We could barely contain our excitement at the news that the next Chapter of the Enigma Story would feature Journey of A Nordic Chef by Björn Frantzén. Nordic cuisine is something that we knew very little about in practice, but our Nordic appetites have been whetted since 2010 when Noma (Chef René Redzepi) was recognised as the best restaurant in the world.
Björn Frantzén heads up Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm, Sweden which is listed at number 31 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Founded in 2008, Restaurant Frantzén earned its prestigious two stars after only two years in operations and has built up a reputation since, based on modern Scandinavian cooking using seasonal Scandinavian produce.
Jetted in just for a day of press interviews before the launch, we were excited to meet Björn and get the lowdown on how the Scandinavian/Nordic concept could be imported to Dubai for Enigma’s second act: Journey of A Nordic Chef.
This is Part One of a two-part interview with Chef Björn Frantzén when he had visited Dubai a month back when the menu was still being finalised. In the first part, we talk about the menu and ingredients, and in the second we talk about what happens before the concept moved to Dubai in our exclusive section ‘Behind Closed Doors’ with FoodeMag dxb and the impact social media and technology has on business plus Michelin Star dining and the Bjorn’s take on the Dubai dining scene.
I’ve been around the world and cooked, and so have other Nordic Chefs, but we felt that ‘no-one’s been here so let’s have a go! - Björn Frantzén
What was your initial reaction when Enigma approached you?
From the beginning I felt that it sounded like fun and it’s a market that we have not cooked in yet. I’ve been around the world and cooked, and so have other Nordic Chefs, but we felt that ‘no-one’s been here so let’s have a go!
Nordic gastronomy is quite young. A lot has happened in the last ten years. It’s all in the interest of Nordic Chefs to keep on spreading the word, and it will also attract international guests to come to our region to eat. We’ve been very lucky and spoiled the last 10 years with a lot of new ingredients coming to our region for trying out but we have to keep on being creative and innovative and moving forward, and this opportunity fits well with that ethos.
It’s also perfect timing. In the last 6 – 7 years, amazing things have happened in the region. A food historian said that big changes in gastronomy only happens in about every 150 years, so the changes we are seeing at the moment are unique and will take another 100 – 150 years before the next big change. It’s perfect time for us to be doing what we are doing and today with all the interest that is there in cooking and organic food in particular, bio-dynamic food and gastronomy etc, it’s an exciting time to cook.
What can we expect to see on the menu? Have you chosen some your favourite dishes to tell a particular story?
The menu will be served as a tasting menu. Guests can either have the Full Story which consists of twelve dishes, or the Half Story which consists of eight dishes.
The menu was based on a mixture of things. The first thing we set ourselves was the aim to serve dishes that are pretty Nordic. We then had to look at the availability of ingredients in Dubai or we had to make sure that ingredients could survive the transportation without affecting quality.
What’s the inspiration for the menu? Has anything been developed specifically for Dubai?
No, I would describe the menu as a ‘time-lapse from 2008 until today. Some of the dishes will be exactly the same as we serve in Frantzén, while others will change only slightly. We have had to adapt the dishes and make some changes to make sure that the standards are always the same.
In what order will you send out the dishes – will they come in chronological order to showcase progression in time or it could be a different order?
I’m not one hundred percent decided on that as yet. You will see the progression of time in the dishes for sure, but it’s possibly they won’t be served in chronological order.
You are being quite enigmatic about the menu, in fact you aren’t giving much away. What’s the most exciting thing on the menu, that will WOW the diners?
It’s like when people ask what’s your favourite dish on the menu, or who is your favourite child – I don’t want to say one over another. Each dish is there for a reason. I think there are some WOW dishes for sure.
What’s really exciting for me is to see how people react, that’s both exciting and frightening at the same time. It’s like being an artist or a painter – you want people to say it’s ”really good”, and not “what on earth is that!”. You want people to love everything, but it’s always interesting to see which dish becomes the popular dish, and that’s not always what you think. The whole menu as it’s put together right now, the dishes are from 2008 to today, we’ve never put it together the way it’s being done now so that will be interesting to see if people prefer the old or the newer dishes.
Also, in Sweden the restaurant is very small, it’s a 20-seater restaurant. The space we have at Enigma is almost ten time as big, so for us it’s a bit like preparing for a banquet every night and that’s a new challenge for the team.
What’s the plan for the three weeks you are here? Presumably you will be meeting diners as well as being in the kitchen?
Yes, meeting people is important. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen is important too, to make sure that everyone fully understands what we are doing and then I will be handing over to Jim, my Executive Chef and leave. He’s been the Head Chef for 6 years at Frantzen, so I’m used to handing over the responsibility to Jim and the team, and I trust him hundred percent!
However, I’m a control freak so before I leave, I need to see and feel that everything is okay and that everything is as expected.
We’ve spoken a lot about Ingredients. Do you try and source in season and is that still possible for you here?
Yes, we absolutely source our ingredients in season. We are bringing most of the ingredients with us, especially the main proteins. There’s been a lot of work for us to secure ingredients, for example, the scallops are from the Northern parts of Norway, the Swedish caviar is from Lapland. There’s been a lot of work to get the ingredients here and to maintain the same quality.
Does that make it an exciting challenge or does it make your vision a bit restricted?
It’s very exciting and our producers have been excited to send their products to Dubai. Of course, people expect a certain standard and we have to make sure that it is maintained. I have a really good team who will be here for the whole time. That’s the challenge when you are coming into a new market, you can get some Swedish ingredients in London or New York, but you can’t do that here – we have to set up the route for the first time.
Are there going to be any local ingredients on the menu?
We don’t know yet. We definitely hope to have some if possible. The team came 4-5 days before launch, they will take a look about what is in the market. Things change all the time with seasons, so no point in them doing their research too early and it has to be done when they are in Dubai. In Sweden, spring is coming so we will be changing the menus, this will be reflected in the menu whilst we are in Dubai.
Is your food about clever Techniques and Textures or the Quality of Ingredients?
It’s a mixture. Quality of ingredient comes first, then it’s how we play around with the ingredients to get the best out of them. Texture is very important. We have one dish which has no texture in that way, and we did that for a reason. There’s always a story and reason behind each dish. Diners will be given a booklet giving details of each dish on the menu which will provide the story behind each dish so you can read about it and understand about it more.
Stay tuned for Part Two where we talk about what happens before the concept moved to Dubai in our exclusive section ‘Behind Closed Doors’ with FoodeMag dxb and the impact social media and technology has on business plus Michelin Star dining and the Bjorn’s take on the Dubai dining scene.
JOURNEY OF A NORDIC CHEF by Björn Frantzén is on until the 30th June, 2016. For Booking into Enigma, visit www.enigmadxb.com.