This Swedish Chef Wants to Tame Fire

Björn Frantzén shut down his eponymous, two-Michelin-starred restaurant and moved it to embrace a more primal form of cooking.

No one is better at culinary reinvention than Scandinavian chefs. While pretty much the whole world waits for the 2018 incarnation of Noma, Denmark’s most lauded kitchen, it is neighboring Sweden that has emerged as the epicenter of restaurant redos. The list is long.

Restless chef Mathias Dahlgren recently closed Matsalen, his two-Michelin-starred Stockholm restaurant, and opened in its place the lacto-ovo-vegetarian Rutabaga this past February. This year, rising chef Frida Ronge left her kitchen in Gothenburg to pop up as the executive chef at TAK, Stockholm’s buzzy Swedish-goes-Asian restaurant. And Björn Frantzén, maybe the most promising of Swedish culinary wunderkinds, wasn’t content to stay put at his two-starred eponymous restaurant in Stockholm’s old town.

Moving a mile away and debuting his epic new Frantzén this September in a three-story, renovated, 19th-century townhouse, Björn Frantzén set out to create the gastronomic wonderland of his dreams. Limited to a small number of guests each night and priced at 3,000 SEK per person (roughly $356, with an extra 1,650 SEK/$195 for wine and spirits pairings), Frantzen’s degustation menu changes every night and can read like a culinary epic studded with surprises. Depending on the evening, anything from a Swedish lobster cooked in a roasted cabbage pie to a tartare of wild Arctic char with a vinaigrette of smoked fish bones to veal sweetbreads paired with a roasted onion velouté may land on the table. It’s that ambitious list of brainy dishes that may be the best clue to Frantzén’s move. When I spoke with the chef just 3 weeks after the opening of the new restaurant, he seemed to suggest as much.

Okay, so the basic question: Why did you shutter your original, much-awarded restaurant and open this new one?
I felt we couldn’t take things further in the original location. It was just too small. I wanted to build a restaurant where we could go all the way and give our guests a bigger, stronger journey—a complete experience.

What does that bigger journey entail?
For me, it was important to be able to cook over an open fire. But you can’t do that unless you can control, and counter, the heat and smoke and smell of an open fire. There is a very specific kind of construction that allows for that kind of cooking. And we structured this new restaurant around those specifications so that 25 percent of our food can be cooked over an open fire. Not many restaurants can say that. I use Swedish birchwood, but I’m exploring other options. Our quail and Swedish eel are all barbecued, and our king crab cooked over the fire with our own hot sauce has already become one of our signature dishes. Those dishes just won’t taste the same if they weren’t cooked over the open fire.

Is there also something more primal about the lure of an open fire?
Yes, it’s totally primal. You’re looking back to where it all started—to the cavemen and women gathered around the open fire. Even lit candles add to that primal sense the beauty of the natural heat. And for me it is a new challenge. I was 30 when we opened the first restaurant. A lot happened between 30 and 40. I wanted new challenges. For a 40-year-old chef like me, it’s a nice challenge to try to tame the fire.

What other challenges does the restaurant offer you?
Because of the size of our kitchen, I’m able to do a new set menu every night—typically 10 dishes but also more when you add in the extras.

Is there an underlying culinary approach to the nightly menus?
I’m using mostly Nordic ingredients but taking my inspiration from the Japanese omakase philosophy. I spent a lot of time in Japan, and I think Western chefs increasingly are looking more to Japan than France because this is the way we eat now. Traditionally, Sweden was a farmer’s society. They were working hard in the field 14 hours a day, and they needed all that heavy, starchy potatoes and bread. But in 2017, we don’t need to fill up on bread and starch. I don’t even serve a traditional bread basket here. The Japanese menu, instead, is rooted in a lightness and freshness that is very contemporary.

But the very controlled omakase, chef’s choice menu also allows you to tell your own kind of culinary story.
Exactly. The flow of the meal is crucial to the menu. All the dishes are on the menu for a purpose, and the order of the dishes is vital. You want strong green flavors, for instance, before you serve a more subtle turbot. Planning each night’s menu takes up all my sleeping time now, but it’s worth it.

More Dining

Comments