Sébastien Boudet: rolling in the ‘dough’ in Sweden

Frenchman Sébastien Boudet, a Stockholm-based pastry chef and baker, speaks with The Local about learning Swedish, breads, and being selected as a celebrity "Swede" radio host.

Sébastien Boudet: rolling in the 'dough' in Sweden

Sébastien Boudet is known for his passionate views on bread, a reputation which contributed to Sveriges Radio (SR) decision to name him as one of a select group of notable “Swedes” chosen to host this year’s annual national summer radio programme Sommar (“Summer”).

Boudet arrived in Sweden in the beginning of the 2000s and opened up his award-winning café Petite France in the Stockholm district of Kungsholmen in 2008.

In 2011, he announced that he was selling the shop to concentrate on hosting bakery courses across the country, to write a cookbook Den franske bagaren (“The French Baker”) — which was published in March 2012 — and to lead the Swedish struggle for the perfect sourdough bread.

The Local: So, why did you first come to Sweden?

Sébastien Boudet: Same reasons as most, I guess. For love. I got myself a one way ticket on the train from Paris and came to Sweden to join my girlfriend.

TL: What did you do at home?

SB: I had been moving around a bit actually, working in Spain and in the US as a chef prior to coming to Sweden.

TL: What did you do when you first came to Sweden?

SB: Well, my first priority was finding a job. Having lived in many different places before and always managing to find a job within a week or so, I was surprised to find that it was not that easy in Sweden. I went to restaurant after restaurant looking for employment but couldn’t find anything.

I also asked in bakeries – but they mainly made Swedish cakes which I – of course – was unfamiliar with. It wasn’t made easier by the fact that no hotels seemed to have their own in-house pastry chefs. Finally I found a job in a hotel as a chef de partie for fish – and of course I accepted it.

It took them a few days to realize that I had other skills and that I was actually a lot better with bread than with fish – and then I got to work as a pastry chef instead.

TL: How long did it take you to learn Swedish? Is that important for an expat?

SB: It probably took me about two years to become fluent in Swedish. It is very important to learn the language – that goes for any country – but I think in particular to be able to take part in Swedish culture you must learn to speak their language. A tone, a gesture, a joke – it is crucial to be able to share these things.

TL: How did you begin doing what you are doing now?

SB: The thing with me is that I am rather a chaotic person and tend to be doing a hundred things at the same time. And what I have been doing has been changing from the very beginning.

Ultimately I am a baker, but when I first opened my café in 2008, I might have baked 5,000 croissants in a day, making sure they were perfect to sell to customers. Today perhaps I make five perfect croissants, take a picture of them, sell the picture and the recipe to a magazine, and maybe 50,000 will taste them. It is the same job, but a different aspect of it.

TL: What was the easiest/most difficult thing with trying to ‘make it’ in Sweden?

SB: I guess it all depends on your profession, but I found that starting up a business was fairly easy in Sweden compared to France and other countries. Of course there is a lot of paperwork and things that have to be dealt with but everyone speaks English. Nothing is impossible here.

TL: What are the keys for an expat to ‘make it’ in Sweden?

SB: The keys to making it in Sweden are not to stress out about the language thing too much in the beginning. Get a job and let the language come naturally – because it will.

TL: What would be your advice to someone thinking about trying to start a company or do their own thing in Sweden?

SB: Go for it! If you have a good idea – a good concept – you should just do it. But make sure you work here for a bit first, learn from others and get an idea of the industry you want to break into.

TL: What do you like most about Sweden? What do you hate most?

SB: I love the nature, and the culture. There is also a respect for authorities such as the police and the fire brigade in this country which I think is lacking in many other places. Also, the fact that you can get in your car and be in the middle of a wood within 5-10 minutes.

The only thing I don’t like is the double-standards here which sometimes remind me of the US. People here may love the blueberries on their plate but not want to think about the living conditions of the Thai berry picker that harvested the berries.

TL: Here at The Local, we have an on-going feud regarding the word elk versus the word moose. How would you best translate the Swedish word älg to English? What about in French?

SB: I would probably go with moose – although I have to admit that it isn’t a word that I use in English very often. In French it’s élan – a bit nicer, no?

Sébastien Boudet’s blog is called Brödpassion (“Passion for bread”) and he can be heard speaking about Sweden – and why every loaf he bakes has its own soul – on Swedish national radio channel P1 on Saturday, July 14th at 1pm.

Rebecca Martin

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.