Restaurant Fond, Gothenburg, Sweden | Stefan Karlsson

from Gastronomica 4:4

When I ask my friends about their earliest taste memories, they invariably mention something sweet, usually chocolate ice cream, strawberry cake, or their favorite candy from a bowl on the table in Grandmother’s drawing room. They laugh when I tell them about my earliest memory: the summer I was three, I tasted pickled herring with onions and boiled new potatoes. It was at that very moment, in the heart of the Småland countryside—when the Swedish summer is at its warmest, its most magical and enchanting—that I decided I wanted to be a chef when I grew up.

No doubt time has embellished this memory, but it still has a ring of truth, and this sensation of pure taste is what I try to offer my guests when they dine at Restaurant Fond. My Swedish culinary heritage reigns at Fond in the fresh ingredients linked to each season. Our hospitality is meant to make people feel as comfortable and relaxed as they are at home. We want dining at Fond to be pleasant and simple, yet still memorable, and this warm atmosphere is at the heart of what we do.

Even though Mother’s cooking remains a distant memory for each of us, with the right touch we re-create the pleasant feelings of childhood at Fond. Authenticity is key. When I was growing up in Småland, everything in our kitchen was fresh, cooked without fuss. The food was plain, simple, and absolutely delicious. Mine was a typical Swedish upbringing, with typical Swedish cooking. Mother was a housewife who stayed home with her children. Each morning I awakened happily to the aroma of freshly baked bread, and when I got home from school, the welcoming smell of dinner cooking greeted me. All of the basic raw ingredients we needed were right there. From the kitchen garden I helped pick vegetables for our meals, and my father and I hunted moose and deer in the forest. We caught pike, perch, and crayfish in the deep lakes, with only the moon as our witness.

Stefan Karlsson. Photograph by Thomas Yeh ©

Even though Restaurant Fond lies in the very heart of Gothenburg, in Götaplatsen, at one end of the city’s most fashionable street, Kungsportsavenyen, I haven’t, in fact, left many of my childhood habits behind. It’s true that I seldom go wandering in the forests. But behind the scenes, in the kitchens and cold-storage rooms, my staff and I are, in our hearts, still very much out in the countryside. We live with the seasons and compose menus that celebrate the Swedish West Coast, where a continuous struggle between light and dark, warmth and cold, is played out against a backdrop of green landscapes and harsh cliffs.

The warmth of early summer tempts us with new potatoes, strawberries, lettuces, and other greens. Late summer offers an abundance of mushrooms, berries, and apples, not to mention lobster and other shellfish from the local waters. As the darkness of autumn and winter begins to close in, we can savor venison, fish from the colder northern waters, and root vegetables pulled from the soil. Come spring, we are once again energized by a variety of young green herbs and shoots. Asparagus and rhubarb are just two of spring’s blessings.

Native products from the Swedish land and its waters remain the ingredients of choice in Fond’s kitchens, even though I have recently begun to discover culinary delights from other cultures, which add new dimensions to Swedish cuisine. It’s exciting to invite increasingly multicultural food traditions into my most Swedish of kitchens. My decision to look beyond Sweden’s borders is not about upstaging or replacing what is native but about giving Swedish food a chance to become even more distinguished. For instance, my modern interpretation of the classic Swedish smorgasbord includes salmon tartare with sugar, dill, and Swedish mustard; pickled angler with marinated raw shrimp; Swedish-style sashimi with horseradish, mustard powder, and a clear dill-seed-infused soy sauce; marinated herring with lemon and vodka-flavored Swedish priest cheese; sugar-fried lamb with cabbage and sweet-and-sour dill gravy; and lightly smoked reindeer with lingonberry chutney. Topping it all off is Grandma’s berry pie in a glass, only now I macerate the berries in wild-strawberry vodka and top them with yogurt and vanilla foam.

For me, a man with his roots in the Småland mushroom forests, entering culinary competitions has been wonderfully stimulating. When I was named Swedish Chef of the Year in 1995 for my quintessentially Swedish presentation of grouse with lingonberries, many new and exciting opportunities arose. I have several times been called upon to compose the menu for the Nobel Prize dinner, and for a number of years, I competed on the Swedish Gastronomic Team. In 2000 I received the Swedish Gastronomic Academy’s Gold Medal. But no matter how much time I spend out in the world or stirring the pots at Restaurant Fond, the time I spend at home with my family still means the most to me. I make sure to share at least one meal with them every day. It is these meals that bind and keep us together.

This summer I plan to invite my youngest daughter, Nellie, to a very special meal: pickled herring with onions and boiled new potatoes. She is only four. But what does that matter? I am convinced she will love the same taste that, apart from the green grass tickling my bare feet, remains my fondest childhood memory.