The Common Flame: Open Fire Cooking in Sweden

“Charcoal and smoke are our most favorite tools. No electric griddle, no gas stove—only natural heat, soot, ash, smoke and fire.”

—from the Ekstedt manifesto

Open fire cooking is one of humanity’s oldest innovations. It brings us together not just for making a meal, but for sharing moments full of laughter, stories, and learning about tradition.

In this edition of The Common Flame, we continue to discover cultures around the world united by our common connection: cooking over an open flame. Join us as we head north to learn about a chef who brought traditional, open fire cooking techniques to his Michelin-starred restaurant in Sweden.

Niklas Ekstedt 📸 by Helen Pe

When Niklas Ekstedt, head chef at Ekstedt restaurant in Stockholm, was given the opportunity to start his own restaurant by a local group of restaurateurs, he knew he needed to bring something fresh to the Swedish restaurant scene. As most Stockholmers do during the summer months, Niklas retreated to his summer cabin in the woods with no electricity. There he cooked on an antique cast iron stove. After cooking on the stove the whole summer, Niklas was struck with the idea of taking Nordic cuisine back to its roots of open fire cooking, something he believed Swedish restaurants had forgotten. With that concept, Ekstedt was born.

How does a top-rated contemporary restaurant get away with not using electricity in the kitchen? It’s all about technique and simplicity. “In Sweden,” Niklas says in an interview about Restaurant Ekstedt, “we’re obsessed with new technologies . . . That means a lot of old techniques are being forgotten, and my team and I are trying to breathe new life into them.” When looking back on human history, we’ve cooked without electricity for a lot longer than with it. Because they work with roaring open flames, Niklas’ recipes take less time to prepare, so ingredients are at a minimum. Their primary focus is smoking, which brings out the full flavor of their ingredients.

From the Ekstedt kitchen 📸 by Per Meurling

The most important thing for Niklas and his restaurant, even more than the flavor of his food, is reminding his customers of their own memories of gathering around an open fire to cook with their friends and families. 

“When people come into the restaurant and they see the fire . . . they always refer to great things like the magical moments when they were in the mountains . . . The fire has a unique way of telling the story. That’s what I love about this job.”

—Niklas Ekstedt

Cooking the Old Nordic Way

While you might not have access to your own antique wood-burning stove, here’s some traditional Nordic recipes you can do at home on a grill (maybe even the new Solo Stove Grill).

We even threw in a video where Niklas does a twist on Texas BBQ!

Nordic Fire-Grilled Salmon

Photo and recipe by At The Immigrant’s Table

Beef Rydberg

📸 by Max and Liz Haarala, Recipe by Niklas Ekstedt

Swedish BBQ Chicken

Recipe by Niklas Ekstedt