Celebrity chef Leila Lindholm has come a long way since The Guardian referred to her as Scandinavia’s answer to Nigella Lawson and suggested that her popular cookery show was behind the acute shortage of butter in her home country in 2011. Scan Magazine talks to the inspiration guru about being in control, being a woman in a man’s world, and keeping the fire burning.

Her latest book, The Fresh Foodie – her third cook book, in addition to three bakery books and one about interior decoration – is all about the many dietary preferences foodies have these days and making it easy to cook for them. “It covers everything from gluten and lactose intolerance to vegan or egg-free food,” she says. “I wanted to make a normal cook book with refreshing recipes, but I’ve added almost like small post-its so that it’s easy to see what’s gluten free and so on.”

The photographs in the book are all by London-based David Loftus, who is also behind the majority of Jamie Oliver’s books, but the look of the cookbook is Leila through and through. With over a decade of TV cookery shows, books and other creative projects under her belt, the chef and inspiration guru has created a strong, distinctive brand which has continued to churn out food and home-related ideas and ventures. And while it is obvious enough why many a magazine has compared her to the British food goddess, it was not looking ravenous on screen and cooking up hearty family meals that made her so cherished by the Swedish people, but rather her down-to-earth, unassuming demeanour.

Inspiring in the kitchen and beyond

In 2004, the Swedish TV4 viewers voted her Chef of the Year after she appeared on Nyhetsmorgon, and the rest, as they say, is history. Still, her levelheadedness remains intact as she talks about managing her career to date. “I’ve built my brand and my platform quite slowly and during quite a long time. I’ve always had a vision of what I wanted to say and do: my dream has always been to inspire other people – that’s the key purpose of my work,” she says. “I’m very lucky that people find what I do inspiring and that I get to move between all these different worlds of cooking, baking, interior design…”

Lindholm has published five books – all by her own publishing company, Walter and Books – and has hosted numerous cookery shows since 2011, eventually broadening her focus to furnishings and interior decoration. After dipping into it on occasion as a guest on other shows, she launched the webshop Leila’s General Store, selling kitchen appliances, textiles and other home products, and today the concept has grown to include five brick-and-mortar shops in Stockholm, Gothenburg and surrounding areas in Sweden. In 2013 she published the book Welcome Home, presenting tips, inspiration and ideas on how to decorate your home to make it both practical and personal.

“I’m juggling a lot of things,” she laughs. “But it’s a pretty big company now with I think around 30 or so employees, so it’s not like I do everything myself. I’m really hands-on with the details and will pop out to the shop and work there for a day when I feel like it, but in a lot of ways my job is to inspire and influence the people who work for me.”

As part of her mission to inspire, Lindholm uses Instagram as a way to share her ideas in a more personal way. Her romantic, pretty, rustic style is as inherent there as it is in her books. But does the need to show up a polished front ever get too close to home? “My perception isn’t that people expect you to be polished and perfect, quite the opposite. I think people find the perfectly orchestrated stuff quite pretentious and provoking, because it just isn’t real. You have to be real; you can’t pretend to be something you’re not. That said, I obviously wake up with messy bed hair, but I don’t feel as if that’s really in the public interest,” she laughs. “Some bloggers are completely uncensored in regards to their private life, but I don’t really feel like that kind of complete disclosure would add much to my brand. Everything is based on reality though – my interiors book was shot here in my home.”

‘It was like a light went on’

Growing up in Stockholm’s picturesque archipelago, Lindholm says she was surrounded by food from an early age, with most of her early memories from the kitchen. “I was a really spirited child, a lot like my son is, and from around the age of six or so I was quite gutsy,” she recalls. “I was always busy with my own projects and wanted to cook and organise everything, help out with the salad and be the kitchen assistant.” Then her best friend’s older brother applied for culinary school and she had an epiphany. “I realised that being a chef was something you could actually do, and it was like a light went on. That was it: I was going to be a chef.”

Lindholm went on to study at St Görans cookery school in Stockholm, followed by training in different restaurants in the capital. Aged 21, she packed up and moved to New York City, where she spent two years working at the award-winning gastro pub Aquavit. Upon returning to Sweden, she was ready to take on the big players and ended up working at renowned restaurants Operakällaren, Fredsgatan 12 and Restaurangen and, in  1999, the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) named her Female Chef of the Year.

“The title is necessary to highlight female chefs, but it’s of course problematic that it should have to exist at all,” she says. “It’s a male-dominated industry. Men are good at helping themselves – it’s a lot of elbowing and so on – and they’re good at helping each other, not least in politics! I work a lot with women’s networks and think it’s really important that we women have each other’s backs.” She returns yet again to her pet topic: inspiration. “I’ve got a lot of female friends who are incredibly successful in their fields, and it’s important that we inspire and influence each other to show other girls and women that it’s possible. I always say to other women, don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or can’t do, and don’t give up. Keep the fire burning.”

2016 will see a big online push in the world of Leila Lindholm, including both the webshops and leila.se, which includes recipes, tips for housewives and other sources of inspiration for her fans. “And then I’ll do another book and a TV show or two…” she continues, as if talking about the simplest tasks in the world. When asked about slowing down, she laughs. “There usually isn’t a lot of time for slowing down. I love what I do and am really passionate about inspiring people – and then you just keep on putting stuff out there.”

By Linnea Dunne | Photo: David Luftus

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