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Chef Magnus Nilsson’s inspirations: ‘old sow’ and ‘retired dairy cow’

Magnus Nilsson

Bruno Cordioli

Resist, if you will, the urge to chortle at the young Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson's menu writing – "sorbet of milk like it was in the old days," or "shavings of old sow," or "wild trout roe served in a warm crust of dried pig's blood."

Nilsson, whose 12-seat restaurant, Fäviken Magasinet, is located on a 24,000-acre hunting estate north of Stockholm, is a darling of the international cook and eater set, and for very good reason.

Where so many other chefs – but you could also name any profession here, really – are content to do things the way every other chef does them, Nilsson has set out to question everything about the way he works, then puts the often surprising answers into practice.

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He hunts much of what he serves in the restaurant, favours the meat from old cows over young ones (and by old, he means eight or nine years old; another of his favoured menu terms is "retired dairy cow"), ages many of his fish rather than serving them fresh, cooks only over open flame and seeks out fermented, pongy flavours in his food.

Nilsson's new book, called Fäviken, is part treatise and part instruction manual. It also makes for some sublimely consciousness-altering reading if you love to cook. There's a section on the Japanese art of Ike Jime fish butchery (you really ought to look it up on YouTube) and a short essay on maturing vinegar in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree. There are recipes, of course, though they deliberately neglect such specifics as cooking time and temperature. "When cooking the way I describe, it doesn't matter whether a spoon contains 8 or 14 millilitres," Nilsson writes. "Just pick a spoon that seems right and go for it."

Three of a chef's greatest attributes are "intuition, passion and happiness," Nilsson writes. It may sound crazy, but he's right.

Magnus Nilsson will be speaking at the George Ignatieff Theatre in Toronto, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through The Cookbook Store; 416-920-2665.

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