In just a few short years the global perception of Scandinavian food has gone from stereotypes of smorgasbords and Swedish meatballs to one of the most innovative and coveted culinary experiences in the world. How did that happen? Not by accident.
When Mathias Dahlgren — the only Swedish chef to have won the Bocuse d’Or — was in NYC last year, I sat down to talk with him about the new Nordic movement and how it came to be. He explained that "Until recently, 25 or 30 years ago, there were 2 to 4 world class restaurants in Sweden, and they were all cooking French and Italian food, maybe a little Spanish. We were copying other culinary traditions and techniques. And copying is not bad, it’s a way of learning. It’s like when you are a child, it’s quite wise to begin speaking the language of your parents rather than starting with a language of your own: no one will understand you. What we needed was a common vocabulary and common thought to unite us to bring Scandinavian cuisine to an international level. We were not celebrating our roots and culinary traditions. We needed to find a way to create something new out of our old roots. In 2004, we gathered, 12 of us, and wrote the New Nordic Food Manifesto."
The New Nordic Food Manifesto, which has given us Rene Redzepi’s Noma, Matsalen, Dahlgren’s restaurant in Stockholm and Mads Refslund's Acme in NYC among scores of others, was all about Nordic pride and terroir explained Dahlgren. "It emphasizes regional, authentic cooking and the importance of pure produce. The idea is that food tells a story, tells who we are. Now just a few years later, we have 40 to 50 really good Nordic restaurants."
It has also given us the Nordic Food Lab, which yesterday posted a lengthy treatise on Creating Terroir: An Anthropological Perspective on New Nordic Cuisine as an Expression of Nordic Identity
. It's a long read — about 10,000 words, but a really interesting piece on food as anthropology and the cultural importance of terroir.