An interview with Ola Rudin, co-owner and chef at Saltimporten Canteen.
Nestled away in the old industrial area of Frihamnen is the not-so-secret spot for one of Sweden's best lunch destinations. When entertaining guests in our beautiful city, Saltimporten has been our safe bet for an impressive lunch, and the critics agree. We talked to co-owner Ola Rudin about the secret to Saltimporten Canteen's success.
What’s the story behind Saltimporten Canteen? Why did you decide to start in the first place?
From the very beginning, Sebastian (co-founder) and I were running a fine dining place called Trio, which we sold in 2011. During that time, we were asked by some international food journalists to do cooking events after opening hours and we needed a new place. We started out by renting a gallery space at the old salt import building in the harbour, an industrial space under construction to become office spaces. It was during one of these cooking events that we were asked by Jonas Lindvall, one of the designers and business owners there, if we were interested in running a restaurant in one of their spaces. The initial idea was to have cooking events and catering for functions, but then the whole construction process was delayed by a year and we were thinking about what to do in the meantime, so we said ‘let’s do lunches for people in the building to introduce ourselves’. We got to borrow one of the empty spaces and managed to get a cable through a hole in the wall with an extension cord to our warm water bath for our 'meal of the day'. We did our preparations by the race tracks in Jägersro and went back and forth every day, which was exhausting but fun. And that’s the story of how we became a lunch place in addition to the other events. We went from 20 to 150 people a day and then we got a review in Sydsvenskan, and have been moving forward ever since.
When was this? When exactly did you open?
We opened for real in March 2012.
The restaurant is quite far off for people who don’t work in that area. So how many people actually make it out there for lunch?
It depends on the season. During summer time it’s a lot more people biking or walking, which adds on a little extra, but it’s somewhere between 150 to 250 per day.
How do you plan your weekly lunch menus?
We start with the ingredients. We have close connections with local producers, with good quality meat, fish and vegetables. We start with what’s available and of high quality, and then we write the menu. Not the other way around.
What’s on the menu now?
July and August up until December is the best season in Sweden, when you can get pretty much anything. During the winter season, from December all the way to April - May, cabbage and kale are wonderful ingredients, together with root vegetables. We try to follow the seasons as much as possible and only cook with local ingredients, with what’s available and best at the moment.
We heard you sourced some of your vegetables from Rosengård…
Exactly, it’s called ‘Odla i Stan’ (‘city grown’), which is a group of people who grow vegetables in an unused space in the Malmö area. We get local produce from people we know, and it is for great cause - I think it’s a wonderful thing to support.
You have a very local focus. Was that intentional, or did it just happen?
We started to think like that when we had our previous restaurant, and then we built a big network with producers and it just felt natural for us to keep going. We sometimes add Asian or Mexican flavours, but we use the local ingredients as much as possible.
We’re quite curious about the decor of the place. Who in Malmö do you collaborate with?
We like to work with like-minded people, who have the same aesthetic feel in the things they’re doing. The plates, for example, are made by a ceramicist recommended to us. We went there with a plate and said ‘we want something that looks kind of like this, and a little like that, but a bit more natural’. She ended up making a hundred handmade plates for us. That became a big signature for Saltimporten. And now, for good or bad, half of the city use similar plates.
What is the thinking behind the style of the place?
We want the style to be a reflection of our harbour surroundings, so no fancy stuff that would feel out of place in an industrial canteen. The main focus is the technique and the quality of ingredients on the plate, and then the rest is just clean, simple, minimalistic and industrial. We think about the canteen as a living space, where we can add things as time goes on, which opens up the door for collaborations with other people. If someone we like comes up with a good idea, we say, ‘go for it’. There is a lamp in the corner for example, made by a guy who's a regular and asked us to exhibit the lamp. It’s always nice to get in contact with creative people, learn new things and appreciate what other people are doing.
What’s the daily schedule at Saltimporten Canteen?
On average, we have between two and four events every week, on top of our lunch service. There are a lot of preparations with the bookings and the events throughout the year - next summer is already fully booked when it comes to weddings. This means long hours, but we’re used to that from our previous jobs. We’re trying to get more staff involved, but there is always a startup process when you open a new place.
What’s important when building your team?
The most important thing is that you have fun while working. That’s better than any recommendation. People need to share our passion for food.
Who decides what the food is going to look like? How does it end up like that on the plate?
We have a basic idea when we plan the week, then we try to make it look as natural as possible. This is quite the opposite to some fine dining restaurants that work with straight lines and small dots, but nature really is a great source of inspiration. On our plates you’ll get a natural feel, both in look and taste.
...and still at quite a decent price.
That goes hand in hand with how we want it to look and how we want it to feel. The main focus is the main quality ingredient of the dish, then the rest is just extra. We put all the money into the ingredients and the rest is presentation.
Are there any more opportunities for you to branch out?
We get asked a lot about opening new places around Malmö, but a lot of them require heavy investments and we’re not quite there yet. For now, we want to focus on Saltimporten Canteen.
What other place would you like to recommend in Malmö and why?
Solde Kaffebar. It’s one of the first quality coffee places in Malmö that is still going strong. We’ve known them for a long time, they have wonderful coffee and they’re doing great things in the city.
211 20 Malmö
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