Culinary Canvas

Edible Tales from the Storytelling Chef: Part III

A day spent with Michelin-Starred chef Fredrik Johnsson learning about his evocative approach to creating new dishes.

Words by Sophie Miskiw. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.

Stroll through any Swedish forest in the summertime and there are a couple of things you’re bound to come across. First, the seasoned foragers, their trusty wicker baskets looped over their forearms. Second, bush upon bush thick with a bounty of berry-ed treasure.

Blueberries and summer are virtually synonymous in Sweden. The Swedish blueberry - which is actually a bilberry, but that’s a story for another time - is easily found almost anywhere and everywhere across the country. It’s a staple ingredient throughout the season, prepared in myriad ways from jams and pies to blåbärssoppa (blueberry soup), a classic dessert served hot or cold.

Swedish chef Fredrik Johnsson is world renowned for his commitment to working with seasonal ingredients. He staunchly believes that time and place are paramount to the taste of any dish. When he serves us his parfait flavoured with vårbrodd (vernal grass) and garnished with blueberries and spruce oil, you instantly understand why he feels so strongly about this.

“You pick blueberries and spruce almost in the same spot,” he explains. “When things are grown in the same place or in the same season, it’s like they’re connected. They work really well together. Not all the time, of course, but it’s like when a chicken has been fed a certain kind of food then you can tell because the eggs taste of it.”

It’s a late summer day when we sit down to try the dish at Högtorp Gård, a farm around a two-hour drive south of Stockholm. It’s owned by Lena Engelmark Embertsén and her husband Ola Engelmark, and together the couple create products from wild ingredients foraged from the land. We’re encircled by little wooden cabins painted Falun red, the air smells fresh and the breeze carries a trace of spruce and spring grass. There’s no better environs in which to enjoy the dish.

Everything is in perfect harmony which is when these ingredients truly shine, believes Lena.

“At the end of August, in the evening after a hot day, when you smell the spruce and eat blueberries from the ground, that is a beautiful picture,” she says.

“At the end of August, in the evening after a hot day, when you smell the spruce and eat blueberries from the ground, that is a beautiful picture,” she says.

It was through Lena that Fredrik first discovered this particular combination of ingredients, along with the spruce oil that she creates with her husband Ola. Fredrik uses the oil to complement the flavour of the blueberries and emphasise their fruity, floral notes.

“Lena used to use vanilla in the parfait, but I made it with vernal grass instead which is full of coumarin,” he says. “It’s like a vanilla, tonka bean flavour, it’s what gives hay its characteristic smell. So I infused the cream with that instead of vanilla.”

Enjoyed together, the Swedish countryside and this little plateful of foraged delights conjures one of those perfect late-summer moments you wish you could bottle. With that in mind - knowing Lena and Ola - they probably already have.

Words by Sophie Miskiw. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.