Lefse Hits The Big Time

Watch out, Minnesota: Our chefs are making pilgrimages to a restaurant known for tableside bone sawing.

Fäviken Magasinet sits on a 20,000-acre hunting reserve in rural northwestern Sweden. It seats 12. "To get there you drive for hundreds of miles—we had this good old diesel Ford we rented from the airport in Östersund," says Paul Berglund, chef at The Bachelor Farmer, the Minneapolis spot recently voted the No. 6 best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appétit magazine. "You drive and drive, through farmland, through forest."

A great way to rise and shine: the breakfast cart at The Bachelor Farmer.

Or you take a train to the end of the line. "I took the night train from Stockholm to Järpen, in the middle of nowhere, in the Arctic—and it's a $150 one-way cab fare from there," says Jim Christiansen, former chef of Il Gatto and soon-to-be-chef of the Union, the hotly anticipated restaurant by the Crave team that is slated to open in the old Shinders space in downtown Minneapolis before Christmas.

Chefs make this trek for one big reason: to sample the food of Magnus Nilsson, who uses Fäviken as an avant-garde crucible in which he forges a primitive, primal Nordic cuisine.

"The bone marrow, it will be one of the dishes of my life," says Berglund. "The veal marrow bone was roasted in the kitchen and then cut right at the table, with a pretty heavy-duty bone saw. Then the marrow was scooped out and mixed with the raw heart from the calf. It was a great course."

Eating at Fäviken "completely changed me," says Christiansen. "It energized me, sparked something in me—it's looking at food with open eyes, not with your training but with a clear, primal filter. I feel like I have a new understanding of what 'wild' is."

One thing wild is, of course, is deadly. That's why, about a hundred years ago, a million Swedes, 800,000 Norwegians, 300,000 Danes, 230,000 Finns, and 15,000 Icelanders packed up and left their famine-afflicted homelands and headed to America. They settled primarily in what was then called the northwest—everything from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean, including, of course, Minnesota. In the intervening years Nordic-Americans lost a lot of what was wild and native about their homelands—but kept a lot, too.

Quite a lot: Denny's 5th Avenue Bakery, just south of I-94 near Portland Avenue, makes Danish bread as black as night, as well as almond kringle so dewy, richly eggy, and crisp it's a feat of enormous willpower not to devour the pizza-sized delight at a sitting. In Northeast Minneapolis, Ready Meats and Kramarczuk do battle for local king of Swedish sausage bragging rights. In south Minneapolis, Ingebretsen's has been a specialty Scandinavian butcher since the 1920s and remains locally renowned for selling 10,000 pounds of Swedish meatball mix and Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish sausages every year in the days leading up to Christmas. Every day, Finns can get their salmon breakfasts at the Finnish Bistro in St. Anthony Park, Swedes can get their citron-scattered limpa rye at Grandma's Bakery in White Bear Lake, and anyone with a taste for anything Scandinavian can get fresh lefse, Swedish meatball lunches, and tiered kransekake cookie-ring cakes at the several Taste of Scandinavia locations around the metro.

And let's not forget our Nordic-inspired dairies. Wisconsin's Nordic Creamery has been making some of the country's best butter since 1917. Star Thrower Farm, a sheep dairy in the west metro founded in 2007, provides all the local co-ops with skyr, an Icelandic-style spread that's halfway between yogurt and cheese.

There are also the tens of thousands of pounds of pickled herring sold through local markets such as Lunds by the Olsen Fish Co., one of the nation's largest herring processors, located in Minneapolis since 1910. And it's growing. President Chris Dorff says the company is on track to sell 20 percent more herring this year, due to some combination of health benefits (herring is full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids), sustainability (herring are not endangered), and Nordic interest.

It was this thriving Scandinavian background that allowed Minneapolis chefs to do the last thing anyone saw coming: leapfrog ahead of the rest of the United States to join the world in its moment of celebrating New Nordic food.

If you hadn't noticed, New Nordic food is all the rage. For the past three years, Copenhagen's Noma restaurant has been recognized as the world's best restaurant on the esteemed San Pellegrino Acqua Panna list. Noma officially ended the reign of Spain, which had remade the dining world with restaurants such as El Bulli, which used new ideas about cooking to whip up something we now call molecular gastronomy, a way of cooking with pipettes, emulsions, dry ice, sous vide, and other whizz-bang tricks that meld dinner and a magic show.

But because there was that, there must be a next. And New Nordic is it. Fashion, in food, can be seen as the way that far-flung groups all tackle a common set of concerns, and culinary fashion tends to be written in sharp swings of the pendulum. In the early 1960s heavy French cream sauces ruled the land. This was followed by nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur, which substituted broths and lighter flavors for heavy, traditional foods. Next rose a wave of rustic, simpler, ingredient-driven cooking, typically either Italian or Italian-inspired and concerned with top-quality local ingredients; this was first called California cuisine and later grew into the locavore and nose-to-tail movement. Then came Spain and the extreme minimalist/maximalist boundary pushing of molecular gastronomy, in which foods were turned into spheres, gels, and smokes. That begat the rise of this next big thing: the primal New Nordic.

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