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Danish couple awarded Destination of the Year for unique, holistic ”lifestyle lab” in the middle of nowhere
Stedsans in the woods offers sauna bath, six course dinner and a cabin sleepover out in the forest.
Flemming Schiøtt Hansen worked with marketing, logistics and economics before quickly realizing that working in a big company was not for him.
— I quit my job and went on my first of many seasons skiing. When I came back my brother who is a trained chef (I am not) started a restaurant. I helped him getting started — working as a waiter. I knew very little about the restaurant business and it was actually not until the opening day when the white table cloths and the wine glasses came on the tables that I realized that we had created a fine restaurant. That restaurant, back in the late 90’s, was probably the most all-in farm to table restaurant of its time in Denmark. Getting stuff from the forest, local lakes and dairies and butcheries with their own live stock was not normal at that time. I remember the first time I tasted a carrot that tasted like a carrot. It was a shocking experience. Maybe it’s because of that carrot that I am doing what I do today, he says, continuing,
— I worked with very good people. Every month we visited high end restaurants. I could see that they had twice as many people working in the kitchen as there were in my brother’s, but the ingredients were not of the same quality. And neither were the dishes. For me few hands on the food is a sign of quality. A carrot tastes best just after pulling it out of the soil. The more you process it the less carrot you get.
Schiøtt Hansen opened his first restaurant in 2002, a bistro kind of restaurant based on the philosophy that he’d learned from his brother.
— The problem was that I knew a lot about ingredients and combinations, but I knew nothing about temperature and timing. I had never learned to cook at home. Frankly, I couldn’t fry an egg. In 2010 I was offered to take over functions in an old mason. I decided that this was my chance to learn to work in a kitchen. I made menus based on ultra simple dishes that even I could cook. Mostly cold dishes and braised meat. Dishes that could not go wrong. At the same time my wife, Mette Helbæk, started a veggie store getting greens directly from the farmers same day as they were harvested. We chose the products only by taste, but the fact was that all ingredients in that store was either biodynamic or organic. At the same time a very thorough friend of ours who had studied nutrition for 20 years told me that we always ate so healthy. I understood that what tastes better is better — for ourselves and our surroundings. And that’s when food became a political project. We got quite a lot of attention for our approach to clean food. When we opened our restaurant Stedsans on the roof top it went bananas. With 2 gas burners and a small oven in an ultra simple outdoor kitchen we served 6 courses for 50 guests per night. When we opened up for bookings we laid down the booking system. It took us 20 minutes to sell tickets for an entire month. That gave us the base to fulfill a 10 year dream of mine. To come out and live in true nature, foraging and farming as natural as possible.
When Schiøtt Hansen and Helbæk decided to leave the city and were looking for a new, remote spot in Sweden, they had three criteria for the place: it should be an old forest in balance by a lake and where you can’t hear a car.
— It took us 1,5 years to find the perfect spot.
They ended up in the middle of nowhere, out in the forest on the border between the Småland and Halland region in the southwest parts of Sweden, to open Stedsans in the woods.
— Here we grow by regenerative principles and forage a lot. It is a holistic project where we encapsulate our guests in true nature. It’s a resort with simple yet luxurious cabins, a primitive cool spa area by the lake and a restaurant that is totally off the grid. We don’t use toxic chemicals at all so everything can be recycled. The veggies that we serve were in the soil same day as being served and we only cook with fire. The restaurant is outdoor, but under a tent roof and with plexiglas as a wind shield. But you are outdoors. You are heated with hot water bottles, sheep skin and woolen blankets. We work seriously with food and wines, so it’s a mix of high end and something very rough. We try to inspire and learn how we can live a very good and yet truly sustainable life. I will actually say that it tastes and feels good because it’s sustainable — not despite of it, says Schiøtt Hansen.
Last week, you were awarded Destination of the Year 2019 by Di Weekend. What’s so unique about Stedsans in the woods?
— It is the only restaurant that I know of where vitality is so much in focus. Stuff that has been harvested the same day tastes and feels better. That is also the reason why we do everything a la minute. We don’t cool down or reheat. If you get a beurre blanc or a pesto we start making it 10 minutes before serving. We can only do that because we cook so simple — and because I have an education in logistics. For me it’s a matter of focus. We don’t strive for error free or classical principles for fine dining. You eat together with other people at a community table, you only get 2 wine glasses and if they are not empty when we serve the 3rd wine you either need to shoot or pour it out in the forest floor. But we serve serious wines and are good at food-wine pairings. Another thing that I believe differentiates us from other restaurants is that it’s clean food and there is nothing refined in the food at all. Except from very few ingredients — pepper is one of them — we know the history of every ingredient and there is very rarely more than one middleman between Stedsans and the primary producer. We stay 100% true to our beliefs and do things our way. We don’t consider what’s expected or what gives good ratings. I have Mette’s amazing eye followed up by a lot of people following us on social media, an amazing loyal tribe of guests who keep coming back so we can do exactly what we want. But we always do it with high integrity. Stedsans can’t be translated directly to English, but it means something like sense of location. It’s a combination of place and sense. It’s our way to play with the French term ”terroir” which means something like micro climate, soil, traditions, weather and more.
What’s most appreciated by the guests?
— Most of them come because of the food, wine and atmosphere in the restaurant, but once the guests arrive in the forest something happens. The heart beats slower. I think that the experience of being reconnected with nature is what I love the most. It also goes for myself. My office is a beautiful forest and I can jump into the lake and have a swim just before service.
Do you have any other special projects coming?
— I always have 1000 ideas and projects going on. We are working on a 200 m2 insulated greenhouse heated by compost for next year. That will enable us to push the season considerably. I see that as an important part of Stedsans in the future. I actually see it as an important part of living everybody’s future up here in the cold north. I will even try to grow cumquats and lemons in the greenhouse. And that is a part of the project. We experiment a lot and we also fail a lot. But we also succeed a lot with our crazy projects, says JSchiøtt Hansen. He adds:
— The beautiful solution to almost all problems in this world will be solved when we start to grow a significant part of our own food. Food meters in stead of food miles. It’s the easy, low tech solutions. It tastes and feels better. It increases biodiversity, biomass, health, taste, resilience and it reduces packaging, water usage, transport, poison, food waste, co2 — everything. We can fix everything tomorrow and we don’t need to wait for our leaders to do it. War is over if we want to.StedsansStedsans in the woodsFlemming Schiøtt HansenMette HelbækDI WeekendDi Weekend Årets resmål 2019