“I don’t think taste is that complicated, if it’s good, it’s good. The complicated part is the ingredients. If you don’t have quality ingredients, you’ll have no flavour. A carrot often tastes best if it’s allowed to be precisely that, a carrot.”
Daniel and Björn Frantzén is the duo behind the two star Michelin restaurant Frantzén/Lindberg in the old town in Stockholm. Their innovative and carefully thought out food has brought them worldwide attention.
“What’s sometimes strange about fine dining is when the concept becomes more important than the flavour. I think there might be reasons for why we once stopped eating some herb or other.”
Isn’t what’s interesting about flavour that we all experience it in different ways?
“One of the best things to have happened in Scandinavia in recent years is that more people have tried to focus on eating what can be found locally. Go out into the forest and make use of what you find. It’s a healthy concept. And almost anything that is biodynamic or organic usually tastes better.”
There are obviously trends in flavours. Sometimes you hear about completely new flavours, like umami. What do you think about that?
“I recently read that some American researchers are in the process of tracking down two new flavours. I’m sure they’ll find them. I suppose it’s similar to that there are allegedly 300 varieties of sweetness. But yes, umami is pretty cool. We have a daschi, a stock made from dried scallops with Swedish seaweed - instead of Japanese - and Swedish mushrooms. That’s umami.”
Aren’t successful food trends a bit like the emperor’s new clothes?
“We were quick catching on to the molecular trend. We served liquorice air and all sort of things. A lot of good came out of that period too. We started questioning things.“
Can you think of any examples?
“There are a lot of myths in this business. Like ”grill the steak two minutes on one side.” Fine, but how hot is the pan? Does the meat come straight out of the fridge or has someone taken it out and let it sit for a while? Everything has an optimum temperature. That’s what you have to consider when you’re cooking, not some old wives’ tale about two minutes here or there.”
Now your first cookbook is coming out. What do you do if you want to visualise the flavours?
“It’s hard to capture in a photograph what you see with your eyes. Food is three-dimensional and always has an element of freshness, which is important. We had to do a few retakes to get a particular foam or sauce just right. There are usually a couple of seconds right before it floats out a bit more that are perfect.”
Are the big differences in flavour depending on geography?
”In the beginning we drew inspiration from different places. But style changes. In the past two years we have found our own, which is based on focusing on specific details or unexpected taste combinations. We have always said that our priority isn’t to be conceptually coolest, but to cook the best food.”
Do you think you’re less experimental today than when you opened?
“Absolutely. When we opened it was like a circus, which was deliberate. But it’s been two years since we did any of that.”
There was one thing that made people talk about you for years -the dish that included a music box.
"It played the Swedish song ‘Idas sommarvisa.’ Yes, that was during the circus days. We wanted the song to put the guests in the right mood. I don’t regret any of that, but now that we have the gardens and some livestock of our own, we can keep it simple.”
You have your own farm?
“We work with a farmer, Gustaf, who raises pigs for us. Last summer he was going to bring up Plymouth Rock chickens, an American breed that’s really kick-ass when it comes to fat and flavour. But it’s not a bird that you mass-produce and then slaughter after 30 days. It takes exactly six months to raise them. But when they were just about ready a fox came along and killed all of them but two. We were devastated.”
Sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, that sounds horrible!
“Yes, well. Now we’ll have to wait until the end of the summer before next flock will be ready. Chicken is really a seasonal product.”
What kind of pigs does he raise?
“Linderöd pigs, an old traditional Swedish breed that almost became extinct in the 1970s. It grows really slowly, that’s why no one wants to breed it. But the meat becomes incredibly tender this way. Gustaf boils apples and potatoes for them every day; they aren’t fed any additives. It’s more expensive this way but it’s not about money, it’s more a lifestyle, really.”
What are the conditions for pork farming in Sweden like generally?
“It’s really expensive having your own abattoir on a farm and all big slaughterhouses will pay you less if there’s too much fat on the animal. There is one farmer on Gotland for example, his beef is great, and everyone in the industry knows it is. But at the abattoir they tell him the animals contain too much fat and he gets maybe 37 instead of 54 kronor per kilo. It’s all about prices. No one can afford a wagyu steak at 8000 kronor per kilo for a standard Friday dinner with the family. But you have to have a top level in order to have better basics. The problem is that the top tier is missing in Sweden; instead the abattoirs focus on everything that they can sell cheap.”
Further south herbs are often used for flavour, and they’re available all year round. But what can you do here?
“We have always said that we will find the best food. And then if it’s in Finland, Japan or Australia, we import it from there. Because we want good food. But it’s never good to transport things too far, and luckily we can source good food locally. So we have to seek out the producers and nag them to let us buy. We can get fish from the west coast and Norway.
Some flavours are considered more luxurious than others. Do you use things like truffle or Foie gras?
“Absolutely, when Alba truffles are in season we use it. It usually costs 30 000 kronor per kilo. We use everything when it’s at its best. Foie gras, caviar and vendance roe. It’s pretty lucky that truffle season is when Swedish vegetables are at a low point.”
Desserts have changed a lot too, haven’t they?
“Yes. There used to be more confectioners, now it’s more the chefs that make the desserts. We want people to be able to tell that the same person developed the menu from start to finish. If you serve 20 different dishes there have to be common denominators.”
Is your personal taste in food different from what you serve at the restaurant?
“When I’m at home I prefer a different kind of food, usually burgers, ribs, ramen, tacos or traditional home cooking. Cod with shrimp and horseradish is delicious.”
Do you have any plans to put together a simpler menu?
“That’s partly why we started the studio projects that we have had on Mondays, mostly during the winter months.”
What did you serve?
“We had some guest appearances. We made Paul Bocuse’s signature mushroom consommé with truffles and chicken, and a dinner with a sommelier from Louis XV in Monaco who brought some French wines. We had a classics menu and an extreme menu where we served dried reindeer penis.”
Hm, was it good?
“Yes, it’s a bit like jerky. But it would be fun to do something simpler more regularly in the future. It’s a good way to be playful and do different stuff. But so far the restaurant takes up all the time.”
Where do you find your inspiration?
“What’s really important is to eat in your own restaurant. We try to make sure that all the staff eats here regularly. Nothing generates as much feedback and ideas. Although it’s terrible the first time. You just sit there feeling uncomfortable, thinking you should be back in the kitchen.”
You read lot about how chefs flock to certain restaurants and work for free. Is it like that for you too?
“We receive an application a day for jobs or apprenticeships. But we can only accept one person at a time, usually just sous-chefs or chefs from other starred restaurants. They can stay for up to two months. It’s much more rewarding for those who want to be inspired. No one is just put in a corner to peel onions. For our generation it’s much more natural to share - not like in the old days when you were told not to reveal any of the recipes when you stopped working somewhere.”
Do you use up all the food?
“We depend on people travelling just to enjoy a meal with us. From April to October, 70 or 80 per cent of our guests are from abroad. Knowing that we are fully booked makes it easier to work with the best ingredients because we know we’ll use it all up. Everything needs to be fresh. So we can order 150 fresh scallops for one week and know it’ll be enough. If you’re cooking à la minute it has to be fast - the sweetness in shellfish disappears two hours after you’ve killed them. Less than 1 per cent of what we buy goes to waste. If someone doesn’t turn up for their table, well, we have two fish to spare.
To know more abut Frantzén/Lindeberg please click here. Interview and photography by The Swedish Chef.