Magnus Nilsson's Momentous Moments: The day he knew he had to close Fäviken

'When I got home I went straight back to bed and cried. I didn’t understand. It was a kind of sadness that I had never felt before'
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Magnus Nilsson. All photographs by Erik Olsson
Magnus Nilsson. All photographs by Erik Olsson

Magnus Nilsson’s new book, Fäviken: 4015 Days, Beginning to End, is a very, very good read. It details a complete list of dishes served at Fäviken in chronological order, and describes not only how a great many of them are cooked, but also how the chef and his brigade developed these remarkable creations.

However, the book goes beyond the usual scope of the average cookbook or chef’s monograph. In this new title, Magnus actually describes how he turned a remote Swedish hunting lodge into one of the world’s most highly praised restaurants, and in the process, developed from a little-known culinary professional into an internationally renowned star chef.

Yet, perhaps one of more fascinating passages is the section where Nilsson describes the point at which he knew he had to quit the restaurant. Remember, when Fäviken closed back in December 2019, the restaurant had two Michelin stars, was widely regarded as one of the world’s best, and Nilsson himself was a genuine star within the international gastronomic community. So, why did he chose to quit and shutter the place? Well, as Magnus describes in intimate detail, the cause was quite personal, yet still one that many working incredibly hard at the pinnacle of their careers in many professionals can relate to.

The restaurant in late summer with hay drying in the wind on a traditional hay fence
The restaurant in late summer with hay drying in the wind on a traditional hay fence

“The first light of the morning was long gone already and had been overtaken by the full force of the early summer sun,” he writes in his new book. “That is the way it is up north that time of year: the sun barely sets at night and then bounces right up again. The room was warm when I woke up, in that stifling way that makes you feel like you are sick, even though you aren’t; that way that makes it seem like there is just not enough air between the walls for someone to live. The lashes of my left eye were stuck together from dried tears and I had to brush my finger over them to make my eye open. The phone was buzzing its irritating wake-up call under the mattress where it lives at night. I turned it off and looked at the time, 07:09 a.m. I had apparently hit the snooze once without realizing it. Perhaps I hit the button unaware from the drowsiness of waking, or perhaps accidentally by rolling onto that part of the mattress. I lay there and stared at the ceiling and then out the window onto some trees and then back at the ceiling again. Tove had already left for the university and it was my job to get the kids to school today.

Nilsson Sebastian, Johnny and Fabian enjoying an after-service beer in midsummer.
Nilsson Sebastian, Johnny and Fabian enjoying an after-service beer in midsummer.

“But then something happened that I had never experienced before. I couldn’t get up. I just couldn’t move. Or, perhaps, I couldn’t make myself sit up and move out of the bed. It was such a strange thing. It wasn’t like I was physically paralyzed or anything. I could flop my body around just fine lying there. But, as opposed to how it usually works any other day – I form a thought that contains the decision to get up, which then automatically and immediately triggers a physical reaction where I actually sit up – today nothing happened. I just lay there. Even though I had decided to get up, it was like my body overruled me. I wasn’t fine, and this wasn’t good.

“I felt scared in a way that I had only ever experienced two times before, scared that there was something wrong with me, for real. The first time I felt this way was when I woke up and everything tasted of metal and I thought I was having a stroke. Turns out it was pine mouth (yes, Google it). The second time was worse and it was when I had been swimming in someone’s dirty pool and gotten an inner ear infection that spread to the vestibular nerve and made the whole world spin, and I also thought I was having a stroke. I lay in bed knowing that something was wrong but not knowing what, and then I forced my body into submission.

“When I finally did manage to sit up, I put a t-shirt on and a pair of running shorts. And I drove Arne, Ella and Edvin to school and pre-school without my shoes on and the whole time with tears burning behind my eyelids. I have never had a problem crying in front of my kids. I cry easily when I am upset or when something sad happens, and I am fine with that. But today I found myself trying hard not to. I think that I didn’t want them to see because I knew that this was another kind of sad and another kind of fright. It was something that I couldn’t explain to them, something that was unfamiliar and that they wouldn’t understand, because I didn’t understand. It was a kind of sadness that I had never felt before.

Nilsson plating Porridge of grains and seeds from Jämtland finished with a lump of salty butter
Nilsson plating Porridge of grains and seeds from Jämtland finished with a lump of salty butter

“When I got home I went straight back to bed and cried. And then I slept until the clock turned two and the sound of the door woke me up when my son came home again. He thought it strange that I was home, and that I was sleeping, but I shrugged him off and sat down in front of the computer as if I was working. I was just sitting there, not reading, not writing, not looking something up online, just sitting there acting busy, pretending to work. I didn’t go to Fäviken that day, and I didn’t call to say I wasn’t coming in. I just couldn’t make myself. Later, when Tove came home, I told her that I had a headache and that I thought I was coming down with something. She looked at me suspiciously: I don’t get sick very often and if I do I generally work anyways. Last time I stayed home from work I had a norovirus infection and spent three days vomiting my guts out.

“The following day was an exact repetition of the first, and the third day that followed too. And as I lay there in bed on the morning of the fourth day, I realized that I didn’t even want to get out of bed anymore. To get up and drive the kids to school suddenly felt very hard, even though I had done so the three days before. To do that and then go to work after felt unachievable, like climbing the summit of some impossibly tall mountain, unaided by oxygen, or maybe even carrying a CO2 tank just to make it harder. I knew then and there that it had to stop. I understood that my restaurant, the one that I had loved for eleven years, had to close, soon. I lay there for another 45 minutes, listening to the kids watch television downstairs and trying to figure out how to deal with the incredible sadness induced by this realization.

“In the evening of that day when the kids had gone to bed, I told Tove that I couldn’t do it anymore. I told her that I had to quit, now. She asked me why, and if something had happened. I said no, and that I didn’t know why, but that I had to.”

To find out more about the incredible amount of hard work and creativity that went into making this remarkable restaurant, order a copy of Fäviken: 4015 Days, Beginning to End here.

 


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