Are you a fan of cooking shows on TV? So is Maria, a food enthusiast from Swedish Lapland, who finally got a chance to participate behind the scenes. That’s what Chef’s Table at Icehotel is all about – inviting the guest into the kitchen.

All tables feature lit candles and even if the restaurant isn’t full, the atmosphere is pleasant. Quiet conversations can be heard among the tables and most guests seem to be visiting couples. It feels like everyone is watching us as we pass their table to get to the kitchen, as if we were interrupting an intimate moment. We hurry along towards the restaurant kitchen.

Our waiter Fiona and Micke, tonight's chef.

In the middle of the kitchen there’s a table set for two. We sit down and look around curiously, Carl-Johan and I. It’s just like on TV, I start thinking before I realise that this is the first time I’m actually inside a proper restaurant kitchen. In the background there’s a buzz from various appliances, a clattering of dishes, it sizzles and bubbles, a flame strikes from a burner but is professionally caught by someone with a sauté pan.

The chef stands by the kitchen hatch, leaning over a number of plates as bowls, pans and sauce boats appear behind his back. He carefully picks up various components and stylishly places them on the plates. He straightens his back, scrutinising his work, rings a little bell and calls: Service, please!

A classic: vendace roe on a tiny waffle with whipped crème fraîche and chopped red onion, served on a block of ice.

Tonight’s chef is called Micke. He comes up to present himself together with our waitress: Fiona. They welcome us to the kitchen, to the Chef’s table at Icehotel, and then he announces that we have a seven-course dinner to look forward to.

– First, says Micke, an amuse-bouche!

He might as well have said Abracadabra! because just as quickly he conjures up two artichoke brulées with truffle and chili gremolata. It pleases and surprises us – this is exciting! And it’s wonderfully tasty; underneath the hot chili and the crunchy sugar is a smooth artichoke that goes perfectly with the truffle. Carl-Johan and I look at each other and nod in agreement, our expectations for the evening just went up a notch or two.

– I was counting on vendace roe as usual, it’s great to try something new, says Carl-Johan.

Fröya-salmon (sashimi style) with a wakame salad and wasabi mayonnaise under a thin layer of soy jelly.

Since we’re both seasoned restaurant visitors in Swedish Lapland we’ve come to expect certain flavours and ingredients. For example, we know how reindeer and elk should taste like when it’s properly cooked and we’ve had our fair share of starters featuring vendace roe or cured fish. That’s why we’re a bit ashamed when we get to the first course: vendace roe on a tiny waffle with whipped crème fraîche and chopped red onion, served on a block of ice. A classic, no surprises there.

This is a menu for those who are interested in food, who like genuine ingredients, a menu for those who wish to discover the flavours of Swedish Lapland.

Of course! I think, and slap my forehead. This isn’t a menu for those who have eaten their way through Swedish Lapland, become a little cocky and dared to pronounce themselves as having eaten their fill of vendace roe (Kalix löjrom). This is a menu for those who are interested in food, who like genuine ingredients, a menu for those who wish to discover the flavours of Swedish Lapland. We’re ashamed, and rightly so. Besides, it’s extremely tasty, even if you’re eating it for the hundreth time. And really, I know that there’s no such thing as ‘too much vendace roe’.

Arctic char with a thin crust of breadcrumbs, a 63-degree egg, spinach, shallots and cream sauce, topped with horseradish.

We can hear talk and laughter all around us above the clatter of kitchen chores. I can hear conversations about ‘tickets’ and phrases like “How long until the meat?” and “I’ll just clarify the consommé”. Just like on TV. ‘Kitchen French’ in this case is actually English.

– It’s a fairly international kitchen, Micke the chef explains in a singsong southern Swedish accent. We have people working here from Poland, South America, Italy, Sweden, well, from all over the place.

Ravioli stuffed with sweet potatoes, with truffle sauce. Spinach, a kale crisp and a Västerbottensost (a local cheese) crisp.

The head chef, Alexander Meier, is from Switzerland and used to work at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Béarn in Geneva, among other places, before he ended up at Icehotel a couple of years ago. “I create food with love and we have a passion for the products on offer in the pantry of Swedish Lapland”, the Icehotel’s website quotes him.

And we believe him. One course after the other contains tasteful and well-balanced interpretations of elk fillet, ptarmigan, Arctic char and salmon. And we just don’t get that feeling of having tried it before, even though we know the ingredients well. It feels modern, more than anything, with interesting accompaniments. How about Fröya-salmon with a spirited wakame salad and wasabi mayonnaise under a thin layer of soy jelly? And the sous-vide cooked elk calf melts in your mouth and warms my heart; this is what it should taste like. The various dishes are complemented with champagne, wine, cider – yes, anything that Fiona recommends we ask to be poured into our glasses. The beverages are paired perfectly with the food, as they say.

Dishes going out of the kitchen.

It’s great fun being sat in the kitchen; we get to ask tricky questions about the ingredients and Micke is happy to answer. Yes, meat and fish are sourced locally and the salmon is from Norway. We discuss what flavours are typical for Swedish Lapland: game, smoked, the sweet and acidic flavour of berries and herbs, among others. We talk about how you can use spruce shoots as a spice and Carl-Johan, a hunter himself and used to handling meat, weighs in with how long elk meat should be tenderised.

You can tell it’s the end of the season: the kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine, the atmosphere is relaxed and staff are joking about the ‘last supper’ – the evening they serve their last dessert. Around us the sound backdrop of clatter, buzz from machines and kitchen lingo has turned into a familiar tune with a touch of cosiness.

Elk with rösti, parsnip purée, bacon, blueberry jelly and Jägermeister sauce.

When we’ve finished course number six, the tender elk with rösti, parsnip purée, bacon, blueberry jelly and Jägermeister sauce, we groan and complain a bit about being too full. But as the seasoned eaters we are we order another espresso and let it slowly sink before we’re ready to focus our full attention on the Pastry chef.

The Pastry chef doing her magic.

From my seat at the table I’ve had a view of the kitchen’s dessert department throughout the meal. A young woman, half hidden behind stacks of plastic cases with pastel contents, has been creating dessert after dessert during the evening. From these cases she now produces meringues in soft colours and from cupboards she collects small bottles, jars and trays. There’s a scent of burnt sugar as she paints the Italian meringue in soft strokes, using the flame from the burner. And when the dessert finally makes it to the table and the dessert chef tells us all about what’s on the plate I stop listening and just gape at the veritable cornucopia of goodies.

There were at least 20 different components on the dessert plate, each wonderful with flavours of local berries.

Learn more
Chef’s table at Icehotel is available for bookings throughout the winter season. Visit icehotel.com for more information.

Afterwards we slide off our chairs with some effort and thank everyone involved for a lovely evening.

Carl-Johan and I take a stroll back home, noting that it’s a thousand times better being in a real-life restaurant kitchen than watching it on the TV.

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