In 2007 the rules of the game were changed when it came to importing and selling wine in Sweden. That year EU ruled in favour of the individual’s right to trade freely between Member States , and suddenly anyone could import their own wine without the Swedish governmental monopoly ‘Systembolaget’ having any say in what or from whom.
The Xwine company was founded almost immediately upon that. The idea is a simple one. Find unique vineyards in Italy and France, and offer their wines to friends and customers in Sweden.
Rediscovering the obvious
A few years ago we were traveling in rural China well outside of the tourist trails. Here we were invited for lunch with some locals. The omelette served was so rich and tasteful it stunned me, I had never had such a good omelette at any more urban hotel or restaurant. I realized I just needed to know the secret and asked our host, thinking there must be a secret ingredient, how this fantastic omelette had been prepared. As a reply, I got back, a blank stare. – You do like this, she said. You take two eggs and your chopsticks, and then you stir, like this … (whip, whip, whip … )
It was not before we came back out on the land outside the house that I noticed a whole bunch of free roaming hens, picking and eating whatever they found on the ground and doing what hens do. I realized that was the entire secret, happy hens, left alone living together with humans, not as an industrial production unit.
So when it comes to food production and consumption, something that fundamentally affects our lives and eco-systems, while it seems that some parts of the world have seen its third global shift, there remains a constant struggle today, to reconcile the different perspectives of how humans should and can manage their environment in an integrated, ecological manner that puts them not at the top of the food chain because that perspective is myopic and eventually self-destructive, but alongside in collaboration with all other food chains and eco-systems .
Some things in life, are unexplainably uncanny. Like my first time landing at the airport in Shanghai. As I stepped into the arrival hall, I saw two formally dressed individuals, one of whom held a name card that read, “Cheryl CAMPBELL”. Without pause, I found myself walking right up to them:
“Are you looking for me?” I asked curiously, careful not to mention my last name.
“You from Gothenburg?”
“Yes, from Gothenburg.”
“You, Cheryl Campbell?”
I hesitated a heartbeat, then answered, “Yes, that’s me, Cheryl, from Gothenburg.”
“Ah! Cheryl CAMPBELL! It’s a pleasure meeting you!”
I smiled, returned the warm greeting and said very little thereafter.
Then there were my days in Barcelona in 2011, where depending on which route I took to the IESE Business School, I would find myself every morning, walking past two different monasteries, one was a Carmelite Order, an order devoted to silence, contemplation and reflection, and the other with a heritage in the Order of Saint Clare / the Second Order of St. Francis of Assisi.
At the most superficial of coincidences of my days in Barcelona, my parents had wanted me to become a nun of the Carmelite Order. I also grew up in a convent founded by a Minim Friar, St. Francis of Paola (1416-1507), named in honour after St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).
During these days, was that visit to Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey located on the mountain of Montserrat, about forty-eight kilometres from Barcelona, where I found the most delightful of cheeses crafted by the monks themselves.
So I couldn’t help but muse when for several years in a row at Passion för Mat, whenever I meet with Jacques and Maria Six of France Fromage who specialise in fine cheeses, they seem to place in front of me, specific types of cheeses related to my life’s travels somehow. This year, when Jacques pulled us aside to relate the story of Reblochon, fromage de dévotion, I almost stared at him in disbelief.
Introduction: knowledge intensive economies
Whilst manufacturing production in many OECD countries has declined in recent decades, services however, are on the rise. On average services now account for about 70 percent of OECD GDP. The culinary and gastronomy industry lies within the grey area in the definition of OECD-WTO Trade in Value Added (TiVA) derived from services embodied in the exports of manufactured goods. In the case of Sweden, the country’s services sector has continued to grow from the early 2000s, when its share of the workforce employed within services increased from 67 to 75.2 percent just between the years of 1989 and 2003. Today, Sweden has about 42 percent of its workforce in services-related occupations in manufacturing .
In the past decade, the debate on creativity as a driving force for regional economic development in the context of the third wave of globalisation within the academic realm of international business studies has been increasing [2,3,4,5].
Empirical findings seem to point towards that knowledge and service oriented economies have three characteristics in common that encourage innovation:
First, is the need for firms over time, to reduce technical and economic uncertainty.
Second, interactions with outside parties are necessary.
Finally, immediate presence and face-to-face contact remains important because of trust building and tacit knowledge transfer .
These three points converge in constellations of individuals who share similar values and world views, firms in industrial clusters or other agglomerations of various kinds. The continuous interlocution between people, place and firm, is what drives a region and gives it its brand. In the past few years, the city of Gothenburg has focused its efforts on being the centre of gastronomic activities. It is currently recognised as Sweden’s Culinary Capital, and September 21-24 will see the city host the World Food Travel Summit with the theme, New Wave in Food Tourism.
It is in this context of Sweden’s growing services industry, and the exchange of knowledge between Sweden and Asia / South-east Asia, that I met with CEO and Owner of Noble House AB, Ted Österlin, at this year’s Passion för Mat.
Every year at Passion för Mat, you’d find me loitering back and forth, around the egg stand. In the first few years, I was curious about the eggs themselves. What was so different with these eggs here? Are eggs, not eggs? What was there to explain for visitors?
I observed that, for the most part, the eggs were just eggs. It’s versatility, being just as useful in cakes as they are in batters and the myriad of ways they could be cooked just on their own, meant that the egg stand emptied out before closing hours on the last day of the fair.
But in the last few years, I’ve managed to catch snippets of conversation over the egg counter, where they were horrified to see how some visitors, in their rush to market at the fair, so carelessly tossed their newly acquired, fresh eggs into their shopping bags. “The eggs don’t fare well being treated roughly like that! Its texture and taste will alter! Be careful!”, they insisted.
Beautifully crafted jars piled in pyramid form, lit from their feet by several spotlights made for Fredrikssons annual display at Passion för Mat 2014. It was wonderful seeing their marmalade stall teeming over with visitors, each curiously sampling the sweet concoctions with hardbread or crisps, trying to decide which of the dozen offerings of flavours they liked best.
When I met with her last year , she told of how she had always dreamed of producing her own olive oil from the island of Lesvos in Greece. Personally, I couldn’t think of a more beautiful island to produce this golden liquid, a place as mystical as it is real.
As passionate as ever about making olive oil from her own garden in the Emerald Isle of the Aegean sea, this year, Lambrini Theodossiou told that she included olives from wild olive trees.
When asked how much olive oil the olives from a wild tree could produce, she beamed brightly and said, “They are so rare and so few. You know, one tree might only contain one branch and from that one branch, only a few olives are good for pressing. But they are so full of flavour, and pack so much punch to the overall taste – it’s worth the effort!”
I looked at her and smiled. I couldn’t agree more.
Ongoing, a part bantering of ideas, part negotiation, of a large block of crystallised Porcelana cocoa bean chocolate dating almost thirty years back, that after tempering, would render the silkiest textured chocolate. Not being able to overcome the initial realisation that I have been eating decades old chocolate, I finally got around to the main thread of talk at the table. The idea was how to keep a consistent standard of quality that at the same time, made the signature of your culinary work. Service was a given, they were all artists and experts in their own culinary field of choice, there could be no other way in this business otherwise. But in the ever increasing modularisation of the individual’s niche knowledge and skills, there came the question of the paraph that made it just that notch more exclusive for the customer:
“How would you propose I do that?”
“I told you, get this block of chocolate!”
And so it is, all part of this year’s Passion för Mat 2014 theme, Ärlig mat or True food. Food that leaves a lesser carbon footprint, a non-kitsch understanding of sustainable living and a redefining of what is luxury and exclusivity, without a mention of those words. It’s all very practical and all very Swedish.
It was in November 2013 when we paid a study visit to Shanghai, China. But it was only on the eve of the Lunar New Year 2014 that all colleagues had a chance to gather in an early spring kick-off session to share and compare some reflections, insights and lessons learnt from that visit.
The afternoon was spent in a lecture hall, numbering altogether about thirty persons, somewhat amused that this might be the first time ever that we met as a group. Located in the same administrative building, at most a few floors apart from each other and some even sharing the same corridor, it took a joint visit to Shanghai in order for us all to get together face to face.
As a point in case, it was interesting to note that this group in itself demonstrated the workings of a self-organizing system, forming project-based teams of which this almost non-elected leader would smoothly arrange the important meetings, and the events would seamlessly evolve into optimal activities.
While it could be argued that the workings of an academic specialist group cannot be all too comparable to how private corporations are managed, still this method of self-organization differed from the vertical hierarchy system often prevalent in Asia.
This difference in how we organized ourselves had some concrete repercussions when meeting with other research teams in China on several counts, some of which were based on formalities such as rank and hierarchy – who would the Chinese look at as ‘leader’ of the Swedish team? What practical resources and expertise could we provide if we were to begin collaborative work? And lastly, what immediate ideas and data could we share, and if so, when – preferably in the next month – could we begin?
The responsive views on the Chinese side were positive, though it brought home another poignant difference, that what is often called the ‘Swedish management style’ works with a long process of contemplation and maturing of ideas until some consensus is reached. Of the Chinese, it could be said that they would work towards a longterm relationship building and then be ready to act in a different style of (academic) management.
One of the lasting impressions from the day’s reflections was the way in which we could observe our various individual-in-group behaviour and our preferred management styles in practice, while discussing a variety of issues of mutual interest.
When I was young my mother worked in the advertising industry. Between the ages of five till about twelve and then again at around sixteen I got to model in several Singapore print adverts that included Metro, McDonald’s and Nintendo.
In one photoshoot, several girls were lined up neatly in a row, the purpose of which was to get us to take a hop forward and land on one foot, looking excited and into the camera. Out of twenty odd takes I looked up only once, much to the exasperation of the photographer, “Why can’t you look forward? There’s nothing on the ground! Look forward! Look forward!”
Even at the age of six, I found myself curious as to why it was that I just could not look up when I jumped. I simply had to see (and thus know) where I was going! I concluded that it was due to the rules of hop-scotch, a game that I played almost everyday when growing up at the Convent that I could only look down whilst hopping. You always watched where you hopped because stepping on a line would get your turn forfeited in the game, plus, that you had to re-draw the rubbed off area of the squares in the sand once you had stepped on the lines and recess time was only that brief.
For one photo shoot a large number of fluffy small yellow chickens was brought in. Featured in the picture above is just about a third of the feathered little things. My mother brought home two little darlings from this shoot, one each for my brother and I to care for.
An early morning ferry in the southern archipelago of Gothenburg.
Every year, the old district of Gothenburg comes to life at Haga with shop owners pouring their goods onto the cobbled streets. It’s a street market that is difficult to miss during the festive season where it is here that you can get a mixture of Christmas breads, home flavoured warm glögg and even that artisan home baked ostkaka.
Selecting first class produce is the key to all good cooking. Here, we were planning a new orange and honey glazed spare ribs dish, looking at blood oranges flown in from Italy.
By December every year as the days grow shorter and shorter, it is fun to spend time in the kitchen, planning and cooking Scandinavian classics, trying to recreate inherited recipes from days long gone past. The old fashioned dishes and the manners in which they are prepared, usually involve a lot of time consuming manual work, but nonetheless worth the effort in terms of rediscovering what has been and making it current again.
Gravad lax is maybe one of the oldest dishes on the traditional Swedish Christmas table. Today it is pickled with a mixture of salt, sugar, pepper and a generous helping of freshly cut dill.
Once done, it is ideally eaten with a honey mustard sauce.
A number of years ago, I decided to focus my doctoral thesis on cross-cultural leadership in Swedish led organizations in Singapore. The idea was to identify elements of the Swedish management style and how this in that case would work out in Asian organizations. The study led to numerous interesting observations of which a selection of ideas were developed into my thesis.
For some time now I have come to look into Sweden’s positioning within the European Union (EU), and in a comparative study, Singapore’s positioning within the Association of Southeast-Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The issue of Sweden’s overall positioning towards European integration has been much considered and debated in the Swedish political arena and by interested members in academia.
Studying modern business architecture in Singapore’s Central Business District, in 2013.
“Sweden: the Twin Faces of a Euro-Outsider”
In an article that appeared in the peer reviewed Journal of European Integration entitled “Sweden: the Twin Faces of a Euro-Outsider” in 2005, authors Rutger Lindahl and Daniel Naurin, postulated that Sweden, about ten years after full accession and a few years after the public rejection of Swedish proposed membership of the Euro currency in a referendum in 2003, had developed ‘twin faces’ as regards to their participation in European integration (Miles 2011).
The authors explicitly outlined Sweden’s duo-levelled positioning towards issues of European integration, that was (i) the internal / domestic establishing of a firm national position towards the EU in general, which proved a challenge for the Swedish government, due to a general skeptical Swedish public who were wary of the implications of further European integration, and (ii) the external / regional (thus international) politics of positioning Sweden’s ‘euro-outsider’ status within the EU, where Sweden would want to be perceived as a country pursuing a ‘mixed’ policy portfolio.
The general skepticism towards deeper European integration from the Swedish public distinctly constrained the movements of the Swedish government. Further intra- and inter-political party division, also meant that a consensus across the Swedish party system regarding participation in the euro remained elusive.
But in brief, the ‘twin-faces’ of Sweden, its duo-levelled strategy of state governance and maneuvering of its internal, largely euro-skeptical political arena, was not to be confused with its primarily pro-EU yet anti-euro, external positioning towards the EU (Lindahl and Naurin 2005:66).
Two broad strategies
In reconciling and managing Sweden’s anti-euro, but pro-EU position, the Swedish government apparently followed two broad strategies.
The first was to adopt the politics of low visibility, where Swedish officials engaged in quiet networking with a ‘best in class’ behavior in Brussels combined with a low degree of Europeanization of the domestic political debate.
The second was to advocate conscious outsidership as regards to the euro, combined with a determined effort to be an ‘insider’ in EU decision-making. These strategies were managed in large by putting as priority, the country’s EU membership status in both elite/public discourse whilst backgrounding (playing down), to a limited extent, the question of Swedish euro-adoption, so that it would give time for the majority of the Swedes to come to terms with the country’s pro-EU position.
Already when we last met, the Valtulina family hinted at that they were preparing a move to a new location. It would be a great improvement they told me, since they had seriously outgrown their family living room sized premises in the Bukit Timah area. Because of this, it was with great expectation we went to take a look at the new restaurant, Valentino’s, at Turf Club Road.
Greeted in family tradition with a warm hurricane of emotions at their door, we were whisked almost immediately, into the kitchen, where Valentino stood at the heart of it all.
I had certainly missed the Valtulina Family!
Gianpiero Valtulina, setting up the private dining quarters of the restaurant. Gianpiero, or ‘Papa’, has been a guiding hand in the process of the building of the new place. His influence and finishing touches can be seen in the beautiful decorations furnishing the home and restaurant.
The private room here can seat about forty-five persons. Perfect for that larger family or corporate event.
With so much movement in the place, I couldn’t help wanting to capture all details on camera, from the rustic brick enclaves in the main dining hall to the stash of deliciously piled ripened tomatoes and garlic that sat in proximity to various cheeses all carefully stored.
It took about a half hour to orientate myself in the new expansive place, from walk-in freezers to the various bakery and kitchens, the main dining hall and the Valentino Garden outdoors that already housed a healthy citrus tree, to finally sit down and come to process the information and impression of their new restaurant.
It was about a generation ago that anyone who wanted to swim in the waters of Singapore, whether river or sea, would and could in kampong spirit and enthusiasm simply jump in. Today, a stunt like that would most certainly get some raised eyebrows, if you didn’t end up yourself being hauled in by authorities in reminder of areas cordoned off, for reasons accorded, from bathing possibilities.
In the prescriptive social fabric of Singapore that can be both helpful and hindering at the same time, an area promoted for leisurely activities that includes sun basking and swimming is the Island of Sentosa with a mission of being “the world’s favourite leisure and lifestyle resort destination”.
Somewhere along the road on Sentosa stood this fellow. Perched and looking critical at us, he somehow reminded me of a nightclub bouncer.
Obviously, we were not on his list.
After visiting W Hotel and skimming past Universal Studios a while back, I was hesitant about finding any beachfronts left on Sentosa that were not fenced in and tarmacked over. But the researcher in me couldn’t help but be curious about the recent developments that I had only been able to read about thus far. So, I drove there anyway.
In the Visitor’s Guide to Sentosa I had found that there were now four beaches of choice. According to the information given, Palawan Beach, was for “family fun under the sun”, Siloso Beach was the “hippest”, Imbiah Lookout was for “exhilarating experiences for all ages” and Tanjong Beach was specifically assigned for “chilling out” and “winding down” with cocktail in hand (sentosa.gov.sg). It was mid-day in mid-week, and the last option of “chilling out” in near seclusion devoid of crowds, sounded paradise to my senses!
Stepping out of the car, at Tanjong Beach, I was happily surprised by how close in proximity the carpark was to the beach and how much beachfront there actually was left to spread a towel over.
As a little Garden of Eden of sorts is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, that’s beautiful for an afternoon stroll. As an integrated part of the Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid Garden that houses innumerable exotic varieties of the country’s national flower.
Sitting happy in the Orchid Gardens’ collection, the largest display of tropical orchids in the world, are more than 3,000 species and hybrids with about 600 on display. Every year, more vibrant and enduring hybrids are added on.
Within the compounds of the Botanic Gardens is Burkill Hall. Built in 1866, it is a fine example of an early colonial bungalow with its trellis constructs to its ground floors, tall windows adorned with matted drawn blinds.
Burkill Hall used to be the Director’s House, and its current name commemorates the only father and son pair, Isaac and Humphrey Burkill, to hold the post of Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens.
It’s been just about two years since my last visit to Trattoria and Pizzeria Capri in Singapore. In the ever changing landscape of Singapore, it’s a relief to step into Capri again, to find friendly and familiar faces and to pick up the conversation where it was left off, with hardly a glitch.
Interior of Capri with tiles of the Amalfi Coast, home of the Iannone family.
Much of our conversation revolved as usual around the different types of Italian food by region.
For anyone coming to Singapore for the first time, or the occasional visitor who wants to check what’s up in the city, the Singapore River with its numerous landmark bridges and quays is the natural place to start.
Since the founding of Singapore in 1819, the Singapore River has been the center for much of the island’s trade and economic activities.
The area around the mouth of the Singapore River was known as the Old Harbour. This was the busiest part of the port, with most trade taking place along the south bank of the river, at Boat Quay.
As early as 1822 this area was designated to be developed as a Chinese settlement, after which the Chinese, mostly traders and labourers, settled here in large numbers. Conditions were squalid but Boat Quay flourished, rapidly exceeding in volume the trade on the north bank, where the Europeans had their offices, houses and government buildings.
Mid-19th century and onwards
From the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 the new steamships started calling at the port of Singapore. Hundreds of bumboats would fight for limited berthing space. Incoming cargo were laboriously carried from the ships anchored outside of the river mouth. Sacks of goods streamed into the road on the shoulders of coolies. Here was a brisk trade of raw material such as rubber, tin, and steel to food and manufactured goods.
Only in the 1960’s did the commercial importance of Boat Quay start to decline as the ships grew and the role of the bumboats in the shipping industry was superseded by mechanized container handling.
It is difficult to talk about Marina Bay Sands in Singapore without mentioning numbers. However, from the moment you set your eyes on this building the first time, until you enter its car park and start finding your way through its numerous shopping malls – complete with in-built waterways, fountains and sampans – the proportions of this undertaking becomes mind boggling.
Furthermost out at one end of the Sands SkyPark, on a 46 meter overhang, is the KU DÉ TA nightclub.
Marina Bay Sands’ three hotel towers are connected by a sky terrace on the roof named Sands SkyPark that among other things features an infinity swimming pool and a number of restaurants and bars. Furthermost out on the 46 meter overhang, is the KU DÉ TA nightclub. In the middle of a lush garden, with trees and plants and a public observatory deck on the cantilever, you can enjoy a stunning view of the Singapore skyline.
A few weeks ago, a new restaurant opened in an old shophouse along Club Street in a dining concept that combines fine quality ingredients with culinary heritage and tradition.
It is perhaps not surprising that Truffle Gourmet is located in the heart of the most fashionable and lively district in the midst of Singapore.
Club Street is one of Singapore’s older streets. It is situated at the edge of Chinatown just adjacent to Cross Street and Amoy Street. In these quarters during the 18- and 1900s, Chinese immigrant labourers would find letter writers and calligraphers to help them stay in touch with their loved ones back home.
Today, a long stretch of bars and restaurants offers a variety of interesting places presenting good food in stylish surroundings.
I wonder what it is with sons of carpenters. One launches an entire institution of religion and the other, saves us from bad travel experiences and gives us the gift of luxurious, resilient travel bags.
The name Louis Vuitton evokes in me, not the large conglomerate fashion house with Nicholas Ghesquière (from 2013/4, who succeeded Marc Jacobs, from 1997) as artistic director of the empire, but rather the humble beginnings of the son of a carpenter who at age 14, in 1835, packed his bags in Anchay, Jura where he was born in France, and headed for Paris – on foot. He took odd jobs along the way to pay for food and lodging, all this while, perfecting his carpentry skills and expanding his knowledge on various types of wood.
400 km further away and one year later, Louis arrived in Paris to find a flourishing haute couture culture, where lavish and elaborate dressing was all the rage. It was here that he learnt to pack such elaborate outfits to perfection. And it was his dress packing skills and not foremost his carpentry skills that attracted the attention of Empress Eugénie. He became her favourite packer.
It was not long before he combined his dress packing skills with his carpentry skills to produce the first flat, stackable trunk for transportation. These stable and solid trunks were covered with grey Trianon canvas.
The CHIJMES cluster of buildings along Victoria Street is what to me remains as one of the more beautiful architectural features in the changing landscape of modern Singapore.
Having grown up in another Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ), I feel right at home strolling the grounds of this one in the heart of the city. From the rooftop, you’ll get a good overview of the courtyard and the corridors of adjacent buildings that lead to once classrooms, today turned into office spaces.
The Chapel’s gothic architecture is breathtaking when basked in the morning light, in the quiet hours just prior to the rush of the city’s daily traffic.
Geely HQ and Cixi Assembly plant
Friday the 15th of November was the fifth day of our visit to Shanghai in 2013. We had focused quite some on the Chinese automobile industry and today it was time to meet with Geely. Both the Geely Cixi Assembly plant and the Geely Headquarters are located in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, a few hours drive inland, from Shanghai.
A seduction of the senses at first step through its doors. Deep ruby red against black lacquered wooden furniture, plush table settings and good Yunnan food. Outside, around the corner in a short stroll, the beautiful lights of The Bund after sunset. It is little wonder as to what elements make Lost Heaven an appealing dining venue for that just perfect romantic Shanghai night out.
On the second day of our visit in Shanghai, we had the pleasure of meeting with the Director of Advanced Technology & Research at the Volvo Group Headquarter in Shanghai. If it is confusing for a Swede to keep track of the difference between Volvo Cars (owned by the Chinese Geely Holding Group) and Volvo AB, very much still a Swedish company, it is even worse for the Chinese, where a representative from Volvo Group Shanghai told that she often got questions from relatives if she could help them buy a Volvo car on staff discount.