Worldiner meets the ex-footballer on the pass at Stockholm’s Restaurant Frantzén, number 31 on the World’s Best Restaurants list…
RESTAURANT: Restaurant Frantzén
LOCATION: Stockholm, Sweden
WORLD’S BEST RESTAURANTS RANK: 31 (2016)
MICHELIN STARS: 2 (2016)
FOOD STYLE: Modern Scandinavian
STANDOUT DISH: Satio tempestas – an array of more than 40 seasonal vegetables grown in the restaurant’s own gardens
A Swedish Gordon Ramsay, if you like – ex-footballer, rugged, handsome, not afraid to swear – Björn Frantzén hates fine dining temples that feel like libraries. He opened his eponymous restaurant in Stockholm in 2009 and has made a name for himself with playful ingredient-led creations ever since. In Björn’s world, all ingredients have a peak season within their season, and he will only ever employ them during that prime time.
If you’re lucky enough to grab a table in his 20-seat two-Michelin-starred restaurant when reservations open online each night, three months ahead of the given date, then you’ll be treated to dishes such as scallop cooked in the shell, served with dried roe ‘salt’, goose egg yolk sabayon and black truffle with Nordic dashi stock poured from a teapot for theatrical flourish.
While you’re in the Gamla Stan old town area, you should also visit Björn’s brand expansions: Studio Frantzén, a test kitchen for private events and guest performances; Corner Club, a cocktail bar with a menu curated by the season; Gaston Vin wine bar and The Flying Elk gastropub. In downtown Stockholm, in the upscale department store NK (Nordiska Kompaniet), there are four more Frantzén establishments to choose from: Bobergs Matsal, Botanique, Nordiska Kantinen and another Gaston Vin.
Not visiting Stockholm any time soon? How about a stopover in Dubai? From 20 April to the 30 June 2016, Björn’s taken on the Enigma project, in which Michelin-starred guest chefs create a bespoke menu, to be served at the Palazzo Versace Dubai hotel for a limited period, before handing on the baton to the next brave gourmand.
Before he gets too famous to give interviews, Worldiner tracked down the 39-year-old for a one-on-one…
You used to be a footballer for Sweden’s AIK (Allmänna Idrottsklubben) – how different is life as a chef?
“Being in the kitchen is the closest you can get to the feeling you have in the dressing room as a team 10 minutes before kick off, with a lot of people waiting who have big expectations of you, and you have to go out there and perform to a high level – that’s the same feeling you have before opening up a Michelin-starred restaurant each night.”
Where do your patrons come from?
“They come from all over the world. They’re generally between 25 and 50, and some of them have shitloads of cash, and some have had to sell their car to get there. The one thing that connects them is that they have a huge interest in food and restaurants. It’s an exciting time to be cooking. We have regulars, too; they’re in their own club – the Frantzén Club, but you have to have dined at the restaurant at least 10 times to get into that, then you’re pretty much automatically admitted – unless you’re an asshole and then we don’t want you.”
Do you have any celebrity patrons?
“Yes, but it’s like fight club – we don’t talk about it. They come incognito and I don’t want to hang them out.”
Can you remember where you were when you found out you’d made it onto the World’s Best Restaurants list?
“I can’t remember, but I’m 99.9 per cent sure I would have been in the kitchen. You get a letter beforehand asking you to come to the ceremony. I can’t remember my reaction, but I can’t imagine it was anything other than happiness.”
What’s more important to you: being on the World’s Best Restaurant list or having two Michelin stars?
“That’s not why I went into cooking. These things come up once a year – you care about them the day before and the day after, but the other 363 days of the year it’s just about hard work. We never talk about these things. It’s nice to be recognised, but word of mouth is the biggest power, so what’s really important to me is a fully booked restaurant and happy customers, and the rest will take care of itself.”
So, what has been the most memorable moment of your career?
“Actually opening the doors to a restaurant with my name above it. I come from a background without rich parents or investors lined up; it was the journey to get here with hard work, determination, going abroad to train and so many setbacks and failures, but when I finally made it happen – that was the biggest thing.”
What are the current food trends in the top end of the market?
“When we opened up eight years ago, it was just towards the end of the molecular era, the time of El Bulli, and places like that. For the last five or six years Nordic gastronomy has seen a boom; now it’s about going deeper and deeper into what we’re doing. For me that’s been about using local ingredients, not just when they’re in season, but when they’re actually peaking within that season – it can make a huge difference. For example, raspberries will be in season from May to October, but they may only be peaking for two weeks within that time and that’s when we’d have them on the menu. Our menu is always moving and we create variations of dishes depending on which ingredients are available at their peak.”
Have health food movements impacted on your cooking style?
“Not so much on a professional level, but definitely on a private level since my youngest daughter was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago. That really changed my world and my family’s world and the way we eat. I haven’t changed the menu at Frantzén, but at my other restaurants I’ve changed the kids’ menus to cut out sugar and white flour and so on. That said, even at Frantzén, I always cook with very few dairy products, very little sugar and very little gluten to keep food more pure. I have a lot of diabetics who’ve dined at Frantzén and have been surprised by how little insulin they need to take.”
What made you decide to take on the Enigma project in Dubai?
“I’ll be the only Nordic chef operating in the region, as far as I’m aware. The theme will be like a time lapse of my take on Nordic gastronomy over the last eight years. Nordic food is fun – but it’s not fine dining; it’s ingredient-driven. There’ll be a lot of energy in the service with chefs popping into the dining room. I hate the style of fine dining where it feels like you’ve walked into a library. It’s so boring!”
What are the main challenges you face in setting up shop oversees?
“My restaurant in Stockholm has only 20 seats; in Dubai we’ll be serving three times more than that. There’s also the issue of where Dubai is; we’ll need to bring all our seasonal ingredients in from Sweden. We’ve done a lot of work sourcing ingredients from Scandinavia – there’ll be some wild berries from the Northern part of Lapland, scallops from Norway, Swedish caviar…”
What are your must-have kitchen staples?
“Salt and lemon; together, they bring out the best flavours, and I think that’s something people cooking at home are missing – they use salt, but not lemon, and it’s the balance of the salt and acidity that makes a dish. Also, always on my menu, when it’s in season, is the black truffle.”
What’s your favourite flavour?
“It changes all through the year. After eight months of darkness in Sweden over the winter, right now, I’m just desperate to get my hands on something green.”
What ‘s your least favourite flavour?
“I don’t eat oysters and I don’t eat salmon, simply because I don’t like them.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“I’m using way too much Swedish tobacco called Snus; it’s like a moist snuff that’s placed under the lip – it’s super strong and very common in Sweden. If you ever see anyone in Sweden who looks like they’ve been punched in the lip, they’re probably using Snus.”
What would be your ideal last meal?
“I would take a perfect grilled rib-eye, French fries, tomato and onion salad with just the right amount of sea salt and balsamic and a really good Béarnaise sauce, with a nice coke with shitloads of lemon and ice.”
What’s your favourite curse word in the kitchen?
WORLDINER ADDRESS BOOK
Restaurant Frantzén, Lilla Nygatan 21, 111 28 Stockholm , +46 8 20 85 80, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.restaurantfrantzen.com/