Sweden’s Nigella Lawson, chef and entrepreneur FIA GULLIKSSON presented Meny on Radio P1 for three years. Now based in London, she discusses her work as a brand ambassador, and hanging out with mates Magnus Nilsson and Niklas Ekstedt…
“Did you know there are over eight thousand types of potato?” Fia Gulliksson asks me as she brings me my coffee. I didn’t.
Gulliksson describes herself as a ‘passionate potato’: down to earth yet diverse.
“A potato is the best thing to be,” she explains. “You can be au gratin, or in a soup. You’re really incredibly versatile.”
Sweden’s answer to Nigella Lawson, Gulliksson is certainly versatile. Born into a family of culinary fanatics, she presented the cookery show Meny on Swedish national radio for three years, returning to her hometown of Östersund in 2012 to found Jazzköket, a restaurant that went on to win a White Guide Award – Sweden’s most coveted food award – and was voted the country’s most sustainable restaurant in 2014. Handing over the restaurant in 2015 to her business partner Kristoffer, she now attends conferences around the world, runs various companies, and is an ambassador for many more.
“When we set up Jazzköket,” Gulliksson explains, “there was only one restaurant in Östersund worth a trip, and it was Japanese. I was fed up with local chefs not using local produce, so I decided to become Jämtland’s Zlatan Ibrahimović; representing the region and fighting for our flavours to be respected.”
“To be a good potato,” she says, “you have to do good where you come from. You have to give back to the soil.”
Gulliksson has given back plentifully to her home region, putting Östersund on the culinary map by lobbying UNESCO to name it a ‘Creative City’ in 2010. The city is now home to more restaurants per capita than London.
Which is where we meet; at Gulliksson’s office in the Swedish Embassy. Complete with yellow clocks, white desks and chairs, it feels more like an IKEA showroom. I’m in Scandi heaven, and when Guliksson shows me how the designer sofa transforms into a bed, I wonder how she ever leaves. But Guliksson insists she’s rarely here. We’ve met half an hour earlier at the Boxcar Deli and Bakery, where she’s been delivering boxes of her husband’s Brunkullans Te. Later, she’ll be putting the final touches to a press event at the Swedish Ambassador’s residence. From the window of her office we can almost see the spire of the Swedish Church, and we’re but a stone’s throw from Totally Swedish, a Swedish shop, and The Scandinavian Kitchen in Fitzrovia.
“It’s a little Sweden,” Gulliksson muses. “The Swedish community in London is so vast. In fact, both my children are at Swedish schools in Richmond, near where we live.”
I ask Gulliksson if the Swedish expat community, mixed with waves of ‘Scandi cool’, has rubbed off in London’s food culture.
“With four thousand restaurants, London can be a bit hit and miss,” she replies. “But there are certainly some fantastic restaurants I’ve found with Nordic values. They focus on raw materials: more fun dining than fine dining. It’s nice to see, but it can get boring when you get exactly the same experience in Stockholm and Copenhagen as in London and New York.”
Gulliksson during recordings for Meny, a food programme she presented for Radio P1 for three years
Gulliksson’s last spell in London was in 2017, when she teamed up with celebrity chefs Niklas Ekstedt and Magnus Nilsson to create a three day ‘Nordic Feast’ outside the Southbank Centre with Scandinavia’s top female chefs cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner on fires in tipi tents. Cooking with such talent is something most chefs would find daunting. To Gulliksson, Nilsson and Ekstedt are “just mates”, and she says she has as much respect for them as she has for the dishwashers. Her current project is with fellow entrepreneur Barry Hirst, creating an adventure on five floors” called Pantechnicon. It will open in Knightsbridge later this year, merging Japanese and Nordic food, design and craftsmanship and it’s a project Gulliksson is clearly excited about.
“It was a revelation to learn that Japanese culture is so similar to ours,” she explains. “I’d never really thought about it before, but so many of our values are actually very similar.”
Gulliksson is also delighted with her ambassadorial initiatives, conducted through her ‘Food in Action’ programme (the appropriately-acronymned ‘FIA’). She’s particularly feverish about marketing for Sav, a company based in her home region of Jämtland. She shows me their birch sap champagne, collected with the same methods as maple syrup. Gulliksson tells me the inspiration came after a recipe from 1785 was found in her area, with details of how to produce wine from trees. “It perfectly matches black caviar from Arcticroe,” she explains, “another sustainable brand I work with that produces caviar by milking – rather than killing – the fish.”
“It’s just one of many things I hope I can introduce to the UK,” she tells me. “I’d also like the Brits to learn how to boil coffee over a fire, and I think you could learn a lot from our foraging culture too.”
Gulliksson’s husband, Martin (‘Mr Tea’), is a professional hunter, so in Sweden the family are entirely self-sufficient.
“He shoots everything,” Gulliksson laughs, “even beavers – which are actually delicious smoked!”
Living near Richmond Park, I’m told he now spends his days gazing longingly at the deer, positioning imaginary lines of fire but unable to pull a trigger. Gulliksson admits this is one of many reasons why self-sufficiency won’t take route in the UK easily.
“When I travel through England by train,” she explains, “I see a lot of green countryside, but it’s almost entirely cultivated. I live in a county that accounts for 20 per cent of Sweden’s landmass. It’s the size of the Benelux countries [Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands], but they have a population of over twenty seven million, and we have just 123,000. So everyone ends up with about two square kilometres each. That’s hard to imagine wherever you live in the UK.”
Such space is certainly something Brits struggle to comprehend. But, though our culture may be different, and our land more populated, it’s clear we have much to learn from Nordic culinary culture. Gulliksson tells me she intends to stick around for another two years, so she’s seems the person to teach us.
For the latest Nordic news, follow @FikaOnlineBlog on Twitter.