Dispatches from Europe :: Torn Between Two Lovers: Paris & Stockholm
Words: David Kjellenstenius
Photographs: Maud Maillard
The first year in Paris was challenging. Le Fumoir is a good restaurant but it was not what I was looking for. Long hours, insane tempo serving 120 packed seats with three cooks in the hot kitchen. Ultimately it felt like a step down from Den Gyldene Freden. After a quick visit at the trendy, more gastronomic restaurant Saturne, which didn’t work out, I started working as a Personal Chef for the organization La Belle Assiette. It was really fun and exciting to create my own food and get direct feedback from customers and also to get the chance to see luxurious Parisian apartments. But as it turns out it was more about cocktail parties than dinner parties and the pay was not satisfying.
After a week or two of job searching, I found the job at Au Passage and it feels like I've finally found my home in Paris. In all of the restaurants I've worked before, the owners are not very present and it's easy to tell that their goal is to make as much money as possible. At Au Passage, I do not get that feeling at all. The owners, Audrey [Jarry] and Jean-Charles [Buffet] have created a place where they love to come to work every day and it makes so much for the atmosphere. At Au Passage, we are now four people in the kitchen. In addition to me, there is the head chef Edward Delling Williams, from England, who worked at St. JOHN in London for a long time. Dave Harrison, from Texas, who is only 23, but has 8 years of experience in the kitchen, staged at Noma in Copenhagen and worked at Qui in Austin. Plus, Pastry Chef Quina Lon, who is from the Philippines and worked in London at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park. We are a tight team with very different backgrounds.
The restaurant has about 50 seats and serves sharing plates of the daily changing chalkboard menu, with vegetables that we buy almost every day from the biodynamic farmer Joel Thibeaux at the Lena Market. We serve most of our fish raw, cured or salted and we get the meats as whole as possible. We often get halfs of pigs, selling the shoulder whole, making bacon from the belly and using the rest to make our terrine. I love working in this size of restaurant where I feel as a much bigger part of the picture and where there's a close relationship between the chefs and the customers. We often have customers coming up to the pass asking about the food or just to compliment it.
My goal was never to travel around the world. When I was young, my goal in life was to own my own apartment, so at age 19 I bought my first one on the outskirts of Stockholm with a little money from my grandmother and a big loan from the bank. At the age of 23, I had sold that apartment for a big profit and moved to a slightly larger place in the centre of Stockholm, just 50 metres from a lovely canal. I had rebuilt the tiny kitchen to make it much more spacious as a part of the living room [studio-like, also bedroom]. It had a huge oak counter and a genuine brick wall right next to the vintage window frames from 1920.
I also had a job at the prestigious Den Gyldene Freden, which is Sweden’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1722. My next big goal in life was to open my own restaurant. I even had an investor already since one of my closest friends is a former highly successful poker player who has now invested his poker winnings in different stocks and start-ups, which are going quite well. He also happens to be highly passionate about food and restaurants and we think very much alike when it comes to how a good restaurant should be. Although, I knew I was still too young and inexperienced to run a restaurant properly. I needed more inspiration and experience.
I adore Stockholm, and I’m pretty sure I will spend the rest of my life there, so I thought that I might as well take the chance living somewhere else now that I’m young and unrestrained.
There was a while where I wasn’t sure how to go further because I was trying to save up money while keeping my apartment, but as soon as I decided to sell it, things got a lot easier.
It was never a big problem for me to leave my friends and family. Maybe it’s because we Scandinavian people are individualistic. My dad moved to Gothenburg when I was young but we have still had a great relationship and since I’ve been working in restaurant kitchens every night of my adult life, am used to not seeing my friends on a regular basis. I have quite a few close friends who I feel a shared connection with, but I believe that if the friendship is true it easily survives a couple of years of absence. I feel sad for leaving my mother since my brother already studies at the university in Lund. But, she leads a nice social life in a small new apartment in central Stockholm and enjoys visiting Paris and also when I stay with her for my vacations in Stockholm.
It wasn’t easy deciding where to go.
New York, London, Copenhagen and of course, Paris were all options. But my first destination was actually Nice. I had spent a couple of vacations there earlier and it’s an area I truly adore. My plan was to go there with a bunch of printed CVs [curriculum vitae; the American equivalent of a resume] and apply to all the fantastic restaurants along the coast. But as it turns out on the airport on my way to Nice, I got in contact with the restaurant Le Fumoir in Paris via a Facebook chefs community group and it felt really promising, so I decided to spend the week in Nice vacationing and eating at the restaurants instead. After the vacation, I took the train to Paris to try out for the job, which I received. I had about 4 days to fly to Stockholm, move out of my friends’ place where I had been living, and fly back to Paris where I started work right away.
In Paris, my favourite place to go for a lunch on my day off or before work is La Recycleri. It's located in Porte Clignancourt, which is one of Paris' roughest neighbourhoods with nothing but KFC, grilled peanuts, prostitution and stolen phones. Except for this restaurant - which I think is the start of a change in the area - and is located next to Puces de Saint Ouen, Europe's largest second-hand market, which also is a wonderful place. La Recycleri is a huge establishment located in an old metro station, with a terrace going along the tracks. The interiour is huge and always beaming with activity and happy customers. Beside the terrace, they have a herb garden, about twenty chickens, a goat and four beehives. On the other side of the tracks is a charming public garden, and just above is an alley called Villa des Tulips, which is also absolutely adorable. I hope and believe that this is just the beginning of a change in the neighbourhood.
I'm passionate about using as natural produce as possible, so of course I will also only serve natural wine at my future restaurant. Luckily, Thomas Legrand [the fiance of my girlfriend’s best friend] runs La Cremerie, which is considered the benchmark of natural wine bars in France. This small wine bar seats about 16 guests and stocks over 250 different natural wines, while offering a menu of charcuteries, terrines, boudin noir and burrata for those who are hungry. I'm much for handicraft and my goal is to only use hand crafted ceramics in my restaurant. Mme Patricia Vieljeux creates some of the finest ceramics I've seen. She also holds a ceramics course which I'm set on taking as soon as I get settled at Au Passage.
My goal has been to stay in Paris for another year and then go back to Stockholm and open my restaurant with my friend. We've decided on a restaurant with about 30 seats, open kitchen with a bar where 8 guests can be served directly by the two chefs. The interior will be minimalistic, but with a lot of natural materials, solid wood floors, oak tables and leather chairs. The walls will be white with a big antique mirror on one, and hopefully we’ll be able to expose a brick or concrete exterior wall and cover it with ivy. There will be glass decorations and brass details. I want it to be light and airy, but natural and down to earth. We will be open Monday to Saturday evenings, serving sharing seasonal plates inspired both by the Parisian and Swedish kitchens. My idea is that at 11p, the food bar will turn into a cocktail bar. Serving natural wines, craft beer and cocktails as ambitious as the food. Together with a nice bar menu of charcuterie, burrata and root vegetable chips. I will create a place with low startup costs and because I'm still young, and not super experienced, the idea is learning by doing and becoming better every day. We will make sure to have enough capital to not have to worry too much about profit at first, so we can focus on creating an amazing experience for our customers from day one.
Although I'm now excited about working at Au Passage, so my return plans might have to wait one or two years longer.
Editor’s Note: Au Passage is a 5 year old charmer in the 11th arrondissement of Paris - on the Right Bank of the Seine, and regularly referred to as Paris’ Brooklyn. Home to the Edith Piaf Museum, and the Bastille Monument, it has romantic street names like Rue Amelot, Passage de la Bonne-Graine and Boulevard Voltaire. Au Passage’s street name is no less romantic. Find them at 1 bis, Passage Saint-Sebastien, 11e, Paris, 75011.