Niklas Ekstedt

Known for his flame-driven take on New Nordic cuisine, the Swedish chef – of elBulli fame – talks to Lucy Kehoe about his food ethos, spring ingredients and Stockholm’s best pit stops

Any upcoming trips in your diary?

I’m visiting Russia to meet the indigenous people and discover their preserving techniques. Reindeer is one of my favourite Swedish ingredients. We slice it thinly and add it to stews with onions, carrots, stock and a thick cream, but in Russia they use reindeer blood in a fermented soured sausage, so I’m looking forward to tasting that.

Your first restaurant was in Helsingborg. Go back much?

My mum is from Helsingborg [on Sweden’s southern coast] and I tend to go back each summer. Fifteen years ago it was the hub of the country’s food scene, before Malmö and Copenhagen took off. Skåne is the Tuscany of Scandinavia and it’s starting to boom again – Magnus Nilsson from Fäviken just moved there. If you’re in the area, head to Höganäs, a beautiful market town that borders the Kullaberg Nature Reserve. I had a great lamb dish at the Saluhall [indoor market] recently.

What ingredients grace the Ekstedt pass in May?

We’re usually a month behind England with the seasons; this winter has been very mild, so produce will be arriving earlier. We’ll be using foraged nettles, frying them to make a crispy garnish. And as the ice starts to break, the first fish nets will be coming out of the lakes, so look out for freshwater fish on the menu.

Any tips for recreating the Ekstedt style at home?

Be inspired by the way we cook, but remember that techniques are linked to geography, so make it your own. There’s a reason Texas barbecue calls for oak on the fire; in Scandinavia, we use birch wood. My favourite piece of kit is my Skeppshult cast-iron pan. They’re expensive, but excellent. Good kit makes all the difference when it comes to getting nuanced flavour over fire.

Where do you and the brigade head after a shift?

They’re usually hungry, so we rush off to Sturehof fish restaurant for some herring at 11pm. It’s all very Scandi, with open sandwiches on rye and sides of sour cream, chopped onion, roe and beer.

Any other culinary favourites we should try?

Isaan, in the old Berns Hotel. It’s different and fun. They serve Scandinavian produce cooked Thai-style, over open flame. My last meal there was pike perch with kohlrabi. And it’s very spicy – you don’t normally get a lot of spice in Stockholm. Also, find a proper bakery. Bageri Petrus is great. I stay on the tube an extra three stops just to have one of their cinnamon buns.

Which of your dishes best sums up your food ethos?

Our oysters flambé. We cook them in cedar pipes using a beef tallow scorched in a cast-iron pan over flames. Cooking is the last bit of homecraft that we do in cities. It’s sad if its all done with gadgets and expensive equipment, so it’s nice to showcase my gastronomy with this technical side.

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