Leila Lindholm: a not so cookie-cutter TV chef
By Julie Lindén | Photos: Wolfgang Kleinschmidt
Having taught Swedes that cooking can be both fun, beautiful, inclusive and nourishing, Leila Lindholm has not only become the face of a new age of TV cooking – she has created a culinary empire that today stretches far outside Sweden’s borders. Sharing a meal in central London, Scan Magazine sits down with “Sweden’s Nigella Lawson” to discuss a lifetime of cooking, English cottage dreams, and mouth-watering goals for the future.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve been in the kitchen,” she says, grabbing hold of a canapé in a picturesque back street a stone’s throw from London’s busy Carnaby Street. “I got in there, I butted in. For me, the kitchen was where it happened. From the age of four I engaged in food, I told the people around me that I was the one who would be cooking that day – it was all very natural to me.”
From potato-peeling to TV glory
Growing up in a food-loving family where Swedish “husmanskost” [traditional home cooking] was mixed with exciting new dishes, bread-baking as well as the occasional visit to the local hotdog stand, the groundwork for a long career in all things culinary had been laid before Leila even started school. Fast-forward to present day, and this groundwork has culminated in chef positions at some of the world’s most famous restaurants, a “Female Chef of the Year” honour, some ten TV cooking shows, five cookbooks, one home interiors book, her own publishing business, a web platform including an online food channel and blog, as well as a popular concept store Leila’s General Store. Skimming over her empire of food-related enterprises, it’s not difficult to see that her immense drive must have grown from a deep passion for creation – and her authentic beginnings.
“Most definitely. I will never forget the day I understood that cooking could be carried out as a profession,” she says, her eyes glittering. “The older brother of one of my best friends applied for the restaurateur programme, and it finally clicked: I could, and should, study cooking.” After a downswing in food adoration during the last years of her gymnasium education (“I didn’t know how much work and toil it would be peeling potatoes for hours and hours”), the young Leila wanted to try her wings abroad. Soon enough the now 21-year-old found herself on a plane to New York and the Swedish-owned restaurant Aquavit. From there, the journey to Sweden’s modern throne of TV cooking was just a matter of time, care, devotion – and that famous passion.
All in the details
“My passion today is in the entirety of what I do – the lifestyle and the whole concept behind it. Everything I do happens within the same world, from the cookbooks to the shows. Then again, I’ve worked for 20 years now, so I’ve had time to explore various fields within that world. But the drive throughout has always been to inspire others – giving them some joy along the way.” Despite the number of projects under her belt, recently dipping into the world of home décor, she says she has always had executive influence on everything she has put her name on. “Of course. So much of who I am and what my brand stands for lies in the details. People would notice if I didn’t put myself heart and soul into what I do.”
Indeed, doing something half-way is a concept Leila is unfamiliar with. She is often compared to her likes in the US and UK, from Martha Stewart to Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, chefs and food devotees who have made a name for themselves by letting their thoroughness and enthusiasm shine through TV screens and pages of cookbooks. However, she is not one to let praise get the best of her. “It’s flattering, naturally. I’m hugely inspired by them, from how they construct their TV shows to how they build online platforms. But that doesn’t mean I copy them. I find it important to draw inspiration from everything: travels, magazines – everything.”
Cottage dreams and inspiring women
As she whisks up another canapé with beautifully manicured hands in central London, far from her small town of Mariefred, it dawns on me that it is her skilful combination of rural, traditional Swedish and European cooking, and big dreams free from fear, that has led her to where she is today. And, with a London expansion of her successful Leila’s General Store on the to do list, it all seems to be going in the right direction. “It’s close to Sweden, and a huge melting pot. I’ve always loved England. A dream would be to own a cottage in the English countryside, and an apartment in London!”
As for her recipe for future success, the mix is one of old and new.
“I want to keep the expansion of Leila’s General Store going, and keep writing books. It would be amazing branching out further, doing TV in Britain for instance. Perhaps open a store in New York. I’d like to inspire more women to get out there and follow their dreams. To be a modern day role model in that way. You can’t ever stop dreaming.”
A taste of Leila’s kitchen
Do you want your own taste of Leila’s famous grub? Dig into these simple and tasty recipes!
Walnut pasta from Tuscany
400 g linguini pasta
50 g pine nuts
150 g walnuts
2 table spoons bread crumbs
1 garlic clove
2 table spoons of olive oil
2.5 dl milk or cream
50 g pecorino cheese
50 g walnuts (for decoration)
1. Boil the pasta until “al dente” in salted water.
2. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan.
3. Mix pine nuts, walnuts, bread crumbs, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender.
4. Bring the milk/cream to a boil, pour it over the nut blend and mix.
5. Mix the walnut sauce with the cooked pasta.
6. Serve with shredded pecorino cheese and decorate with additional walnuts.
150 g butter
2 small bags (1 g) of saffron
7 dl plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of baking powder
3 tablespoons of powder sugar
4 organic eggs
8 dl milk
Melted butter for baking
Whipped cream and jam to serve
1. Blend butter and saffron while stirring. Let it cool completely.
2. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, powder sugar and eggs with half of the milk and stir until the batter becomes smooth.
3. Let the batter rise for 20-30 minutes.
4. Warm your waffle iron, brush the insides with melted butter and bake the waffles until golden in colour.
5. Serve the waffles fresh and warm, with lightly whipped cream and jam.
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