Earlier this year, the team at Sweden's two-Michelin-starred Frantzén/Lindeberg made the surprise announcement that Daniel Lindeberg would be leaving the company and Björn Frantzén would run the kitchen solo as the newly dubbed Restaurant Frantzén. The departure seemed to be an amicable one and Frantzén promised it would be "business as usual" at the world-class restaurant.
Now that Restaurant Frantzén has returned from its month-long Summer break, Eater caught up with Frantzén via telephone to talk about the transformation the restaurant is undergoing. In the following interview, Frantzén explains his philosophy of breaking down borders between the kitchen and the dining room, what he's looking for from a fine dining restaurant, and why he's trying to elicit confusion from his guests. He also talks a little bit about the restaurant's rise on the World's 50 Best list and his experience guest-running the @Sweden Twitter account last year.
Earlier this year, Daniel left the restaurant and you went from Frantzén/Lindeberg to Restaurant Frantzén. I understand you guys had been preparing for that for some time. How did that transition go?
It went very smoothly and very well. [The rest of our staff] are still there, so it was very nice and easy. There's a time for everything in life. Now was really the time for this. I adapt very quickly to these situations. So I think I adapted very quickly. And I've always been in charge of the gastronomy part of the restaurant, so for me there was no really big changes actually.
I know you said you were not really going to be changing things but that you had "exciting new projects" on the way this year. What are they?
(laughs) Well, there would not be any surprises if I tell you all of them. But we just recently opened up [after Summer break] and one of the big changes we have been undergoing has been trying to erase the border between the kitchen and dining room a lot more than we used to or that normal restaurants have done. So, for example, we have abandoned chefs whites. All the sommeliers, waiters, and chefs are dressed in the same way. And we are having sommeliers in the kitchen and chefs in the dining room.
Oh cool, how is that working out?
Very good, but it's a big challenge for the restaurant, of course. But we have the kitchen counter, which we have four seats in, so it's very natural to bring the wine team to the kitchen and the kitchen out in the dining room. It's a very, very tiny restaurant, so that works out really good.
Why did you decide to do that?
It's been the same team since Day 1, really, working with me. And they all want to be challenged, and they all want to progress. We try every day to become a better restaurant.
So what does it mean to have the kitchen in the dining room? How does that actually play out?
It's me or the head chef who are actually based in the dining room and we have like a mini kitchen where we prepare most of the things a la minute and we do a lot more things in the dining room that normally takes place within the kitchen in normal restaurants. For us, it's really to erase the border between kitchen and dining room. We have an open kitchen, so for us it was a natural next step to take.
Did you have to build a mini kitchen in the dining room?
Yeah. But because it is so tiny, the dining room, it needs to be flexible. We need to be able to move around and so on. We had a furniture artist create this piece for us during the Summer break.
And how have the diners been reacting to it?
Obviously some of them get confused: What's going on here, who's a chef, who's not a chef? And that's exactly the feeling we wanted to create. That's what we want.
Why did you want that?
Well, the way of fine dining restaurants in the year 2013 has already changed a lot from where it comes from, the French fine dining gastronomy temples. We don't have any silverware, we don't have any gold anywhere. So what I like when I go out to a restaurant is somewhere with a lot more personality and something that I only can experience at this restaurant. That's what I'm looking for. The uniqueness in it. For any restaurant that is a big challenge to do, but we were ready for it. It's all about creating something that's unique and more satisfying for all the guests. It doesn't matter who you talk to. You can talk wine or food to anyone within the dining room or within the restaurant. For me, that's what I want.
[Photo: vdKG Design]
So you're kind of setting yourself apart.
Yeah. We are able to push the boundaries and also to raise the level for the diners at the kitchen counter on the wine experience. And in the dining room, we are able to do it the opposite with the food because we have chefs in the dining room. My philosophy of cooking is that you should try to cook everything as close as possible [to where] it's going to be eaten. The closer I get to the guest's mouth, the better it will taste within their mouth. [For example,] slaughtering a langoustine in the dining room and making a tartare in front of the guests. That freshness, you know?
So we're trying to take advantage of the small dining room and not being ashamed of it, which we were the first year because it's so small and it's not like an Alain Ducasse restaurant. There's a huge advantage that everything is so close.
So that's the one big project. Is there anything else you're willing to share yet?
Well, we have one big thing, but I can't tell you everything about it yet. Let us put it this way: it involves a test kitchen. That's all I can say. It's part of pushing on the progress and the development within the restaurant.
So a lot of big plans for the restaurant going ahead.
Yeah. (laughs) There's already more kitchen than dining room and we'll not go the opposite way when this takes place.
I really liked the time-lapse video you did of the tasting menu. Why did you decide to do it?
If you look at fashion, for every season they do a big fashion show to show off the season's new clothing models. But within cooking it's not really like that. So for every season, we try to push the boundaries and show what the progress is about and what people could expect from this season.
Especially when people are making reservations so far in advance to get into top tier restaurants like yours, it's neat to have that visual of what you might have. Do you see it as a service you're doing?
It's hard because nowadays with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, even before someone eats it, it's out there. They take a picture of the food and then they eat it and then bam, they publish it straight on Twitter. So it's pretty hard to keep secrets nowadays because it goes so quickly. You just have to deal with it. Seeing one thing and eating one thing is two completely different things anyway. I don't know. It is what it is. That's the way the modern restaurant scene is and it will keep on being that forever, I think.
Speaking of Twitter, last year you hosted the official @Sweden Twitter account. What was that like?
Crazy. It was a crazy fucking week. There was a lot of comments and journalists taking their chance to blow up things that were said. But that was the point. If you do something like that, it's boring if you're all mainstream. Sometimes it's fun to tease a little bit, to put it mildly.
One of the tweets, you kind of expressed some distaste for Swedish restaurant critics. What's the deal there with critics?
Well, you know, the power of restaurant critics in your big national newspapers, they can make or break restaurants. If you have that power, I believe you should have the knowledge and the know-how. It's a responsibility, not only toward the restaurant, but also toward the readers. So I think they should have a lot more knowledge than some of them have. The amount of knowledge and know-how of restaurants and food and dining is way way too low. And that's sad. And it's dangerous for some restaurants. We've been very lucky, but I read reviews sometimes that are really fucked up. That's why I sort of mentioned it.
Finally, I just wanted to ask you about the World's 50 Best as you guys moved up this year. How was that for you and what kind of effect has it had on the restaurant?
We've been very lucky and fortunate enough to move up the list every year. Of course it's great fun. The impact of the 50 Best is huge. Almost scary huge. It's great because it brings a lot of international guests to Stockholm and to Restaurant Frantzén. And the people who are coming are really into food and they are all very excited. Obviously, if you are traveling from Hong Kong to eat in one restaurant, you are very excited. So it brings a lot of fun guests you can have nice interesting conversations with. So yeah, it's great. Absolutely great.