A taste of the future

At its core, the annual SXSW festival is all about innovation and new experiences, so it made sense for SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson to happily offer himself up as a guinea pig for “rock star chef” Mads Refslund’s pop restaurant at the SAS-run House of Scandinavia in Austin.

“SXSW is not just about technology, it’s about new experiences,” says Rickard Gustafson, tucking into yet another fabulous creation by the co-founder of the world famous Noma restaurant in Copenhagen and one of the architects of the New Nordic food movement.

“Lunch was fantastic. To have a meal created by a founder of Noma, was so special, not just in terms of the tastes, but also the whole composition, the look and feel of those dishes – you can tell it’s made by a pro! He told us this great story about salmon skin – he said ‘Everyone throws it away but I love the taste of salmon skin, so I decided to make a dish out of it.’ He made a deal with several sushi restaurants who thought he was a lunatic, but he bought salmon skin for presumably a cheap price and created something really special – pretty cool don’t you think?
It was one of several memorable experiences for Gustafson on his whistle-stop trip to Texas.

“I’ve not been to SXSW before, but it’s fantastic. The place has a vibrant, dynamic atmosphere and what I find amazing are all the interactions with people – everyone wants to engage in conversations and have fun, so everywhere you go you end up talking to people and you’re constantly learning something new. I love the spirit here – it’s very down-to-earth and very open.

The fact that the one-off direct flight to Austin from Stockholm sold out so quickly underlined the hunger for the event.

“I really enjoyed the flight. Everyone on it was of course going for the same reason so everyone had a connection of sorts, but it was fantastic to see the interaction between our passengers. The crew did a great job, making everyone feel comfortable and enjoy it. It was the first time in SAS history that we have taken out one of our aircraft and redeployed it for what you could call a “pop-up” route. Once SXSW is over, we need to go back and digest and see what learnings we have and can take forward.

Speaking of pop-ups, another “first” for SAS was the huge task of establishing and running a venue – House of Scandinavia – together with American Express and some 30 partners. The venue, a huge repurposed restaurant, provides a focal and meeting point for visitors, as well as a space for panel sessions, presentations and performances – global superstar producers Stargate helped open the venue in style at the welcoming party.

“I’ve got a good feeling so far that we’re on to something powerful here. We have a Scandinavian brand and heritage. If you put it in a place like this it can be a natural meeting point for people, not necessarily just Scandinavians, but at least those with a certain connection to the region. We’ve created a natural meeting point and one that I think is going to be powerful for SAS in terms of brand building, new ventures and reaching out to more current and future passengers.

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