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Mattias Richtmann, the ogre from Sörbyn

Eric Boucher-2011-02-14

Mattias Richtmann belongs to a new generation of Swedish chefs striving for unrestrained Scandinavian gastronomy. He plies his trade roughly 100 miles from the Arctic Circle, at Sörbyn, in the heart of the Lapp forests, where there’s an abundance of his favourite local products.

Sweden’s Gastronomic Revolution
Sweden, usually renowned for its social welfare system, its designer style, IKEA and its apparently liberal lifestyle, is now looking to establish itself as a gastronomic destination. This may seem curious at first, but a whole legion of Swedish chefs, trained in some of the best restaurants on this planet, has been making efforts for several years to give Scandinavian cuisine a face lift. Many of these chefs are to be found in Stockholm, including Mathias Dahlgren, but also in Gothenburg, which now has five starred restaurants, not to mention Tommy Myllymäki, a 32 year old, who has recently been awarded a Bocuse d’argent... There are also other chefs further to the North, in Swedish Lapland, in the extreme latitudes close to the Arctic Circle. Mattias Richtmann is one of them.
 
Variations of Great Northern Produce
The Hotel Restaurant Kallkällan opened in June 2010. Like many places in this nation of 275,000 square miles, covered in forests, scattered with rivers and lakes, and populated with just 9 million people (in Lapland it’s less than 1 person/km²), this is an idyllic place! In the depths of the Sörbyn Forest, next to a lake fed by a spring from which the restaurant gets its bottled water, this is a great location for a gastronomic stopover. It is without doubt one of the best establishments in Swedish Lapland! 
 
Even though the climate in these northern regions is often blamed for causing depression, it doesn’t seem to have had any effect on Mattias Richtmann. At 40 years of age this ogre with thunderous laughter has complete mastery of his art and he can put it to immediate use. Even though this man looks more like a hockey player than a chef, he creates a cuisine of great precision and finesse whilst using, in the main, local produce.
 
That evening after a few clinking of glasses and guttural “skåls” (Cheers!), the Lapp delicacies started with a Duck’s livercrème brûlée. This is a hot and cold experience like coming out of a sauna and dipping into the icy waters of Lake Vitträsket opposite the restaurant. That’s also where they caught the second dish: a pike and perchterrine with a small potato salad.A sublimely fresh dish! 
 
The main course was more of a classic: reindeer fillet with caramelised salsify and a puree of chanterelle mushrooms. This was perfectly cooked, tender with a musky flavour reminiscent of a hunting outing on the tundra. The only false note, was the puree which, far from bringing out the taste of mushrooms, in fact neutralised their flavour and potency. A mistake we also encountered at another restaurant, which is perhaps due to their quest for originality in a country where mushrooms abound.
 
Since this northern territory is the meeting point of the Arctic and the East, the dessert was a paradoxical expression of the quintessence of this: Cloudberries samosa and home made vanilla ice cream. It is very difficult to express the unique taste of the Cloudberry; it’s unlike anything we know in our latitudes. It really does taste like something ‘out of this world’ and it has incredible subtlety.
 
A traditional dish, the pitepalt
We were invited the next day (a privilege of being journalists), to take lunch in the wilderness. We left lake Vitträsket for another lake and the undergrowth of Sörbyn for another place with lots of undergrowth. The indestructible Mattias was cooking once again, despite going to bed around 3 or 4 am the night before and was already trudging through the dew, lugging his big bear-like frame through the forest between a giant frying pan and a fire smouldering in a hole.
 
On the embers he laid an elk fillet seasoned with juniper berries, cranberries, thyme and rosemary, wrapped in birch bark. He then buried everything under the humus and leaves, and left it to cook for 4 hours.
 
Whilst this took place, the pitepalt, the quintessence of Lapland conviviality, was gently being browned in the monstrous frying pan. Chunks of mashed potatoes mixed with flour are immersed in boiling water, like gnocchis, before being fried with butter and bacon. Finally it’s served with fresh butter and lingonberry jam ... Time for the fun to begin!
 
 
USEFUL INFORMATION
 
Sörbyn Turism & Konferens restaurant, Kallkällan
Sörbyn 220
961 97 Gunnarsbyn
Sweden
Tel: 46 (0)924-22036
Contemporary, spacious rooms with Swedish design in a pavilion outside of the restaurant area. Absolute calm reigns here. You can also go camping on the site.