Many chefs talk the gospel of using sustainable, locally sourced ingredients in their food, but Magnus Nilsson walks the walk further and with more precision than almost anyone else dares. He runs a restaurant called Fäviken in the northwest Swedish province of Jämtland, not far from where he grew up. As Nilsson repeatedly says, if you're going to eat at his restaurant, you must really want to be there. Fäviken only seats 12 to 16 diners a night. The restaurant is an hour's flight from Stockholm and an hour's winding drive through the countryside; located in a former hunting lodge that's been converted, though only partially.
Nilsson's food takes hyper-localism to an almost absurd level. Other than some sugar, salt and oil imported from southern Sweden, all the food at Fäviken comes from within a 200-mile radius. He has his own vegetable garden, naturally, and ingredients are stored in a lantern-lit root cellar dug out of the hillside. What he doesn't grow, Nilsson forages, including mushrooms, berries and lichens. And then there's the meat, which leads to much dining-room drama.
One night last winter, Nilsson came up the stairs with a pair of helpers bearing plates of food, clapped twice, explained what was about to be served, and then disappeared. He returned a few minutes later holding a bone saw. Then he bisected a cow femur, scooped out the marrow, and mixed it with raw beef heart. It was the soul of his art.
A few years ago, Nilsson moved his family to a nearby farm and bought a flock of sheep. He wasn't aware that he was about to experience something close to a religious conversion. "Meat is the remains of what was a living individual that we selfishly raised and killed with the sole purpose of feeding ourselves," Nilsson told an audience last month at Toronto's Terroir Symposium. In an interview afterward, he declared the heartbreak of killing and eating his favorite ram. It was a transformative moment, he said, where he realized that eating locally is less than a trend and more like a sacred duty.
He said, "I thought that if everyone had to do this in the whole world -- everyone had to watch an animal be born, then watch it grow, name it, get to know its character, then kill it themselves and eat it -- none of these problems would exist anymore because no one would treat meat so carelessly."
Of course, this is still a restaurant, not a church. This summer, for the second time, Nilsson will host a Fäviken "Game Fair" featuring live-music tents and booths that sell moose kabobs, among other local delights. Despite his significant accomplishments, Nilsson is still only 30 years old. His restaurant and way of life, far from being a throwback, actually signals a new direction of food, community and fun. The future belongs to locally sourced gulls' eggs. "I will still be cooking like this after it stops being trendy," Nilsson told Newsweek in 2010, "as it is the only way I know how to cook."
This video from Dark Rye was produced by Ira Chute and edited by Joel Fisher.