11th February 2016
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin
11th February 2016
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin
Albert lives in a stunning functionalist apartment in Norrmalm, with high ceilings, tall windows and a balcony overlooking a verdant square. When he moved in with his wife Clara1, he changed the layout to prioritise the kitchen and dining area: cooking and entertaining are a big deal in this household. We pop out again to buy a few more ingredients (Albert spends a lot of time searching for a very particular type of mustard). Then he opens a few bottles of good wine – French of course – and we settle in for the evening.
Albert talks about his architectural practice AF-LA, which designs interiors as well as buildings – when we visit he’s working on a new restaurant on Kungsholmen called Agnes. Then, joined by Albert’s friend Sten, we sit down to eat. Cosmopolitan though he is, Albert cooks hearty, traditional French food at home. Tonight he serves rabbit in a mustard sauce followed by tarte au citron, both taken from an old French cookbook that’s creased and splattered from extensive use. Both dishes, as you’d expect from someone who takes food this seriously, are exquisite: the rabbit is moist and succulent, the tart outrageously lemony. In one apartment in the centre of Stockholm, at least, classic French cuisine is alive and kicking.
When I moved here 15 years ago, cooking quickly became a means of holding onto my French identity. So I’ve been trying to channel what my mother cooked at home: choucroute, lentils with Morteau sausage, ratatouille with a piece of meat…
Yes, 100%. It’s just to preserve memories and a sense of connection. I don’t have so many French friends here. French people are always complaining about everything. If I live here and I’m quite happy about it, I don’t want to chat about how much better it is in France. But I like to remember where I’m from and food is a simple way of doing that.
There are a lot of things we have to import. Potatoes are good – everything that grows underground is good – but what grows over the ground is quite limited.
Yes – and now we’re beginning to have really good Swedish produce and it’s actually possible to follow the seasons. But before, no way – even the seasonal stuff had to be imported from Holland.
Yeah. And the meat is starting to be really good as well.
Cooking became a means of holding onto my French identity. I’ve been trying to channel what my mother cooked at home: choucroute, lentils with Morteau sausage, ratatouille with a piece of meat…
You’ve heard about the monopoly here2? You have to be street smart. If you look a little deeper you can order stuff that you can’t get hold of elsewhere.
Yes! I take the same approach to wine as I do to cooking. There are so many good wines out there but I decided to focus on French producers. It takes a lifetime just to know one area. I was really into Burgundy and then my uncle introduced me to Côte-Rôtie. Now it’s my favourite wine. They’re a bit more subtle than Côtes du Rhône – and they make really interesting natural wines there as well.
Yeah. I think basically [Copenhagen restaurant] Noma was a bomb in the food tradition in Denmark and then it spread here. That’s why I think natural wines are much bigger in Scandinavia than other places.
Noma were the first to sell natural wine and base dinners and dishes around the wine – really weird pink-red wines from the Jura and so on. Going there, you realise how much they build their dishes around the wine.
Yes once. Last year when I turned 40, I went with 10 people. You sit there for four or five hours and have 20 dishes. It was great but we had a heavy smørrebrød lunch and a really big dinner at Manfreds the night before. We weren’t really prepared. You’ve got to go for lunch and have an empty stomach. One of our companions ended up giving back his £500 dinner [laughs].
Always at Christmas and in the summer. And then one or two weekends more. Maybe four times a year.
For wine, yes.
No, but I’d love to do it some time. You’d need to sleep at some point midway – the journey is about 20 hours.
Last year I went to Noma with 10 people. It was great but we had a heavy smørrebrød lunch and a really big meal the night before. One of our companions ended up giving back his £500 dinner
I don’t drink coffee actually. I’m a fake French. Everyone in my family drinks tea instead. I have enough things to be dependent on without coffee. Also, if I drink it I get excited for many hours. Even if I drink a Coke, I’m like whoa, what’s going on here?
Avocado. I had too much of it when I was young. I really loved it. I don’t know how but I just got disgusted by it.
I cooked a little bit at home – helping out and trying different stuff. I was baking. I liked sweets a lot.
Always. Even stuff I’ve done 10 times, I have to read over the recipe.
My wife is the opposite. Her approach is “a bit here, a bit there”, and it’s usually very good. She’s always starting from the same base but then elaborating – using whatever is in the fridge. I always need to have the exact ingredients to the millilitre.
Yeah exactly. It’s perfection against talent [laughs].
It’s Clara’s father [Bengt Wedholm, a legendary Swedish restaurateur]. He died before I met her. He was working for Bocuse in the 50s. Then after 15 years he moved back here and opened the first pizzeria in Sweden [Östergök, in 1968]. Then he opened more gourmet places – a fish restaurant, a meat restaurant. The fish restaurant, Wedholms Fisk, is still there but it lost its Michelin star the year he died.
We’re supposed to be good at bread in France but actually the bread here is much better. It’s more expensive but it is really good.
Albert on his favourite food shops in Stockholm – see Address Book
On Kungsholmen, which is an island in the city, just west of here. The area is kind of up-and-coming but doesn’t really have so many good restaurants yet. Three people are behind this, including a chef who worked at Nobu. They’re kind of secret about the concept because they don’t want it to influence me too much. But I understand it’s going to be small plates with Swedish and Asian influences.
Not yet [the restaurant opened in December 2015 – it’s called Agnes].
Yeah, but small restaurants and coffee shops. This is the biggest one so far and the one where they give me total freedom – they’ve asked for something timeless, not too trendy.
It’s a lot about which materials you’re going to use. The layout is really dictated by the space – it’s mostly logistics. What’s going to make a difference is the materials you choose, what lighting you have – lighting is very important. To have it cosy but still not too dark. And not too noisy as well, so you need to mix hard and soft materials.
Yes. We’ve demolished everything. Before, it was a restaurant based around tequila – you don’t want to know!
I remember the best dish. It was at L’Astrance [in Paris]. They had a bread soup. You know the end of the baguette when it’s hard and crispy? That’s exactly what the soup tasted of, on a magic level. They were really nice there as well. I went for lunch once and then came back again six months later, also for lunch, and they said, “Oh hello Mr France Lanord. How is the baby? Here is some champagne.” You’re kidding me! Free champagne. Totally crazy!
For more about Albert’s architectural practice, visit www.af-la.com.
Follow Albert: Instagram
Zoe Adjonyoh – The chef & food writer cooks Moroccan chicken for lunch, recounts a journey to her Ghanaian roots and explains how a pot of peanut butter stew launched a flourishing food career
Roger Phillips – The horticulturalist and food writer takes us around his secret London garden, discusses his deep-rooted love of mushrooms and explains why he sleeps in his kitchen
Erwin Gegenbauer – The master vinegar brewer takes us on a tour of his Vienna factory, explains why local produce is “boring” and makes us breakfast featuring his own honey, oil, coffee, beer and cider