An Australian chef living in Sweden, Simon Bajada is also a food photographer and author of The New Nordic – a beautifully shot cookbook full of pickled, smoked and sweet Scandinavian delights. He tells us about Swedish food, family life and shares a delicious recipe…
Simon Bajada lives with his wife Linda and their two sons Max and Leon in Stockholm, Sweden.
(This interview was originally published in December 2015, so some things may have changed)
Interview with Simon Bajada
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I grew up in South Australia. I was very lucky to grow up there in a beautiful home with a stunning coastline not too far away and the foothills only minutes away. The climate and size of Adelaide prompted a lot of outside time, exploring nature, which I have a lot of fond memories of.
What are your early memories of food and eating?
I remember visiting the Adelaide central market every Friday after school with my family. We would do a big shop then have dinner. There was a food hall with different cuisines from around the world, I used to love trying different things.
I also remember a particular moment in my childhood, I must have been 13, we were visiting an island in Greece with our family friends who were from the island. They had a local fisherman put on a lunch for us with that day’s haul, the crispy calamari and octopus I ate that day gave birth to my passion for food.
When did you start working with food?
Funnily enough, I started working with food next to an old Greek man on the grill at a famous seafood restaurant in Adelaide, that would have been back in 93 or 94.
So many chefs are – or would make – great photographers and the other way around
You’re a chef and a food photographer – is one a greater passion than the other?
It fluctuates – depending on what projects I’m working on. I believe they are two very similar professions. So many chefs are and would make great photographers and the other way around.
Can you describe Swedish food – what are the predominant flavours and textures?
Swedish food is tricky to explain, in the classic style there are many dishes that owe a lot to classic French but then there’s also the heavy consumption of prepared seafoods – smoked etc… One notable thing is that there tends to be subtle contrasts of sweet and sour in the dishes, sweetness appears more often than in other European cuisines.
Texturally it’s similar to other cuisines although I would say the New Nordic cooking focuses a lot on pickled produce and texture variety.
If you were to have Swedish food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – with snacks and drinks – what might you eat?
You could eat an open sandwich of sliced egg, cucumber and caviar for breakfast. For lunch a salad with grains and a yoghurt sauce, perhaps an iconic cinnamon bun for a snack and the classic meatballs with lingonberry jam and potatoes for dinner.
Wherever possible we try to avoid any processed food for the kids
Do you prepare the meals for your family, and how do you encourage your kids to have a healthy attitude towards eating?
I do a lot of the cooking! That’s my choice, not out of necessity. Wherever possible we try to avoid any processed food for the kids. It is hard because at their childcare they are given flavour-heavy foods so you have to match that naturally without the additives and high salt. We have developed a great routine of them eating fruits and nuts rather than high sugar content snacks.
Your book The New Nordic was published earlier this year, what was your aim; what did you want to offer people?
I wanted this book to give readers an insight in to Nordic cooking. I feel many people know of Scandinavian cuisine through Ikea meatballs and the success of Noma restaurant, between these two extremes is a huge scope of unique cooking for the home kitchen. I wanted to make people aware of that and outline for them the techniques and produce that make up the Nordic kitchen.
How did you find inspiration for the dishes in the book?
Working as a food photographer I’m constantly inspired by restaurants I visit. Dishes were inspired by my time here in Scandinavia and the places I have visited.
Can you share your favourite recipe from The New Nordic with us?
A simple one: ymer, ymerdrys and berries. It’s a good representation of classic nordic flavours. The yeasty sweet flavour of the crunchy baked rye bread, the sour yoghurt and sweet and sour fresh berries. Simple but delicious.
Ymer, ymerdrys and berries
Ymer is Denmark’s version of sour milk, but in this recipe you can use natural yoghurt instead. It is sprinkled with ymerdrys, a crunchy sweet topping made from Danish rye bread. As it is such an essential component of this recipe, make sure to use an authentic rye bread here, not a light, fluffy version. The bread’s malty and sweet taste is a perfect complement to the slightly sour ymer or yoghurt.
200 gram Rugbrød (rye bread – broken into large chunks)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
600 ml ymer or natural yoghurt
400 gms mixed fresh berries
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Pulse the bread in a food processor, gradually adding the sugar, until the consistency resembles loose soil.
Tip the mixture on to a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook in the oven for 10–15 minutes, so it takes on a rich brown colour. Watch closely in the last five minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray.
Enjoy sprinkled on top of ymer or yoghurt with some fresh berries.
Have you come across Simon Bajada and his brilliant recipes? Let us know your favourite in the comment section below…