling, smoking and drying meat and fish, also drying herbs and mushrooms.

The "leek machine" is one of Nilsson's happy discoveries. Leeks can survive Sweden's icy winters if put in a sand-filled freezer set at zero degrees and 90% humidity. "Under those conditions, leeks go into hibernation, like an animal," Nilsson says. "You can serve them during the cold period or plant them in the garden in spring."

At Fäviken, Nilsson doesn't only sow and forage and harvest – he also kills. "He has hunting in his blood," says former boss Barbot. During hunting season, Nilsson and his team, sometimes joined by estate owner Patrik Brummer – who owns 60% of the restaurant (Nilsson and sommelier/manager Johan Agrell each own 20%) – shoot hares, game birds and elk.

And that morning, Nilsson will have fished the trout from the lake that at dinner, with a warming fire in the fireplace and candlelight illuminating the dining room, is served on stoneware plates accompanied by aromatic, dried mushrooms and preserved calendula blossoms.

Making the case for "real food"

"We serve what we want to, when we want to," Nilsson says, explaining his philosophy of "real food." By that he means he doesn't follow trends – although he does follow the rhythms of nature. "The products here and their quality are what brought me back to cooking, "he says. Nilsson explains that after he returned from Paris, frustrated with the second-rate products usually available in Sweden, he trained as a sommelier with the intention of converting to wine journalism.

Then Patrik Brummer hired him to come to Fäviken and look after his private wine cellar. Nilsson saw the potential of the remote, nature-bound place at once: "The fact that you couldn‘t get a lot of products here stimulated my creativity."

So since November 2008, Nilsson, a master of the cooking techniques of modern gastronomy at the highest levels, has been cooking instead with his senses. He makes each course on-going, using direct heat mostly from an open coal fire, with no thermometer. "Sticking a piece of meat in a vacuum pack and then into hot water is no fun at all. You can't smell the meat, and it doesn't look good."

Finally, the meal. The lightly salted wild trout roe, served on a crust of dried pig's blood; the perfect beef, hung for seven months after slaughter, served on crunchy reindeer lichen; the leaf of Savoy cabbage cut one hour before serving and blanched for 15 seconds; the pungent butter that smells like cheese. None of this is for cowards. Even if you are used to close-to-nature cooking, Nilsson's creations can sometimes seem like a slap in the face: it is that fresh, so intense that you are unlikely to have experienced anything like it ever before.

Read the original story in German

Photo - andersc77

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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