The moment you enter Kaptensgården you will feel that it’s not just an ordinary dining experience that awaits you. A 17th century farmstead. The smell of burning firewood in the fireplace. The kitchen worktop at the centre of the dining hall is where an eight course tasting menu will soon be prepared right in front of the guests. Kaptensgården’s Live Cooking concept is something extraordinary, indeed something quite different.
In the midst of the Gammelstad Church Town World Heritage just outside Luleå you will find Kaptensgården, one of the eleven restaurants in Luleå listed in the White Guide. At a well-preserved 17th century farmstead, regional flavours are prepared whilst guests watch. The concept is known as Live Cooking. Owner and chef Johan Thingvall invites you to share a story of raw ingredients picked, harvested, caught or hunted in the region. Live cooking is not only flavour, aroma and visuals but also knowledge about the origins of the ingredients and about local traditions and conditions.
All of the eight courses on the tasting menu are prepared in front of the guests on a kitchen worktop inside the dining hall. Live cooking means more than just food. Live cooking opens up your senses, piques your curiosity and it will be a journey through the more obscure flavours and ingredients from the region, things you will rarely experience at larger restaurants.
“Because we receive smaller groups we can also work more freely in a way that not many others can. We can use rare ingredients which we have picked, caught and hunted ourselves or sourced from truly small-scale producers in the remote corners of our region”, explains Johan Thingvall.
Swedish Lapland is much more than vendace roe, cloudberries and reindeer. Live cooking encompasses the small breeder of Japanese quail in the village of Yrttivara outside Gällivare, Arctic raspberries picked just around the corner and ptarmigan hunted in Arjeplog by Johan himself. Why not enjoy a beaver sausage, made from beaver which we have caught ourselves in the Råne River Valley?
As natural as it gets
Live cooking is as far away from anything pretentious or artificial as you can get. A more natural, relaxed and truly Swedish Lapland culinary experience is hard to find. You will feel invited, you will feel at home.
When chefs Johan Thingvall and Evelina Hultgren Woronin prepare the arctic char, they pick out the bones using tongs as guests watch. The boiling clarified butter, in which the fish is later confited, is standing on the kitchen worktop and filling the room with its aroma. The arctic char is served with cress, pickled cucumber and its own skin, salted and oven dried. The live cooking experience is in session. Courses are consecutive at a pleasant tempo, leaving room for both tasting and storytelling.
Vendace roe in beautiful quail egg shells, together with lemon juice, red onion and quail egg aioli, served on an aromatic bird’s nest of wood chippings. The ptarmigan is brought in on the kitchen worktop as a whole bird and its deep red fillet is lifted out of the white plumage in front of the guests. Using the meat, Johan and Evelina make ptarmigan steak tartare.
As the courses arrive, a telling silence fills the room. If anyone has any questions or queries, the chefs are always present in the dining hall with them.
“One guest from afar was curious about whether the building still stood in its original form. I had to explain that the exposed timber structure of the house dated back to the 17th century”, says Johan.
Neither pretentious nor artificial
The experience and the centuries-old craftsmanship is imbued in the flavours and within the walls. For the duration of the meal a cast iron pot has been standing in the fireplace. The kitchen staff bring it to the table, serving two kinds of reindeer. Slow-cooked ribs with almond potatoes and golden beet, as well as topside tender enough to melt in your mouth. Some of the vegetables were grown in Smedsbyn outside Luleå but the menu shifts across the seasons and fresh, local produce isn’t always a given here.
“Part of live cooking involves explaining to international guests that nothing grows here for large parts of the year. We provide them with a feeling for and an understanding of the local conditions and the impact they have had on our cuisine and our flavours”, says Johan.
Local culinary traditions also encompass the idea of making use of every little thing. Such as when the chefs make salmon soup with broth from fish heads and garnish it with dried fish skin. After six courses featuring eggs, fish, vegetables and wild game from the region, an acerbic, refreshing granita made with sea buckthorn from the forests of Luleå, awaits. Everything is rounded off with cloudberry ice cream, topped with milk chocolate creme and meringue, made with eggs from Orrbyn.
When the dinner is over you will have enjoyed eight unexpected, quite unique courses from throughout the region. You will have tasted, smelled, seen and followed the ingredients and the meals from waters, forests, farms and plants, to your plate. Kaptensgården’s concept is neither pretentious nor artificial in any way. It is difficult to find a truer, more lively or nuance-rich Swedish Lapland culinary experience. Cooked in front of guests, at a 17th century farmstead, in the middle of a medieval world heritage site.
Text: Viktor Johansson