If there's one concept that has obsessed ambitious chefs over the past few years, it's foraging. As the quest for hyper-local ingredients has intensified, foraged has become almost as ubiquitous a term as farm to table. But way before cooks scoured meadows, beaches and even city sidewalks for wild ingredients, Petter Nilsson championed the idea. Revered by the world's best chefs, the cerebral fortysomething Swede has always been ahead of the curve, highlighting vegetables before just about everyone else and rethinking French food at his Paris restaurant, La Gazzetta, before the bistronomy trend began. Now chef at the Spritmuseum (Museum of Spirits) in Stockholm, Nilsson talks to Food & Wine about his fascination with flavors from around the world.
Let's begin with a brief history of Petter Nilsson.
I started my career in southern Sweden, not far from where I was born. I began culinary school when I was 14, then went on to Rut På Skäret, the first avant-garde restaurant I ever cooked at. Even before the start of the foraging era, we were out searching for nettles and berries. The restaurant was located in a very traditional Swedish town, near where the king bought his cakes on Sundays. I arrived at Petri Pumpa around the time it was voted best restaurant in Sweden. The cooking was very minimalist—a carrot served with a cumin seed and an anchovy. There was a big wow feeling about it.
That's the basis for the Nordic Kitchen Manifesto, the decade-old guide that launched restaurants like Copenhagen's Noma.
If you read the original manifesto, it includes the importance of using local, seasonal ingredients. At Petri Pumpa we wanted to challenge the idea that we had to use a French medallion of lamb. The lamb doesn't have to be French; we don't even have to serve lamb at all. If we don't have good peaches, why order them all the way from Italy? We shouldn't think that ingredients and techniques from elsewhere are better than our own.