INTERVIEW WITH IVAN JURMAN OWNER AND HEAD CHEF OF KV. ÅKERN.
Since opening its doors in February of 2015, Kv. Åkern has built a reputation for exceptional food at an affordable price. We talked to owner Ivan about his mission to breathe new life into the traditional neighbourhood tavern.
What was the inspiration for opening your own restaurant?
Working for other people has given me a lot of ideas and when this venue became available, I decided to refine my skills and open my own place. It used to be another restaurant here, and the whole place had to be redecorated to get it looking the way I wanted, including moving the kitchen, lowering the ceiling and building a new bar. I had an idea of how I wanted it to feel, and thankfully my girlfriend is very good with interior design - all the details in here are her handiwork.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a chef.
Up until the age of 25, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I worked odd jobs as things like a furniture mover, factory worker and telephone marketer before I discovered cooking through an adult education course. I fell in love with it, and contrary to all those other things I used to do, I realised I could work with food and actually enjoy it. Having a late start in my career and thinking other chefs my age were so much better, I knew I had to work hard. In order to gain experience, I offered to work for free at reputable restaurants around town - not a lot of places would turn down that opportunity. The first restaurant I approached was Atmosfär, rated as the 12th best restaurant in Sweden at the time, followed by Smak at Malmö Konsthall. In order to support myself financially, I worked at a place called Pub 25 on the weekends. It went on for about a year and a half and it was hard work, but an invaluable step in my career.
What would you like Kv. Åkern to be known for?
I like what Johan from Solde said in his recommendation, that this is a place with a good atmosphere. I want people to walk by, look through the windows and be attracted to come in and sit down. Naturally, to be known for good food is always important. This is a neighbourhood tavern, which doesn’t always evoke the best impression in Sweden as people often associate it with crappy food, but this is the kind of restaurant I’d want in my neighbourhood.
We heard that you wait tables as well as cooking. How does that work?
It’s such a small place so everyone has to contribute to everything. We can’t have people just cooking, or just waiting. We all have to help out everywhere and do what is needed whether that’s dishes or waiting on tables; it’s a collective effort. Customers like it when the kitchen staff interact with the guests, since we know everything about the food we’re serving.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t get a lot of advice, I must say, I just work hard and I’m not afraid to be humble. During my training, I had to let younger people boss me around due to the simple fact that they knew more than I did at the time. If I could pass on my own advice it would be: ‘just suck it up, do what it takes and leave your ego out of it’.
You recently won an award for the best vegetarian restaurant here in Malmö. What’s the secret behind your vegetarian food?
There’s no secret. I cook as I’ve always cooked, minus the meat. By learning the basics, you have freedom to do whatever you want - it’s as simple as that. Here at Kv. Åkern, we focus on vegetarian food, however, it wasn’t my intention to open a vegetarian restaurant, but rather to open a place that serves good food at a reasonable price. My way of doing that is to serve good food without the excess of expensive meats. I can serve a 4-course dinner for 350 kr and still be able to make a decent margin. It makes it much more affordable for everyone.
This is great. We recently interviewed Saltimporten Canteen where you can get a high standard lunch for less than 100 kr…
...and what they’ve done is to strip it down to the bare essentials. They focus on the food - and in their case the bread - that’s why they can keep the prices down. When places include salad buffets and coffee, the price naturally goes up. More restaurants could be cheaper if they just did what they’re really good at - the plate of food.
This is an evening restaurant, but are you planning to extend the opening hours?
No. I think that would wear a bit too much on the staff, and the place itself, running it from noon till midnight. We don’t have much room either, just seventy square metres, so we have a limitation on how much food we can store, which in one way is good since it forces us to get fresh produce every day.
People come here for your creative dishes. How do you plan your menus and where do you get your ingredients from?
We take what’s in season and find what works together. Carrot, for example, goes well with sesame seed and smoked butter, then we find a way to incorporate it in a dish. We work a lot with root vegetables, which surprises certain people, since it’s generally considered simple food. Here in Skåne, it's quite common to use root vegetables in fancy cooking, probably thanks to a chef called Tomas Dreijing, who experimented a lot with root vegetables around twenty years ago. He was a great source of inspiration to many chefs and I’d call him something like ‘the grandfather of cooking’ in this area. I haven’t worked for him personally but have worked for people who have, so perhaps some of my style has descended from him.
At Kv. Åkern, we change the menu over a two-week period, which means that there typically is a new dish every two days. We try to get the best we can get for our money from suppliers like Frukt & Grönsakshallen, Bondens Skafferi, Lindegrens and Kongsbak. For more specialised products we use smaller suppliers - our sardines for example come from an excellent supplier of Spanish goods.
You’ve been open for a little over a year. Is there any night that sticks out a bit extra?
Our opening was special, but to be honest I think all the evenings are kind of special. My girlfriend and I have tried to build a timeless place to enjoy for a long time, and I think we have succeeded. Sometimes when I walk back through the door after fetching a bit of air on a busy evening, I realise what a good place this is. The customers are enjoying themselves and it’s cozy and warm - it’s a nice feeling.
Who comes here to eat?
I’d say our average customers are between 25 and 55. I thought we’d mainly get people in their mid-20’s who live at Möllevången, seeing as our main focus is reasonably priced vegetarian food, but they still haven’t found us. With that said, we’ve been fortunate to have some good press and that goes a long way here in Malmö.
What other place in Malmö would you like to recommend?
There is an excellent restaurant in Gamla väster called Västergatan. The owners Sofie and Olle opened about six months ago and have built a wonderful place - and they serve the best seafood in town.
Nobelvägen 73b, 214 33 Malmö
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