Deep in the Woods of Southern Sweden with Chef Rosio Sanchez
Deep in the woods of Southern Sweden, I struggled to keep pace with chef Rosio Sanchez. As pine branches lashed my face, she scampered nimbly ahead through the dense underbrush. Was this a return to childhood?
“I’m from Chicago,” said Sanchez, laughing. “There was no camping.”
But there was a five-year stint at Noma. As René Redzepi’s former pastry chef, Sanchez clearly learned about navigating the Nordic landscape from her mentor, the world’s preeminent foraging evangelist.
Sanchez and I were at Stedsans in the Woods, a back-to-nature retreat, restaurant, and permaculture farm founded by Danish couple Mette Helbæk and Flemming Hansen. Stedsans sits on 17 wooded acres beside the bucolic Lake Halla, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north from Copenhagen, where Sanchez lives and works.
I was accompanying Sanchez on a culinary pilgrimage of sorts—a chance for her to escape the relentless pace of running a restaurant and check out the latest iteration of the wild, destination-centric Nordic dining culture pioneered by restaurants like Sweden’s Fäviken Magasinet and KOKS, on the Faroe Islands.
We arrived for an overnight adventure on an unusually warm day in June and checked in to newly built wooden cabins that were rustic yet comfortable, with soft, organic bedding and floor-to-ceiling windows framing the unspoiled forest.
The trip was a rare break for the chef, who opened her first proper restaurant, Sanchez, in Copenhagen in December.
Back in 2015, Sanchez left Noma to open Hija de Sanchez, a taqueria in the Torvehallerne food market inspired by the flavors she grew up with as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago’s La Villita neighborhood. She opened a second location in Kødbyen, Copenhagen’s meatpacking district, soon after. Then last year Sanchez rejoined Redzepi as the creative partner for Noma Mexico, a seven-week pop-up in the jungle of Quintana Roo.
“Noma Mexico inspired me to make Sanchez what it is,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone through that, it probably would’ve been another taqueria.”
Already it’s a game-changing addition to Copenhagen’s restaurant scene. You’ll find gooseberries in the posole and fjord shrimp in the tacos; working with local ingredients is a lesson she learned from Redzepi, but Sanchez won’t compromise on the tortillas, which means importing Oaxacan corn for the masa.
There in the woods, however, there were no tortillas. The restaurant at Stedsans is resolutely Nordic, serving hearty, elemental feasts rooted in the seasons. The open-air kitchen is powered solely by fire, so we found ourselves sipping aperitifs of Crémant beside makeshift grills strung from the trees before joining the other guests—12 that evening—for a family-style dinner.
Aside from a platter of grilled pork, the meal focused on hyper-local produce, most of it grown on the farm or foraged from the forest and surrounding fields: late-spring asparagus, green onions, and smashed potatoes.
After a long, lively dinner, we walked down to the lake. It was that magical time of year when the night sky descends into twilight but never darkness. We hopped aboard the retreat’s floating sauna, an unmoored wooden A-frame drifting freely on the water. Coasting across the surface of the glassy lake, the buzz of the city many miles away, Sanchez dumped a ladle of lake water over the embers and finally exhaled.