Forager & Chef - Niki Sjölund
Niki Sjölund does not have your typical 9 to 5 office job. In fact, most of the time you would find him trekking through the forest, foraging for delicious wild Nordic delicacies. Niki is a professional forager and forest enthusiast, who locates and sustainably sources wild ingredients for restaurants in Stockholm. From cloudberries to mushrooms, to more unusual edible flowers and herbs that can be found in the pristine Swedish forests, Niki knows exactly when and where to find nature’s bountiful gifts.
Niki grew up in Swedish Lapland, in a small community called Åsele. Here nature is formed of big high mountains, miles of rugged old forest and many beautiful lakes to fish in. As a 20 year-old, Niki moved to Stockholm to start working as a chef, but, having had two children and after about 10 years in the industry, he decided to take a slightly different path.
After developing a keen interest in nature, and also a knowledge and understanding of the restaurant world's interest in sourcing wild, sustainable, local ingredients. “Being self-employed is very rewarding, but can be challenging – especially when your boss is mother nature herself!” Niki told us. “However, the excitement is that you can never know exactly what you will find on each day in the forest.”
The availability of ingredients of course varies with the changing seasons in the Nordic region. That means again that Niki sees plenty of variety in his job. From the first, delightful green shoots of spring, to the falling leaves and ruby-red colours of autumn, life and scenery in the forest is forever changing. Of all the ingredients that Niki hunts for, Hjortron (cloudberries) is one of his favourites. It is known, for its rarity and colour, as ‘Nordic Gold’.
Niki works with a number of top Swedish restaurants, including Gastrology in Stockholm. The restaurant has the motto "Let the producers decide", which is a very interesting and progressive approach! I work with them a lot, including helping to source ingredients for their tasting menu. They are so flexible and changes the menu each day according to what is available. As well as supplying to restaurants, Niki also holds lectures, and offers guided foraging trips to individuals and corporate groups.
Although now based in Stockholm, Niki is very fond still of the Lapland region: “I love the wonderful nature that is up there – the marshlands with cranberries and cloudberries, and with the Tricholoma matsutake mushrooms growing in the tree tops. Also Skåne, in the south of Sweden, has some beautiful nature and a wonderful selection of unusual but edible beach plants!"
Niki has written a book – ‘Vildplockat’, which roughly translates into English as ‘foraging’. As well as giving tips and advice on foraging for Scandinavia’s wild delicacies, the book is also a handbook of Sweden’s beautiful flora. It is based on Niki’s vast experience of the Nordic wilderness, and offers some great practical hints and tips!
After a recent trip with the whole family to the Caribbean and the French island of Martinique, Niki has decided to branch out his horizons. He is looking to explore the possibilities for foraging for wild delicacies in a tropical climate. Soon Niki will return again to Martinique for five month trip, coinciding with the Swedish winter, when the availability of ingredients for foraging in Sweden is reduced.
There could also be potentially a new book on the horizon covering Niki’s experiences in a very different climate – watch this space!
See more of Niki's foraging adventure at his instagram at: @neonatur