Meet Nina Olsson: the Swedish chef who taught Catalans to eat herring
Born and raised in Karlskrona in southeast Sweden, Nina Olsson trained as a chef and worked in kitchens in Göteborg and on the Swedish west coast before coming to Barcelona to study Spanish in 2008. Two years later, she had fallen in love – both with the city and her partner Carmen – and decided it was time for a change.
“I wanted my own place,” recalls Nina. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs and I was tired of working in other people’s kitchens. Once I decided to move to Barcelona, opening a restaurant seemed like the right thing to do.”
It turns out the timing was not great. In 2010, when Nina opened Pappa Sven – named after her father, Sven Olsson – Spain was reeling from the deepest economic crisis in decades. Nina admits she had underestimated how hard it would be to set up a new business in those conditions.
“I thought the restaurant would be full right away, but it took longer than I expected,” she says. “I had no choice but to learn to be patient.”
These days, there is no shortage of customers at Pappa Sven, which serves a popular three-course lunch menu, and a nightly smörgåsbord buffet, as well as an à la carte menu. Bestselling dishes include the hearty reindeer stew, the baked salmon, and the sublime skrei cod with shrimp croquettes and caviar. However, the meal Pappa Sven has become most famous for is probably one of the least expected:
“The locals love the Swedish Christmas buffet, or julbord,” explains Nina. “We start it at the end of November and, from then until Christmas, the dining room is packed every single day and night – even on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“I never thought Spanish and Catalan people would like herring but it turns out they do. A lot of them can’t get enough of it!,” she adds.
Almost ten years into her Barcelona life, Nina admits there are still a few things she misses about home.
“I miss my family and the nature. As soon as I go back to Sweden, the first thing I want to do is take a walk in the woods.
“But there are so many things I appreciate about the Spanish way of life. Apart from the sunshine, what I really love is that people can afford to go out for meals without worrying about spending a fortune. The atmosphere here is so much more open and laid back,” she says.
Pappa Sven may be well established on the Barcelona food scene but, in recent months, people have been coming from further afield to visit the restaurant and see its Swedish chef. Why?
“I’ve become a celebrity,” jokes Nina, who now hosts her own Nordic cooking show on Canal Cocina, Spain’s top food channel, which is also broadcast to 18 countries in Latin America.
Published: July 9, 2018