The secret behind Swedish chef Ebbe Vollmer’s two Michelin stars lies within a 10-mile radius of his restaurant. He forages for ingredients in and around the restaurant and takes pride in using local produce, whether he is cooking in his restaurant in Malmo, Sweden, or at a masterclass anywhere in the world. And when he can’t procure, like in “January when there is 30 cm of snow around”, he pickles and preserves produce. That is just one of the challenges in the uphill task of getting the much-coveted Michelin star. “I guess it’s all about consistency and passion when it comes to the Michelin (star),” Vollmer responds simply, when we ask him what it takes to be awarded such an honour, not once but twice. Vollmer was in India for a week, and held a masterclass at The Lodhi Hotel in New Delhi in collaboration with the Swedish Embassy.
He admits to being shocked when he got the news about the award, saying, “We weren’t prepared for it; it was very humbling to be on the list.” As per him, having a vision for the restaurant played a very important role in his journey to being featured in the Michelin Guide. When we ask him about the secret to his success, he says he ensures that his team keeps working towards its goal even after receiving recognition for its work. His brother and business partner, Mats, pitches in at this point, adding, “We constantly evolved, we constantly changed small things in the restaurant. We improved our skills and got more experience in the things we wanted to do.”
The brothers, who have worked independently for years, only found their true calling once they visited their hometown five years ago. They rehashed their grandmother’s recipes they had learnt as boys and earned quite a name for themselves in the Nordic countries. The brothers say they were being inspected for around a year before receiving their first award. “You have to remember, you get the Michelin for how you cooked a year ago, it’s not how you cook today,” Vollmer reveals.
So does he think any Indian restaurant is worthy of getting a Michelin star, even though the Guide is not in place in the country right now? “I think the spices need to be toned down because a balanced dish is very important,” Vollmer says, explaining how the Scanian cuisine, which he specialises in, is different from Indian cuisine. “There should be more sensitivity towards the ingredients, rather than the spices, to create a smooth flavour,” he suggests.
He gives the example of comparatively newer places that will soon get the Michelin Guide, like Singapore and Macau, and how they, too, need to cut back on spices. On his experience in India, Vollmer reveals he tried out several fruits and vegetables, names of some he couldn’t even pronounce. His favourite Indian dish, however, is the dosa, as he thinks it’s a plain-tasting flat bread, but one that can pack tremendous flavours on the side.
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Among Indian ingredients, lentil flours have caught his fancy the most. “We don’t use a lot of it, we stick to wheat and rice flour. I’m surely going to take it back and see how I can put it to use in my kitchen,” he gushes. Letting everyone in on an important culinary tidbit during the masterclass, Vollmer said, “Food tastes different everywhere. Even when you catch fish, the halibut from Sweden and the halibut from India will be very different. The taste depends a lot on the water.”
But whether it was Crispy Potato Cake with Smoked Sour Cream and Salted Fish, Pan Fried Loin of Lamb with Charred Leeks and Pickled Green Tomatoes or the dessert of Lingonberry Apples with a Light Cream Cheese Mousse, we loved every dish Vollmer prepared.