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When Björn Frantzén talks about freaks, it’s easy to get the wrong impression. But listen carefully to the Swedish chef and you’ll soon see what he means. The man behind Stockholm’s 2-Michelin-star Restaurant Frantzén is referring to a rare breed of farmers and producers who work tirelessly to help him realise his goal of reviving and preserving some of Sweden’s finest natural ingredients.
In short, to get exceptional produce, you need exceptional people. Take farmer Jan Andersson. He was once a kindergarten teacher, but switched to raising vegetables, as Frantzén jokes, “because they were less noisy than the kids.” Now at his garden in Malmköping, he concentrates on produce grown above ground, from pineapples and wasabi, to 128 varieties of tomatoes. “He puts them in his bathroom over winter,” adds Frantzén. “His wife is not so happy, but the chef is.”
Then there’s Lars Feddek in Katrineholm, who takes care of below-the-ground produce at the other of two small organic farms supplying Frantzén’s operation. Feddek is a biodynamic farmer who lives in a tent and uses horses to work the land. And don’t forget Gustaf Söderfeldt, the man who supplies Frantzén with rare Swedish chickens and a variety of pig known as the Linderöd, which is as Swedish as Abba, but considerably more tasty. Söderfeldt treats his pigs to a lavish diet including freshly boiled potatoes, root vegetables, apples and buttermilk.
EXCEPTIONELL RAVARA: EXCEPTIONAL INGREDIENTS
Most ingredients tend to taste better if they are brought up slowly and not stressed and suffering by being transported,” explains Frantzén. “So the best ingredients will normally be something organic or biodynamic grown from the surrounding area. The problem in starting small projects between a producer and a chef comes when he’s going to deliver the pork, he might come in a Volvo - on a Sunday. All sorts of things can happen. But it’s a quest for the best.” It’s challenging work, but it’s all part of a wider project called Exceptionell Råvara, or Exceptional Ingredients, which aims to build a strong network of Swedish producers and chefs, and to restore top-quality, locally produced food to diners’ plates. Since its inception in 2011, the project has attracted over 40 producers and 16 chefs, including the likes of Mathias Dahlgren, Andreas Dahlberg of Bastard and Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken. It began as a reaction, in part, to the success of the New Nordic Kitchen, and a renewed interest in Sweden’s local cuisine. “People come from all over the world to eat here, they don’t want to eat a French chicken because they can do that in France. So that has forced chefs and restaurants to be creative and try to do something to keep the limelight on the Nordic region,” says Frantzén, who describes his meticulous cuisine as Nordic-kaiseki.
NOSE-TO-TAIL: THE BETTER, THE EASIER (TO COOK)
At his 19-seat restaurant in Stockholm’s Old Town, you can expect to find artful, thought-provoking dishes, from confit of pig’s head on pork skin, to dried reindeer penis, which is ground into a pink powder and sprinkled onto reindeer tartare. “Yes it’s a gimmick, but that’s not the point,” says Frantzén. “The point is to start the discussion. We need to eat the whole animal, we can’t just keep eating parts of it. If we raise a pig it takes a long time. We can’t just use the best parts. We have to take care of the whole animal. Everyone can cook a nice piece of beef fillet with truffles and foie gras, but to take some other cuts and make that tasty - then you need skill.”
Frantzén’s nose-to-tail philosophy is simple - the better the ingredient, the easier it is to cook, and the tastier the end result. Raise the standard of the ingredient, and people will be more inclined to cook and eat the parts that, in the past, they might have thrown away. But as Frantzén warns, the best ingredients shouldn’t be exclusively confined to the kitchens of Michelin star restaurants. “It should be something you can go to the market and buy. That’s something I’m excited about, to get that spread out to more people, so they can actually go to the shops and pay the right money for a Swedish chicken instead of an imported French one.”
Aside from the obvious benefits for chefs, farmers and the environment, the ultimate goal is to get people eating better, healthier food. But, as if mindful of the dangers of coming across as too worthy and preachy, Frantzén admits to motivations of a simpler, more primal nature. “For me it’s never been a question of being ‘correct’, I’m such an egotist in that way that it’s all about flavour and taste.”