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Albert France Lanord

11th February 2016

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

11th February 2016

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

When Albert France Lanord moved to Stockholm 15 years ago to pursue a career in architecture, Sweden was – at least in terms of food and wine, two things this well-travelled Parisian holds dear – a very different place. “There was hardly anything going on,” he says. “There were two or three good restaurants, and it was really limited what you could find in the shops.” Now it’s all change. We meet Albert at Hötorgshallen, a big international food market in the city centre where he buys saucisson sec and a rabbit for dinner, then he leads us home along Drottninggatan pointing out good restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops along the way. Even the bread here, he admits, is better than in Paris.

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.

Continued below...

What kind of food do you cook at home?

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…

So every dish you make at home is French?

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.

How do you get on with Swedish produce?

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.

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Surely you get some good stuff in summer.

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.

So farmers are taking more pride in their produce now?

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…

What about wine?

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.

Do you tend to drink French wines?

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.

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Is natural wine something you’re interested in?

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.

Because Noma championed them?

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.

You’ve been to Noma?

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].

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How often do you go back to France?

Always at Christmas and in the summer. And then one or two weekends more. Maybe four times a year.

Do you bring an empty suitcase?

For wine, yes.

Do you ever drive back?

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

You’d need a lot of coffee.

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?

Is there anything else you don’t eat or drink?

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.

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Did you start cooking after you moved away from home?

I cooked a little bit at home – helping out and trying different stuff. I was baking. I liked sweets a lot.

Do you use recipes when you cook?

Always. Even stuff I’ve done 10 times, I have to read over the recipe.

Same as me.

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.

And if one ingredient is missing, the whole thing falls apart?

Yeah exactly. It’s perfection against talent [laughs].

Who’s that in the picture over the kitchen counter?

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

You mentioned you’re designing a restaurant at the moment. Where is it?

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.

Do they have a name yet?

Not yet [the restaurant opened in December 2015 – it’s called Agnes].

Have you designed a restaurant before?

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.

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What’s different about designing restaurants?

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.

On The Menu

Dinner with Albert France Lanord
Stockholm, June 2015

To eat:

Saucisson sec
Sourdough bread from Fabrique bakery
Rabbit thighs and carrots with cumin »
Lemon tart »

To drink:

Catherine & Pierre Breton, Chinon Beaumont, Loire, 2012
Brune et Blonde Vidal Fleury, Cote-Rotie, 2009
Dirler-Cade Pinot Noir Cuvée Ludivine, Alsace, 2009

So you have a blank canvas, more or less.

Yes. We’ve demolished everything. Before, it was a restaurant based around tequila – you don’t want to know!

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?

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

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  1. Sadly, the couple have now separated and are in the process of selling the apartment
  2. The government has a monopoly on alcohol in all Nordic countries apart from mainland Denmark. In Sweden, your only recourse for beverages over 3.5% alcohol is a government-owned chain called Systembolaget. Their wine buyers tend to favour big producers, but if you order ahead you can access wine from smaller and potentially more interesting vineyards.

Posted 11th February 2016

In Interviews

 

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

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