Why the world’s best chefs are coming to Stockholm

This spring Stockholm will be on the radar of chefs and foodies around the world when the city hosts the European finals of the world’s most prestigious cooking competition, the Bocuse d’Or.

During the two-day show-down on May 7 and 8, twelve chefs will be selected from the 20 participating European countries to continue to the world championship in Lyon in 2015. The city is expecting an invasion of European chefs, producers and foodies during tournament week and the country’s top chefs and restaurateurs are gathering forces to showcase Swedish gastronomy.

“Spring is when Stockholm is at its finest,” says former Bocuse d’Or winner Mathias Dahlgren. From 19th century market halls, restaurants,  herring carts, cool café’s to hot dogs, foodies will find more than enough fare worth sampling in the city that has been called “Europe’s surging culinary star.” The capital is arguably where the new Swedish gastronomy got its start, when chefs like Dahlgren began dishing up plates filled with the flavors of Europe’s great wilderness.

A force from the north

Since its inception, Swedish chefs have consistently dominated the top tier of the championships. In 1997, Dahlgren became the first Swedish chef to take home the gold. Today he runs his eponymous two-Michelin star restaurant, one-star casual dining room, Matbaren, and his new concept Matbordet ”The dining room table”, in Stockholm and is known for his influence on the next generation of chefs like Tommy Myllymäki.

Mathias Dahlgren. Photo: Erik Olsson
Mathias Dahlgren. Photo: Erik Olsson

In 2004 Dahlgren committed to reviving age-old Swedish cooking techniques and using local produce and meat.  His philosophy is to lift the Swedish identity on a regional platform, a cuisine based on natural produce and natural taste, the natural cuisine. 

Myllymäki, who took home a silver medal from the Bocuse d’Or in 2011, has been chosen to represent Sweden again in May. This time, he’s planning to bring home the gold. But he’s not the only one: chefs from Denmark, Finland and the UK are all returning for a second chance at the title.

The chefs and their commis are allotted 5 hours and 35 minutes to present one fish dish and one meat dish, each with at least three garnishes and one sauce. The chef is free to choose the garnishes, but the main ingredients have already been set – and for the first time in the competition’s history, they will be sourced from the host country.

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The home team advantage

For the meat dish, the organizers have chosen young pigs from Havor Farm, an 11th generation family farm on the island of Gotland. On this farm, the pigs graze on 130 hectares of cultivated peas, barley, wheat and triticale. A young pig weighs about 40 kg and their high quality meat is the result of wise and long-term breeding, good husbandry and the world’s strictest animal protection laws.

For the seafood dish, oysters, mussels and saithe  are on the menu – all from Sweden’s west coast. The oysters will come from Grebbestad, the source of 90 percent of Sweden’s oysters. Because of the cold, salty water of the area around Bohuslän the oysters grow slowly and become rich in flavor, these oysters are considered among the best in the world. The mussels will come from Mollösund, where they are organically grown in a sustainable environment. The saithe , which migrate from the North Sea to the Skagerrak coast in May, is a wild-caught white-fleshed fish similar to cod, but thicker and leaner.

“My experience with Swedish ingredients should be an advantage,” says Myllymäki, “But when you’re competing against the world’s best chefs, there are no shortcuts.”

Eyes on the prize

Preparing for the competition is not unlike the rigorous training for Olympic athletes. Tommy has a whole team helping him: his commis, Albin Edberg; coach Jonas Dahlbom, who took fourth at Bocuse d’Or in 2005; and the support of Henrik Norström, President of the Swedish Bocuse d’Or Academy, who won a silver in 2001. And Myllymäki has been training non-stop – that is, when he’s not operating his many restaurants or serving as creative director of several of Stockholm’s most popular kitchens: Sturehof, Riche, Taverna Brillo and Teatergrillen.

“Nothing in my career has been more important than winning the Bocuse d’Or,” says Mathias Dahlgren, who is now Honorary President of the Bocuse d’Or Europe. Dahlgren is also chairman of Bocuse d’Or Academy Sweden and a founding member of Gastronomi Sverige, the two organizations responsible for arranging the European finals. “The fact that Stockholm is hosting the European finals shows what a strong position Sweden has as a culinary nation and a gastronomic inspiration.”

Photo: Gastronomi Sverige
Tommy Myllymäki and commis Albin Edberg. Photo: Gastronomi Sverige

City on fire

The event will take place in conjunction with Gastro Nord, Northern Europe’s most important trade fair for the hotel, restaurant and catering industry. Today it attracts around 20,000 visitors from the food and beverage industry, making it the ideal backdrop for the European championships of the Bocuse d’Or.

In recent years the city of Stockholm has begun attracting talent from around the world because of its reputation as a place where chefs are reinventing their roots and food traditions. Here, gastronomy intersects with fashion, design, music and technology – making it an ideal location for the most anticipated culinary competition of the year. Welcome to Bocuse d’Or Europe 2014 in Stockholm!

Photo: Morgan Ekner
Lux Dag för Dag, Lilla Essingen, Stockholm. Photo: Morgan Ekner

All of Sweden’s past bocuse d’Or medalists are active in Stockholm:

  • 1995: Melker Andersson (F12), silver
  • 1997: Mathias Dahlgren (Mathias Dahlgren), gold
  • 2001: Henrik Norström (Lux Dag för Dag), silver
  • 2009: Jonas Lundgren (Restaurant Jonas), silver
  • 2011: Tommy Myllymäki (Restaurant Sjön, creative chef at Sturehof, Teatergrillen, Riche and Taverna Brillo), silver

Read more about the competing countries and times here.