Nilsson’s dish of oysters cooked over (and served with) burning redwood.
After René Redzepi, Magnus Nilsson has quickly become one of the most written-about and fawned over young chefs in the world. This is partly because his story is a good one: Ambitious chef tires of the Michelin-starred Parisian scene and decides to return to a rural part of northern Sweden to become a wine writer, only to end up taking over a small restaurant and lodge and turning it into an ambitious, twelve-seat destination serving a type of Nordic cuisine that is both new and rooted in ancient techniques. Nilsson’s food at his restaurant Faviken Magasinet, and the methods he uses for growing and preserving ingredients in a sub-arctic climate with extra-long winters, are now documented in a new book from Phaidon Press called Faviken. While on his book tour in the U.S., Nilsson made two stops to cook with American chefs, one at Husk in Charleston with Sean Brock, and one this past weekend at Coi in San Francisco with Daniel Patterson.
Grub Street was lucky enough to get a seat at Saturday’s dinner, which was a collaborative effort by Nilsson and Patterson, and now we bring you some photos. While the two chefs share some aesthetic sensibilities, two dishes were most obviously Nilsson’s creations and inspired by things he serves at Faviken: one a dish of oysters just barely cooked over redwood branches and served with a smoldering ember of redwood atop a bed of evergreens; and the other a dish of braised baby turnips under a pile of decomposing leaves. Both were bits of theater not frequently seen in Bay Area dining, with set pieces direct from the forest floor, and they served as good examples of Nilsson’s ethos. Food is environment, and vice versa, and he wants to bring people closer in touch with a sense of place in each aroma and bite.
Nilsson started making these simple flax-seed crisps, held together with just a bit of potato starch, after watching his wife do something similar with grains suspended in “solidified nothingness.” The barely-there crackers are served with a delicious, tangy aioli dip made with mussels.
These crisps are Patterson’s nod to “hippie” health food of the seventies, and served with a bright green kale dip.
Another “hippie” recipe that made it onto the menu is this fermented tofu coagulated with sea water, a technique gleaned from pastry chef Matt Tinder and his mom in Hawaii. Patterson serves the tofu with a tomato gel, fresh cherry tomatoes, and seaweed.
These barely warm oysters were cooked in their shells over smoldering redwood branches, and came served with bits of the forest, as well as a piece of smoldering redwood atop the plate that carried smoke into the dining room whenever another table was served this dish. At Faviken, Nilsson serves a similar dish using scallops and burning juniper branches.
Nilsson devised this technique of cooking and serving autumn vegetables with autumn leaves in order to “bring to the diner the experience of the chef cooking them or the gardener picking them.” The idea is that you have to dig the turnips out from under the mound of leaves, getting both the earthy aroma of the leaves and the experience of rooting around for the vegetables in the dirt. The turnips were served with good butter and salt on the side.
This is a Patterson dish in which tender German turnips called kohlrabi are cooked inside a salt and heirloom tobacco leaf crust, then garnished with various foraged herbs and a pomegranate sauce.
A dish from Nilsson inspired by mushroom dishes he’s done at Faviken gets an added brightness from an ingredient Nilsson had never seen or used before: Meyer lemon. The mushrooms and raw peas were given an extra kick with the addition of lovage salt.
Patterson makes this excellent dish of abalone with a salsa verde of nettles and dandelion greens, and garnishes the tender sea snails with spicy breadcrumbs.
This lovely dish, another Patterson creation that he had on the Coi menu last year, was probably our favorite of the night. It features celtuce, which is sometimes called Chinese lettuce and is thought to be the oldest varietal of lettuce. Patterson takes the celtuce stem, braises it in butter, and serves thin slices atop new potatoes and Comté cheese, and garnishes it with tarragon and a burnt-hay vinaigrette.
Nilsson’s simple preparation of cauliflower, cooked until tender and then browned at the edges, was served with dark-beer-flavored whipped cream.
This rare lamb was first poached and barely touched by the grill, and it was served with garum (Roman fish sauce), rosemary, and Swiss chard.
This first sweet course marked a first for Nilsson, who had never before worked with California almonds. The barely sweet ice cream was garnished with a few drops of wild bay oil.
A light, ethereal dessert from pastry chef Matt Tinder that called to mind his recent creations for Coi’s dessert tasting menu. The cake was served with a bit of honeycomb, white chocolate, and atop a shiso purée.