When Björn Frantzén and Daniel Lindeberg met as young chefs in Sweden, their culinary philosophies clicked, and they floated the idea of one day opening a restaurant together. But some things take time to perfect, and it wasn’t until ten years later, in 2008, that they opened the doors to Frantzén/Lindeberg in the heart of Stockholm’s Old Town.
There are certain stories surrounding Sweden’s most lauded restaurant, Frantzén/Lindeberg, that may seem to flirt with the absurd. The first is that the pigs that are raised for the restaurant’s pork are served a fresh cup of herbal tea each morning. “It’s true,” Björn affirms, laughing. “The type of breed that we use are almost like pets and we believe in treating them as well as possible.”
Then there’s the legend that the restaurant once served a cheese platter with an accompanying iPod featuring a narration by Swedish leading man, Stellan Skarsgård. “That was in the beginning, in the first six months we were open,” Björn explains. “And we wanted to find a way that wouldn’t make the restaurant seem so stiff – to add a little humour into things. But these days I say the ‘circus’ has moved on.”
And what about the a la minute cooking philosophy, which sees guests greeted with nothing but a box of raw bread dough at their table upon being seated? “We leave it sit there for the first half an hour and then we bake it up in an open-fire oven,” he says of the process. “While it’s baking, we churn the butter in front of the guests.”
The philosophy that forms the foundation of Frantzén/Lindeberg is simple: nature rules. “It doesn’t matter how good a cook you are; unless you start with great ingredients, you’re not going to end up with a great result,” Björn says. “It all starts with nature – for us it’s really about finding the best ingredients possible. And, to be able to do that, we needed to start our own gardens and start breeding our own animals.” The restaurant’s menu operates in a ‘carte blanche’ manner, where the chefs work with a list of ingredients based on what is fresh, seasonal and available from their gardens on that particular day. In essence, nature provides the palette from which they create.
Björn admits that, in the winter months, a seasonal philosophy such as theirs can prove to be challenging. Chicken, for example, is only on the menu once a year due to Sweden’s long winters. “I want the chickens to have spent as much time outside as possible. But that’s only possible from April to October, otherwise there’s too much snow and it’s minus 30ºC outside.” (And then there was the time when a fox ate all the chickens, so no chicken was served at all that year.) Still, he clarifies, he and the other chefs enjoy the creative challenge that the cold climate presents. “Our inspiration really comes from the produce and raw materials that we’re working with. They dictate what’s going to be on the menu and what I’m going to cook.”
As an autumn palette now begins to brush across the Swedish landscape, the current menu at Frantzén/Lindeberg is dominated by the remaining stalwarts of the summer produce, along with various mushrooms that are emerging with the cooler season. Björn and Daniel’s creative freedom is largely thanks to the intricate web of farmers, fisherman and growers that they have painstakingly grown over the years. What their producers all have in common, Björn says, is an open mind, a sense of wonderment and an unbridled passion for nature and its bounty. “In order to do what we do, you need to be very curious and you also need to feel as though nothing is impossible. And in the case of our producers, I think freaks attract freaks,” he laughs. “We need these kinds of freaks around us, and they need us – so it’s a healthy relationship in that way. There’ll be a lot of people along the way telling you that it isn’t possible to do certain things.”
Despite the naysayers, Frantzén/Lindeberg has quickly found success, earning two Michelin stars, as well as being labelled the ‘One to Watch’ in last year’s iteration of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. This year they made the list itself, coming in at number 20 – the highest-ranking Nordic restaurant behind the overall winner, Noma.
While Björn and Daniel have their eyes on a third Michelin star, they have no plans to expand the restaurant from its 19 covers per day. “It’s all about remaining in control of things,” Björn says. “The smaller the restaurant is, the more control you can have.“ One of the greatest challenges they currently face is being able to achieve economies of scale. “The concept we are doing is great for gastronomy, but obviously the philosophy is very expensive. You just need to do the math – 13 chefs and 19 covers. We’ve never run into any problems in doing what we are doing, but it’s certainly not for a profit.”
Fortunately the restaurant’s unique approach is a big attraction for gastronomic tourists, with 60–70% of the restaurant’s custom coming from people visiting Stockholm to sample their cuisine. As for the rise in popularity of Nordic fare over the past few years, Björn attributes it to the fact that they have more room for creativity. “With places like Italy, France and Spain, there are all these great traditions in their cooking. But we don’t have that in the Nordic countries, so it’s kind of like having a blank page to work with. There’s no one coming and telling us what we can and can’t do. We can be really open-minded and that gives us the opportunity to really push things.”
The duo’s ability to live in the moment and not dwell on potential problems is fundamental to their success – and defines Björn’s general approach to life.“I told myself really early that the worst that can happen is that things become all screwed up and then you start all over again,” he says. “I promised myself that I would never put myself in a situation when I was sitting there as an old man thinking ‘What if?’ Never regret anything.”