Mill Scale Goes to Sweden
Years ago, we crossed paths with Johan Fritzell, who has been a part of the Mill Scale story since day one, back in 2018. Johan is the owner of Holy Smoke BBQ in Höganäs, Sweden. He can be credited for bringing Central Texas BBQ to Europe and is very well known and respected abroad and here in the states. While operating a restaurant that looks and feels like it could be in any small town in Texas, he is also an importer, retailer, and manufacturing partner for our products. Over the past couple of years, we have planned a trip to visit him and his country several times. Those plans changed along with the rest of the world due to the pandemic, but the trip finally happened in mid-August this year.
My travel companions were my wife Annie, my brother Caleb, and his wife Shannel. We packed up and embarked on our journey, and after an unexpected 7-hour layover in Amsterdam, we finally arrived in Copenhagen where our host awaited us. We were greeted with hugs, laughter, and more hugs. On the drive to the village of Höganäs (about the same population of Lockhart and about 1.5 hours from Copenhagen) we were presented with the question: Do you want to go to the hotel and rest up, or go directly to get dinner and drinks? Since we had been up for almost 20 hours, we chose the responsible option to be dropped off at the hotel. Through his constant laughs, Johan quickly told us that we would have no time to go to the hotel. Since we were only in Europe for a week, this was the trip's theme. Turns out, you can do a lot in one day if you only get 5 hours of sleep. I mean, what would any pitmaster do in a similar situation? Nothing in Moderation.
The best part of that meal that awaited us was meeting Johan Åkerberg. There are two Johans, or Jo-One and Jo-Two as they say it. Johan Åkerberg is the culinary side of the partnership. We spent the evening diving deep in conversation about Nordic cooking traditions and techniques, and the incredible impact that Central Texas BBQ has played in everything that they do at their restaurant. After dinner, we went straight to Holy Smoke BBQ for our after-hours tour of the ultimate destination of our trip. Up until this moment, we had only seen photos and face-time tours of the space. It was like we were back home in Texas. Holy Smoke is a carefully curated collection of shipping containers that maze through an old cucumber farm. In the smokehouse, we were reunited with all of the smokers and grills that we have shipped from Lockhart over the last several years. It was like meeting an old friend that you haven't seen in a long time. We landed, like most would do, at the bar, and were greeted with Texas beer and Treaty Oak whiskey. This paired perfectly with the late night snacks of canned herring and mackerel spread.
The next morning was early for us, but not to worry. We were invited to Jo-two's ocean-side cottage for a traditional Smörgåsbord: Cold and hot smoked salmon, langoustine, Vasterbotten ost (cheese), lobster soup, crisp breads, smoked herring, mackerel, cod roe, potatoes with dill, many different styles of pickled herring, and of course, caviar. The biggest surprise was the Swedish version of crawfish. Unlike the cajun boiled and very spicy crawfish that we get in Texas, we were introduced to a salt and sugar brined version of giant clearwater crawfish garnished with, you guessed it, more dill. These were paired with shots of Aquavit, and we were regaled with some Swedish drinking songs. It was incredible.
After this meal, we knew we were supposed to head back to The Shack (the endearing nickname of Holy Smoke) a couple of hours later to eat our weight in BBQ, and truly experience what the Johan's and their team are creating every season. To work up an appetite, we took a polar bear plunge in the crystal-clear waters of the North Atlantic. It was exactly what we needed. Little brother caught a ride to The Shack on the back of Johan's Harley Davidson motorcycle, no sidecar needed.
Eating at The Shack really had an impact on us. The food was incredible. The high level of thoughtfulness and attention to every detail shined through every bite. Brisket, pork ribs, beef ribs, and local chicken were paired with sides of elotes, beans with huge chunks of brisket, kål greens with pulled pork, creamed corn, and chips with house-made salsa...in Sweden! We also got to try their specials of house-cured pork belly bacon, which they also use as a topping on their soft serve ice cream. The final plate was Asian fried pork ribs with a side of kimchi. Outside of the food, the biggest impact was that all of this is happening…in Europe. Cooking big cuts of beef in huge offset smokers constructed out of decommissioned propane tanks is just not part of the culture. Sweden has cows, but they are not raised for beef. The country is predominantly interested in raising them for dairy. Also, driving many hours and waiting in line to be served is not a part of the European dining experience. But it’s happening and resonating because of Holy Smoke's impact on the culture. That realization was as impressive and impactful as the beautiful platter of meat. We were officially in a meat coma at this point.
The following day, we finally got to meet Johan's lovely wife, Anna. We took the 20 minute ferry to Denmark, and had to order the traditional ferry-ride snack, Two Reds and a Green: a green Tuborg beer, and two red hot dogs. Our destination was the impressive Kronborg castle, where Shakespeare's Hamlet was set. Our favorite part was the sleeping Viking statue in the catacombs. Legend has it, he will awake and defend his country if they are ever under attack. Judging by the scale, let's hope he continues to sleep.
Just a couple of Swedish dudes eating ice cream.
Noma. It's difficult to put into words how important this restaurant is. Voted the World’s Best Restaurant, we discovered that it's far more than a meal and much more than a restaurant. After the mind-melting meal, we had the opportunity to tour the space. It's a campus fueled by curiosity, happy accidents, and discovery. It is art. It is education. It is a true leader in the culinary sphere and will provide a compass for what is possible. We are beyond grateful to have been lucky to experience it, and it will forever be in our memories.
This trip meant the world to us. Our experiences are difficult to count and put into words, but I will say our favorite thing was the people. Whether in Lockhart, Texas, or on the other side of the world, we are all humans experiencing this life together. Everything we do matters and has a lasting impact on the people around us. We are forever grateful to our hosts and their families, teams, and community for offering us a glimpse of what they do. We’re back in Texas and back to the grind with a newfound understanding of the impact of Central Texas BBQ. And to the Johan's: Tack!