Ian Bridges, the English co-founder of Din Festaurang in Skelleftehamn and DFC-Din Fest on Campus Skellefteå, has lived in Skellefteå for 22 happy years. He tells Paul Connolly what he’s learned along the way. Portrait by Donna Richmond.
PC: How did you end up in Skellefteå?
IB: In 1999 I met Kicki when I was a chef in Corfu. We moved to Skellefteå in 2000 and we’ve been together here ever since.
PC: How was Skellefteå in 2000? Was moving here a culture shock?
IB: I love new places. The first year or so of living in Skellefteå was brilliant. Because I didn’t know much Swedish, I didn’t hear any news, local or international, and everything was just positive. It was just like living in a bubble of joy. And I loved the caring attitude of people in Skellefteå. If anyone got into any trouble or needed help, there would instantly be lots of people trying to help. There’s a real community spirit here that seems to have disappeared in the UK.
PC: Was work easy to find?
IB: I’ve never had trouble finding work. There were always restaurants looking for chefs. I’ve always liked cooking – it’s fun. I’ve always been in kitchens, ever since my first washing-up job in a restaurant in Berkshire when I was 14. When I go on a two-week holiday, I can only really relax for a week before I get restless.
And I then have to start cooking again!
PC: Did you learn Swedish straight away?
IB: I had to learn Swedish quickly because Kicki’s father didn’t speak English. It was good for me. It’s good to have to learn. I’m still learning– you will always be learning Swedish because it’s a hard language. It’s not even the same language up here as it is in Stockholm!
PC: What do you think of Norrland food?
IB: I really like the food here. You can tell a lot about a country by its supermarkets. America and the UK have lots of pre-prepared ready meals, whereas in Sweden supermarkets focus more on fresh food. They also have great bread here. In England a loaf of bread has chemicals in it so it lasts for a month, but over here the bread tastes much better. I also love chanterelle mushrooms and reindeer meat – I may not eat them very often but I really enjoy them when I do.
PC: What’s the biggest difference between England and Sweden?
IB: The English don’t trust anyone until they prove they can be trusted. In Norrland they trust everyone until they get burned.
PC: Any tips for newcomers on settling in quickly to Skellefteå life?
IB: I’ve always been surrounded by Swedes. I didn’t move here to just hang around with English people. Make friends with Swedes. Learn the language. It’s important to remember that the Swedes don’t have to fit in with you; you have to fit in with them.
PC: Do you have a hidden Norrland treasure you can share with our readers?
IB: I have two! The tiny turquoise-blue Grödkallen lake near Arvidsjaur is hard to find but a really magical place. It’s been described as the most beautiful lake in Sweden and I can totally see why. Food-wise, one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted is the double barbeque burger at the Frostkågekiosken in Frostkåge. Their burgers are amazing!