Alex Nietosvuori is chef-owner of Hjem restaurant, located in the village of Wall, in the beautiful Northumberland countryside.
Hjem means ‘home’ in both Scandinavian and Northumbrian, making it a fitting moniker for the restaurant, since Alex hails from Sweden, whilst his partner (and co-owner) Ally is a local.
At what age did you decide that you wanted to become a chef and who or what inspired you?
When I was 16, I was an apprentice in a pub in Malmö, mainly washing dishes. I wasn’t doing very well at school, but I really enjoyed the discipline and pressure needed to work in a professional kitchen. From then on, I knew that I wanted to be a chef.
Who’s the best chef you have worked for and which other chefs do you admire?
I have so much respect for Daniel Berlin. I worked with him at Daniel Berlin Krog for almost 4 years and had never seen anyone move, organise or cook like him. I learnt so much from running a section in his kitchen.
I am also really inspired by Esben Holmboe Bang from Maaemo. I had such a great experience working in his kitchen and learnt so much about technique; it really was one of the best experiences I have had in a professional kitchen.
What is your favourite restaurant and why?
I have a lot of favourite restaurants; it’s too hard to narrow it down to one. Some of my most memorable meals have been at Maaemo, Per Se, Fäviken, Noma, Daniel Berlin Krog, Aimsir …the list goes on. The quality of restaurants out there today is just incredible.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Again, this is such a hard question to answer! My first ever Michelin-Starred experience was at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road… it was such an amazing meal.
Saying that, Ally and I ate at Per Se in NYC just before flying home from our winter break in January 2020. Little did we know that it would be our last meal in a restaurant for a very long time…that’s one meal I have thought about a lot over the last year.
What’s your favourite local ingredient?
I love the wild game birds we have on our doorstep. We are lucky that there are so many and that the Shoot are always happy to supply us.
I also love working with the local growers at Hexhamshire Organics. Bob and Ann have some amazing salads and veg and are really lovely people to work with.
And your favourite global ingredient?
I love some top quality Bonito… cured or raw, I just love it.
Where do you get your influences from?
I can’t help being influenced by where I come from: Sweden. The experiences I have had in my career so far also play a part. I always feel inspired walking in the hills and countryside of Northumberland though, and ready to draw and build on those influences.
Is there a dish you could never take off the menu at Hjem?
The horseradish sorbet with caramel sauce will probably always be on the menu, in one way or another. We asked Ally’s Dad to hand-make an apple-shaped bowl for the serving when it first went on. Seeing the work he put into that dish, it felt like we could never take it off, and guests seem to love it too which always helps! At the moment we are working on a version with lavender, violas and an apple caramel.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
I love being creative. I work with my friends every day and I can travel the world trying amazing food and having great experiences. Hospitality is a fantastic industry and I feel so lucky to be a part of it and to have so many opportunities open to me.
And the worst thing about being a chef?
I’ve always said I can’t complain about being a chef. I decided to cook for living and make a career from it and I won’t look back, even given the year we have all just been through.
There are always bad days but more often than not they are followed by great days, so I don’t dwell on them. Having said that, I would sometimes like a little more sleep!
And finally, which are your favourite restaurants in the Michelin Guide UK & Ireland?
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea, London
Davies and Brook, Mayfair, London
Aimsir, Celbridge, Republic of Ireland
Maos, Bethnal Green, London
The Clove Club, Shoreditch, London
Inver, Strathlachlan, Scotland
Kitchen Table, Bloomsbury, London