The Archetype Behind the Brand: Nilsson’s Nordic vision
Credit: Bruno Cordioli
Looking at Magnus Nilsson, featured chef in the finale of the Netflix hit series, Chef’s Table, you’d never guess at one of the core pillars of his personality: a devotion to perfectionism.
But despite having the appearance of a slightly-chubby, ‘90s Grunge musician - his dirty-blonde hair swinging at shoulder length - Nilsson is never more in his element than when he is quietly but sternly reprimanding staff about the proper placement of tiny molecules of food.
In all fairness, people travel quite a way to reach his restaurant, Faviken, in remote Northern Sweden and they probably won’t be able to make it back any time soon, so the need to get things right first time logically takes on a whole new level of significance.
“In extremity you discover something new”
Plus, nothing about Faviken suggests an acceptance of ‘average’. To start with, it’s a 12 seat restaurant, on a 20,000 acre reserve, 375 miles north of Stockholm, that serves 30 courses per person (one every 180 seconds).
The mere idea of running a fine dining restaurant in such a remote place, where “nothing grows for six months of the year”, let alone one dedicated to serving food that is “hyper local and seasonal”, has been described as a “suicide mission” by one food critic. Instead, 32 year-old Nilsson has been catapulted to global fame.
Nilsson takes it all in his stride, however, albeit with a hefty dose of control freak-ism. “When I started cooking school the dream was to have the greatest restaurant on the planet,” he says, demonstrating his Creator-like commitment to creating a lasting legacy.
In this week’s installment of the Bang blog series on how brand archetypes support greater differentiation, Bang’s team found Nilsson’s power to lie in his combination of The Creator and The Ruler archetype.
We see the Creator in Nilsson inspiring his core need for self expression. Fed up of “cooking other people’s food”, his creative impulse set the stage for him to become the culinary megastar he is today.
Carving his own niche, the young chef would take traditional recipes from his local area and innovate around them, both paying homage to the past and inventing something totally new at the same time. “It's very important to not just accept things how they are... but that you go and investigate what's there and...how can it transform to become greater".
But while he might be willing to experiment, perfectionism ultimately underlies everything. “I always thought it seemed really silly to do things if they're not really, really good,” he observes, as if we could all just choose to be incredible if we really wanted.
Like The Ruler, his sub-archetype, Nilsson is comfortable laying down the law. “Everything has to be perfect..if you do your job properly it's not too bad (working at Faviken)," reports one of his restaurant under-studies. He will rarely relinquish control, micromanaging his kitchen to achieve the perfect outcome every time.
The Swede even seeks mastery over the natural environment. “In a way it is about defeating the seasons,” he explains of his decision to establish a fine dining restaurant in such a remote, barren location. But equally, his earned authority and status has as its negative flipside - an air of arrogance.
Nilsson and his remote Nordic hideaway have developed a legendary status, in no small part thanks to his unique character and story. A small town Swedish boy with enormous dreams and the unique set of talents and traits to pull off the impossible, his customers and culinary critics often think of him more as a poet or philosopher than a cook.
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