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Florencia Abella
Florencia Abella is head chef at restaurant Ekstedt. The restaurant specialises in Nordic cuisine, with seasonal ingredients and Swedish flavors, cooked over open fire.
Photo credit: David Back/Ekstedt

The female chefs at the top of Swedish cuisine

Current innovations in Swedish cuisine are being spearheaded by a crop of influential chefs.

The world of Swedish cuisine is being boosted by a powerful army of female chefs, each with a unique approach. In addition to heading kitchens at some of Sweden’s best restaurants, these chefs are keen to share their expertise and inspire others to cook more sustainably via food camps, courses and TV shows.

Here are the chefs making waves:

Frida Nilsson – MJ’s, Malmö

Malmö restaurant MJ’s former head chef Frida Nilsson is a major force within Swedish cuisine. Apart from A-level studies at Ängelholms Gymnasieskola’s hotel and restaurant programme, she has also completed a one-year sommelier programme. Before joining MJ’s in 2017, Nilsson cut her teeth at renowned restaurants such as Gastrologik in Stockholm and was a member of the 2013 Swedish National Chefs Team (Svenska Kocklandslaget). Specialising in New Nordic cooking, she has a particular fondness for seasonal vegetables and cooks them innovatively with a Mediterranean twist, infused with compelling flavour. The menu at MJ’s – studded with dishes such as beet, broccoli and char tartare – is based on whichever local, seasonal produce is available. Shared dishes make up the bulk, to encourage the sort of relaxed, social dining experience Nilsson advocates. In 2021, Frida Nilsson took on a new role within the ESS Group, which operates MJ's and a number of other restaurants and hotels in Sweden. She is now responsible for the sustainable development of all restaurants within the group.

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Frida Nilsson at MJ's

Frida Nilsson is head chef at MJ’s in Malmö. She has specialized in New Nordic cooking with a Mediterranean twist.

Photo: Christian Anderssson

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Frida Nilsson at MJ's

Photo: Christian Anderssson

Dish at Restaurant MJ's, Malmö

Photo: Christian Anderssson

Hotel and restaurant MJ's in Malmö

Photo: MJ's

Titti Qvarnström – founder of Pure Food Camp and Bloom in the Park, Malmö

Skåne-based Titti Qvarnström – Sweden’s first female Michelin-starred chef – has fingers in many pies. Since leaving Bloom in the Park in 2017 – the Malmö restaurant she founded in 2009, and which earned her that treasured star in 2015 – she’s been on a mission to inspire awareness about sustainable Swedish cuisine via her company Qvarnström Gastronomi. Taking full advantage of Mother Nature’s pantry, she shares her expertise on the Nordic style of cooking via her Pure Food Camp experiences, where she teaches guests to forage and cook freshly harvested ingredients over an open fire. The type of dishes Qvarnström excels at feature simple but unexpected ingredients such as cod and rhubarb. As the Michelin team put it, her creations are “visually appealing, creative and modern”.

Titti Qvarnström

Titti Qvarnström is the founder of Pure Food Camp. The Michelin-awarded chef teaches the participants to forage and cook their meals over an open fire.

Photo: Caroline Södergren

Sofia B Olsson – Vrå, Gothenburg

Through her Japanese-inspired Nordic restaurant Vrå, Sofia B Olsson is determined to bring sustainability into the industry. Olsson and her staff collect vegetables from their rooftop garden at the Clarion Hotel in Gothenburg or from local organic farmers in Västergötland. Similarly, the fish and shellfish come from wild populations off the local coastline and the meat from high welfare producers. Based on seasonal produce, the menu is a flexible affair. Plant-based options include dishes such as Chirashi sushi with hay-smoked grilled aubergine, mushrooms and soy and sesame mayonnaise. For seafood lovers, Olsson offers sashimi of scallop with white soy and pear. Before co-founding Vrå in 2012, she cut her teeth in the kitchens of Café Hängmattan, Musikens Hus, Basement and Norda. Her reputation spread after taking part in the major TV show, Kockarnas Kamp (Battle of the chefs) in 2018. The same year, Olsson was named “Sustainable innovator of the year” by the key sustainability network Hållbara Restauranger.

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Sofia B Olsson at restaurant Vrå

Sofia B Olsson is head chef at restaurant Vrå, a Japanese-inspired Nordic restaurant, that offers a sustainable menu based on seasonal produce.

Photo: Clarion Hotel Post

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Sofia B Olsson at restaurant Vrå

Photo: Clarion Hotel Post

Restaurang VRÅ at Clarion Hotel Post

Photo: Clarion Hotel Post

Restaurang VRÅ at Clarion Hotel Post

Photo: Clarion Hotel Post

Desirée Jaks – Spesso, Stockholm

Trained at Stockholms Internationella Restaurangskola (Stockholm’s International Restaurant School) and with a CV studded with renowned restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Agrikultur, Desirée Jaks is one of Sweden’s youngest star chefs (born in 1995). With a knack for refining simple produce and adding playful twists to classic cuisine, she was appointed head chef at Stockholm restaurant Spesso in 2020. Here, she offers modern Italian fare with the innovative spirit for which she’s known. Jaks’ philosophy is firmly rooted in the use of local, seasonal produce and she has a particular penchant for vegetables – filling plates with a sizeable proportion of greens. Dishes include creamed ricotta gnocchi with sweetheart cabbage, and lobster ravioli with spinach. As for the origins of her culinary passion, Jaks – who has competed with the prestigious Stockholm Culinary Team – credits her Polish grandmother’s skills in the kitchen, and her encouragement to experiment with ingredients and spices to enhance the simplest of produce.

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Desirée Jaks

Desirée Jaks is the head chef at restaurant Spesso in Stockholm.

Photo: Sofia Wahlström

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Desirée Jaks

Photo: Sofia Wahlström

Desirée Jaks at Spesso

Photo: Sofia Wahlström

Marion Ringborg & Linn Söderström – Garba, Stockholm

Marion Ringborg and Linn Söderström are a strong duo who regularly display their culinary skills on television, and also have a cookbook under their collective belt – “Snacks, sallad, pasta & dessert”. The book sums up their focus on sustainable ingredients and fuss-free recipes, such as potato filled with smoked fish and crème fraîche. In 2017, the pair launched the mobile dining concept Garba in central Stockholm – serving up an Italian-inspired menu based on seasonal produce, as well as baked goods made on the premises. Having trained in the hotel and restaurant school in Järfälla, Ringborg traces her inspiration to growing up in a large family where food was the glue that kept everyone together. She also credits her time working in London for turbo-charging her learning and giving her the confidence to set up on her own. Söderström, meanwhile, honed her skills at top Stockholm restaurants such as Street, Operakällaren and Ekstedt, and scored a third place in the prestigious TV show Kockarnas Kamp (Battle of the chefs) in 2016.

Marion Ringborg and Linn Söderström at Garba

The chefs Marion Ringborg and Linn Söderström are the creators of the conceptual pop-up restaurant Garba in Stockholm. Garba has an Italian-inspired menu based on seasonal produce.

Photo: Alexander Skeppling

Emma Shields – By Emma Shields, Stockholm

Having developed a passion for cooking in her grandmother’s kitchen, Emma Shields enjoyed showing off her culinary skills even as a high school kid growing up in the village of Boxholm. Among the many accolades she’s received since include a silver medal in the 2019 edition of Kockarnas Kamp and the 2018 Rising Star award from Swedish restaurant bible White Guide. In 2015, she reached the finals of the major Swedish competition Årets Kock (Chef of the year). Many prestigious restaurants feature on her CV, including Djuret, Oaxen Krog, Omakase Köttslöjd and Restaurang Flickan. Shields’ food philosophy is centred on Nordic cuisine, but embraces spices and flavours from all over the world. She strives to work with sustainable ingredients and is always keen to minimise waste in the kitchen. At her 2020 pop-up restaurant Folk – set up as part of her own multi-pronged foodie brand By Emma Shields – she created Swedish cuisine that sums up her ethos well. Think roast carrot with yoghurt and Gotlandic lentil, and pork served with root vegetable mash and horseradish.

Emma Shields

Award-winning chef Emma Shields has her own foodie brand 'By Emma Shields'.

Photo: By Emma Shields

Article sponsored by

EU and Swedish Board of Agriculture