Local Voice: Joakim Haglund, Head Chef, Himlen

Local Voice: Joakim Haglund, Head Chef, Himlen

In our series Local Voices, we’ll be introducing you to locals and some of their favourite things about Stockholm.

Photos by Lola A. Åkerström

Meet Joakim Haglund, Head Chef at panoramic restaurant Himlen. He’s originally from Stockholm and has been working at Himlen for the last five years.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I started working in a kitchen when I was 18 years old. I can’t really remember how I got interested but I had a friend who was working at a restaurant. I started by cleaning the dishes and thought that it was fun. From there I just moved up the ladder. I’ve been working quite a long time at each place I’ve worked at. I haven’t really changed jobs so many times.

I always focused on finding a place that I enjoyed working at and stayed there as I think that it’s important but also beautiful to know how everything works at a place, to have the opportunity to get to know your colleagues well and therefore feel secure in a workplace. Moreover, I studied economics as a back up plan in case I would get tired of cooking but the idea was to connect it to the restaurant and food industry as I’ve always been interested in the financial side of a restaurant or a business.

How would you describe your team?

They’re quite young but interested in what we do at Himlen and have devoted themselves to the profession so it’s easy to work with them. Even though we’ve always had problem finding good waiters, here in the kitchen it’s always been easy to find people. I’ve also worked a lot with culinary students. They get working experience here with us and when they eventually get a job in the kitchen the employers know that they’re capable and the new chefs know what to expect.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

To make sure that everybody does their own job and that it’s done right. It starts with the kitchen and eventually with everyone else in the restaurant. Usually this has to do with people being inexperienced or uninterested. Not just in the kitchen but also at the restaurant as a whole. There are a lot that can go wrong that eventually shouldn’t.

What’s Himlen’s “signature dish”?

I’m not sure that there’s one. They all seem to be so different. After all, we have one type of restaurant upstairs at the Lounge that is quite different than the kind of food we serve here at the Matsal. At the Lounge we serve lunch that’s mainly traditional Swedish dishes and then the dinner menu resembles that of a bistro or brasserie.

Quick and easy but also something that people like. At the Matsal, we still serve classics but with a twist that nevertheless doesn’t make the food weird. I believe that it’s important that we serve food that people are familiar with. And since it’s pricey, it’s even more important that people get their money’s worth when they leave from here. I want them to know that there were good ingredients on their plates.

What’s Himlen’s menu inspired by?

It’s mainly Swedish cuisine but also French and partly Spanish and Italian. That makes our menu very international or European indeed. But it’s mainly inspired by a classic way of cooking, fundamentally French executed in a Swedish way. We also try to follow the seasons and see what’s good and available in the market.

How often does the menu change?

At the Matsal, we change it every January. Maybe April or May and then at some point during the fall we change some of the dishes. It depends. I do have my own style when it comes to the menu but it’s also a collaboration between the others that work here too. We discuss and then maybe someone has an idea that could or couldn’t work with our menu. To understand the menu, it’s important to understand the place and then find balance. You can’t cook everything.

Do you have a favourite ingredient?

Butter.

Tons of food is being thrown away every year. What’s your advice for a more sustainable attitude towards food?

That’s a difficult question. Especially if you think of what’s thrown away from the dishes. Different places have different rules when it comes to garbage disposal. Stockholm is quite bad at this. Here we could do better but it’s also a matter of space and lack of time. I actually think that there should be more regulations regarding this matter.

How would you describe the restaurant business in Stockholm?

The restaurant world has developed incredibly much this past year. There are good restaurants in Stockholm and the standard is good. A never-ending problem, at least the past year, has been the lack of staff. Qualified staff. There’re those who do it for a while and then they quit. Look at the waiters in Paris for example. They’re so proud. That’s what’s missing in Stockholm. To feel engaged is very important. And I believe that guests can also feel it.

It feels that there’re more men than women in kitchens. Why?

I don’t know. I find it interesting that a lot of women become pantry chefs (those who specialize in cold dishes such as appetizers and salads). Then most of the interns we get are often male. But it is a general problem in the industry, in all positions. Lately, there’s been more and more women but the majority is still men. Moreover, when I started you wouldn’t hear that much about harassments at least not in the way that we keep reading about it lately. That could possibly scare people. If women feel that that’s the situation in every restaurant kitchen, then they’d think that’s not a place they want to work at.

What advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?

That he or she enjoys doing it from the beginning. It’s not like any other profession. The hours are bad, it’s quite badly paid and it’s stressful. If you don’t think that it’s fun then you won’t be able to cope later on. If you think that it’s fun, then you’ll constantly try to improve. Last but not least, it’s important that you find a place where you want to work at.

If you go to a place where you don’t belong then of course it will be disappointing. To be surrounded by people that are ambitious and engaged keeps you going. There’re different types of restaurants so find the one that works best for you. Then find a good mentor that is willing to teach you. I want my staff to know that I’m also here, that I also do the same work and I’m open to show them and teach them so that they become better.

That’s my philosophy.


Do you know any local voices you’d love us to spotlight or would you love to share your voice and your Stockholm with us? Please get in touch.

Author: Christie Petrakopoulou

Christie Petrakopoulou is a journalist from Athens. Currently based in Stockholm, Christie believes in the power of story-telling and wants to inspire people by narrating the stories of others. She is a dance and film enthusiast, food lover, social media addict and travel junkie that lives for the moment. Follow her on her blog or Instagram.

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