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Food

Knystaforsen: Reconnecting with nature in the depths of the Swedish woodlands

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The chef’s pilgrimage to more remote locations, away from the urban reality has been an evident trend in recent years. For some, escaping to the countryside and villages outside of the city is about nurturing their desires to be closer to the produce, taking control of the growing process, and reconnecting with nature. For others, it is simply the next challenge, and a chance to recover from the hectic city kitchen burnout that befalls many modern chefs. An opportunity to reinvent themselves in a more secluded place, distancing themselves from the chaotic intensity of professional life.

The recent edition of the Madrid Fusion Alimentos de España 2023 offered a stage to the chefs who operate in the most remote locations of the world. Those working in close connection with their natural surroundings, making the best use of everything available to them locally, resurrecting primordial cooking techniques and incorporating them into new and exciting dishes.

One such chef who took to the stage at the Madrid Fusion this year was Nicolai Tram of Knystaforsen. 15 years ago, Nicolai Tram swore that he would never again work in a restaurant, or own one. Having previously worked in restaurants in Europe as well as running his own restaurant Jacobsen in Copenhagen, he decided to turn his back on the chef’s life and focus more on his family.

He spent the next 5 years working as a TV chef on the Go' Morgen Denmark show. He recalls this time “as if we were running in a hamster wheel, lacking any feeling of independence with no opportunity to spend more time together as a family”.

While some might daydream of leaving it all behind and moving into the remote woodlands, Tram and his family actually did it. Selling everything he had in Copenhagen, he moved, together with his wife and two kids, out to the countryside 200km north of Copenhagen, to settle down in an ancient sawmill dating back to 1871.

This small village, surrounded by the natural beauty of the woods and waters around Rydöbruk, became the newfound home of the Tram family.

This bucolic lifestyle of the Tram family now included daily foraging, natural cooking in the outdoors over the open fire, establishing connections with the local ecosystem and producers of Halland, and drinking wine made exclusively in Sweden. All of this inevitably led Nicolai to the idea of wrapping it all up into a gastronomic offering.

The next step followed easily. The family villa, set by a picture-perfect waterfall and close to the banks of the Nissan river, became a guest house, and the Knystaforsen restaurant was opened on the other side of the river, accessible by bridge from the villa. Fast forward to 2022, and it is awarded both a Michelin star and a Green Star, highlighting their dedication to upcycling local materials for the restaurant’s refurbishment, and cooking with ingredients found in the wild and procured from nearby producers.

The element of fire came to represent the ethos of Knystaforsen, and so became an iconic centerpiece for the gastronomic experience, with an ingenious method of open-fire cooking. Nicolai tells us that it creates the sense of presence, while working with fire is a collaboration with nature.

Talking about Knystaforsen, Nicolai categorically refuses to use the word ‘sustainability’. While reflecting on the business, he describes it simply as “the normal way we are used to doing it, the natural way for us, following permaculture principles, using lake fish, local game, offal, but it’s not the part of the story that we tell, it’s not necessary. It’s much more attractive for me to show that we are in the middle of nowhere, working on the fire and serving a feeling of eating a part of the land you are in.”

Being a continuation of the family lifestyle, the approach to service is consistently referred to as a homely attitude: “naturally it’s about all the small details, the ambiance, textures, sounds. We are here for the guests, there’s no other way, every time someone walks in our door we feel grateful they made an effort for us, it’s about them."

DSC07672.jpg Eva H. Tram
DSC09130.JPG Eva H. Tram
DSC02038.JPG Eva H. Tram
DSC01789.JPG Eva H. Tram
“I promised myself when I turned 40, no more bullshit. It’s about being more honest, not being better than you are, sticking with who you are, and not being afraid of what people think. I never take for granted the people who come to our restaurant.”

From the opening in January 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, it’s already been two intense years, experiencing a full house from the beginning, and after six months being recognised as the best restaurant in the country.

From the Madrid Fusion stage, Nicolai demonstrated some of the dishes that make up the menu at Knystaforsen.

As an essential dish from the woodland, he started with a seasonal moss, usually eaten by reindeer. Cleaned, dried, and fried, it is served with an emulsion of smoked oil, moose tartare, horseradish, and pickled pine shoots.

Another dish involves leeks, roasted on the open fire. The leeks are kept whole on the warm bed of embers, the cooking process leaves them charred on the outside, while the inside is naturally steamed in its own juices, giving a delicious soft heart to be served with buttermilk, dill oil, and pike roe and seasoned with the ashes of the leek.

Offal is not discarded either. On the menu, there are grilled duck hearts with onion jam. The onion is prepared using the same technique as the leeks. Once the delicious soft center has developed, salted ramson buds are added, giving a flavour similar to that of capers. The dish is finished with a pheasant sauce, and the ashes from the hay burnt during the cooking process. These ashes are full of nitrites which bring a salty herbal smokiness to the dish.

Finally, the chocolate fondant, which is made from deer blood combined with rye flour, beer, and honey. Crumbled burned hay and burned apple puree, all made using the same open-fire techniques as the leeks, make for a delicious finishing touch to the dish.

This whole paradigm shift that encompassed both life and career, was a personal matter for Nicolai. A fulfilment of a dream, adding into his life the missing element of nature that had never quite been fully present.

He tells us “Living in the remote woodlands is an acquired taste. As a kid of the 80s, growing up with the pop culture staples of McDonald’s and Michael Jackson, being in nature was not the most natural thing for me. This was the opposite for my wife who was practically raised by wolves. You see around you boxes packed full of vegetables and micro-greens that have never seen soil, it breaks my heart, there’s a loss of connection with nature, of who we are. Now there is more energy and inspiration, looking outside the door, that’s my fridge”.

Grilled duck hearts with onions and smoked cream.JPG Grilled duck hearts with onions and smoked cream, credit: Eva H. Tram
Tartare of moose with reindeer lichen, horseradish and pickled pine shots.JPG Tartare of moose with reindeer lichen, horseradish and pickled pine shots, credit: Eva H. Tram
Burned leek with pike roe, whey sauce and dill.jpg Burned leek with pike roe, whey sauce and dill, credit: Eva H. Tram

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