Protect flavors. Do not disguise them.
Held over three days in April at the SMX Convention Center, the third edition of Madrid Fusión Manila Food attracted 1,400 local and international guests from China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Taiwan, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. Among this number were six Michelin-starred chefs. High Life sat down with Pedro Subijana, Paco Pérez, Jordi Roca, Julien Royer, Magnus Ek, and Gert De Mangeleer.
WORDS JOSEPH L. GARCIA
A refusal to flirt with pre-packaged food in his youth lit up Magnus Ek’s tastebuds and gave him the power to cook. Mr. Ek’s restaurant, Oaxen Krog, currently has two Michelin stars, while his other restaurant, Slip, has a Bib Gourmand from the 2013 Michelin Guide. Mr. Ek is known for foraging and emphasizing food that is sustainably grown or harvested, choosing food that is local in origin. He adjusts his menu to the seasons to ensure that his dishes are always at their best, in the way that nature dictates.
Perhaps his approach in returning to nature is a radical response to his childhood in an industrial Sweden. His mother’s Bearnaise sauce was key to his journey. “My mother cooked, but she’s not a cook. She was a housewife,” he said. “When I was growing up, all these industrially produced food were really a novelty. You had powdered chocolate sauce, powdered desserts. You had powdered Bearnaise sauce.” Bearnaise sauce, related to French mother sauce Hollandaise, is made of an emulsion of clarified butter, egg yolks, and white wine vinegar, after which it is flavored with herbs.
“When I was 12, 14, years old, Bearnaise sauce was the best of the best,” he reminisced during an interview with High Life. Taking powder and whisking it into hot water was tantamount to cheating, he said. “It’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.”
He cracked open a cookbook to learn how to make the sauce properly. “That was a revolution. It was like the answer to all the questions in the world,” he said. “I didn’t understand how Bearnaise was made. When I found out, it was like the biggest question in the world was solved.”
The joy of doing things by hand and as naturally as possible never left Mr. Ek. Foraging for herbs, plants, and whatnot gives him “a good gut feeling.” In turn, any gift given by the earth must be treated with respect. “We don’t want to change it too much,” he said (making exceptions for processes like pickling or fermentation, which, even then, are done the natural way). “If you have a broccoli or an onion, it has this fantastic flavor as it is. You don’t need to season and do so much with it. You should protect and use the nice flavor it has, rather than disguise it.”
The Nordic region from where he comes, with its forests and mountains, encourages people to commune with nature. Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians take long strolls in the woods or go fishing in fjords—it’s a way of life. “Every one of us likes to be out in nature, picking berries and mushrooms,” said Mr. Ek.
Known as one of the best chefs in Sweden, he talks about what motivates him despite his already much-publicized achievements. “The easier answer would be that you’re never happy with what you’re doing. You’re always thinking you could do better. That would be the easy answer. The other one, which I think is more fair, is that you’re cooking the food that you like for yourself.”
Oaxen Krog & Slip
Beckholmsbron 26, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden
Tuesday-Saturday, 6 p.m. – 12 a.m.
+46 8 551 531 05