Agrikultur: The New Way of Running a Restaurant
Agrikultur is a place that reaches beyond the boundaries of culinary tradition while honouring food, flavour, sustainability and community. The owners Filip and Joel take great pride in running a sustainable restaurant making use of seasonal harvest and daily produce, while at the same time caring about the well-being of everyone who works a Agrikultur. Last spring the two chefs opened their second place, a warm and social mini-restaurant and gin bar named Bar Agrikultur.
We have met with Joel Åhlin from Agrikultur to talk about their way of running a restaurant, their partnership, and what it takes to be a great chef today.
The chefs behind Agrikultur
Filip was born in Ljusdal in the Hälsingland region of Sweden. In 2014, he was named Chef of the year in Sweden. Filip has been working in restaurants in Stockholm such as Restaurant Frantzén, Grill and Le Rouge before teaming up with Joel Åhlin who has worked in professional kitchens since his high-school years. With a background as Head Chef at restaurant Tjoget in Stockholm. At the end of 2015, they opened their first restaurant together and named it Agrikultur.
“To us, great cooking is to use the local ingredients that we have in Sweden and to appreciate the natural ingredient.”
Agrikultur welcomes guests to enjoy the seasonal Swedish produce in a warm, social, open-kitchen atmosphere. Filip & Joel celebrates the seasonable harvest and daily produce by creating a dynamic fixed menu that seasonally changes. Agrikultur is a small intimate restaurant with 24 seats, two seatings and a daily changing menu. The name Agrikultur is inspired by the very definition of agriculture: where the cultivation of plants, animals, seeds and grains sustain as well as deliciously enhance life.
What is the story about Agrikultur?
“We wanted to create a place that honoured the work of the farmers. We have a very humble approach. We are humble about the dedicated farmers who work hard every day to produce local ingredients for us to use. Therefore, we use local Swedish produce only and work only with passionate local farmers. We don’t buy meat from South America. All the meat we are serving in the restaurant we hunt ourselves during the hunting season. Everything down to what we serve on the plate, to how we treat our staff and view the cycle of food, has a focus on sustainability.”
Tell me about Agrikultur and how you guys honor food, flavor, sustainability and community?
“We try to stay humble to the farmers and present their products in the best possible way. We support our community by choosing the finest, freshest, and sustainably produced ingredients from carefully selected local Swedish farms, ranches, and dairies. Our cooking philosophy is about clean and strong flavours of Nordic origin, combined with technology that helps the raw materials to maintain their natural beauty. Everything down to what we serve on the plate, to how we treat our staff and view the cycle of food, has a focus on sustainability.”
Tell me about the guest experience at Agrikultur?
“We aim to make you feel at home. When you enter the restaurant, you are met with the smell of the wood-fired oven. The heart of Agrikultur. Not too much of course (laughing). In a good way. The forest is also very present in the décor at Agrikultur with Birchwood piled along the walls providing a nice and intimate atmosphere. We strive to create a friendly, down-to-earth atmosphere. We treat our guests more as friends than just guests. You shouldn’t be surprised if our waiters touch you on the shoulder. This goes for both our restaurants. For us, a dining experience is much more than what happens on the plate.”
You guys are known for only serving food that you would eat yourself. Food cooked from the heart. How would you describe your food philosophy of Agrikultur?
“We focus on what we want to eat ourselves and try to cook after that. We make good food in sustainable without making it boring. We serve lots of vegetables, but it’s not vegetarian. We still serve both fish and meat but more as a seasoning than a centrepiece of the food. We sometimes refer to it as ‘Nordic comfort food’. The main element of our cooking is fire. If you look at our menu, 85 per cent of it consists of vegetables, and the rest is high-quality proteins. Just like we have to reduce the amount of meat we eat, we have to do the same with fish. Our oceans and lakes are drained and polluted. If we serve fish at Agrikultur, it is mostly in the substance of algae, roe, seasonal catches or bi-catch.”
“Our food is straightforward and honest. The dishes are clever, well balanced and beautifully presented. It’s not complicated at all. We seek to highlight the produce in its’ own elegant way. The main thing about the food is that the focus is rather on the vegetables and the greens in the dishes. This does not mean that the menu in itself is purely vegetarian, but just that the amount of protein has been reduced and the main produce in the dish is the vegetables. Our menu is fixed and varies from day to day, making it easier to plan and reduce unnecessary waste.”
You do not only care about the environment and sustainability, and you are equally interested in the well-being of the employees and everyone who works at Agrikultur. Why is it important?
“We try to include our staff as much as possible. We have a very open approach to the way we run our restaurants with no closed doors. We do not hide anything from our team and loves to hear all ideas regarding everything from the menu to the way we do things. We believe it enables our team to deliver 100% instead of only 80%. We have both learned the lesson of being mistreated during our career, and we have defiantly learned how not to treat our staff. Previously Agrikultur was only open Monday to Friday, but we recently changed our opening hours to be open from Wednesday to Saturday with two seating per night. Every one of our team is on a set schedule to avoid overtime and not run ourselves tired. We offer a set menu which enables us to decrease waste, but also to work more efficient.”
“At Agrikultur is really about listening, helping and educating each other. Together we’re stronger. We do many things together. We forage together. Last year we invited the whole team on a trip to Barcelona. We drink beer together. Very important (Laughing).”
You recently opened Bar Agrikultur. A mini restaurant with same food philosophy as Agrikultur. Tell me about the concept?
“It’s the type of restaurant that we always wanted to open. Agrikultur is a mini restaurant and gin bar based at the square Nytorget on Södermalm in Stockholm, serving light dishes to be shared made of seasonal Swedish produce, the gin that we produce in collaboration with Hernö Gin and Stockholm Bränneri, a small wine list and beers served in small glasses. The ambition is to create a warm and social atmosphere with space for both the hipster and the businessman. It’s a mini-restaurant with only 12 seats and 17 spaces in the bar. All the staff have been working at Agrikultur before to ensure a similar atmosphere.”
Was it something you felt was missing in the food scene of Stockholm?
“No, not really. We were both inspired by Café Nizza & Restaurant Babette here in Stockholm. This way of running a restaurant inspired us to open Bar Agrikultur.”
You and Filip met at Le Rouge in 2008. What brought you together?
“We work together in the Kitchen at Le Rouge. We were working at the same station and started to hang out together in our spare time. I liked Filip because he was the guy from out of town. After Filip came back from New York and worked at Restaurant Frantzén, he decided to compete for Chef of the year in 2014, and I was his coach. After he won we did a lot of events and sponsor dinners around Sweden, while we thought about finding a place to become the cornerstone of our creative ideas, not necessarily a restaurant, but a place to for us to experiment and gather our creative ideas, but when the opportunity came to take over our current premises – especially with the wood-fired oven we just couldn’t say no.”
Describe you and Filip’s partnership. Two different personalities?
“Filip is the young good looking Chef with the creative ideas. The one, all the girls, is chasing. (Laughing). Just joking. Filip is more present and proactive. I am the older, more future orienteering one who thinks more about where we are in 5 years. I also tend to have a more classic approach in the kitchen compared to Filip, who is more creative. We know each other very well. We even know each other taste in women. That’s how well we know each other. Even though we both love what we are doing, we are both aware of each other well being. Filip always say: You are my break! (Laughing). It means that I always know when to tell him to take a break. It’s important for me to pay attention to all the other important things in life. We compensate each other both in the kitchen and outside the kitchen. We are a great match!”
How do you manage to run Agrikultur together?
“We have learned not to be too reliable with each other. We don’t need to be in the restaurant at the same time. I can create a menu with his ideas without him being present. This allows us both sometimes take a break, enjoy life or travel. Both of us loves to travel and explore every time we have the chance. We are spending almost all over savings on travelling around the world.”
What does it take to be a good chef today?
“It requires you to constantly be creative and innovative and aware of what other chefs are doing, but in the same way finding your own way of doing things — finding your path. Everybody can cook. Some understand it better than others. It wouldn’t be possible without the great natural ingredients. To be able to cook great food, we are very dependent on good farmers and good breeders. People with both skill and passion for their craft. For me, it’s important to stay humble and appreciate the incredible work of all the hardworking and passionate farmers and breeders. Many chefs today are too obsessed becoming a star chef instead of mentioning the farmers. I don’t get it. Instead, they should focus more on becoming sustainable by using locally sourced produce. There are lots of farmers and producers in Sweden, and we have to learn to appreciate them.”
What fascinates you about the restaurant industry?
“For me, it all comes down to surprise and making the guest happy.”
What is the best response you can get from a guest?
“This feels like being in your home. That’s what we strive to achieve. People shouldn’t be comparing restaurant experience with other fine restaurants. It’s doesn’t make sense for our guests to compare us with Noma. Each restaurant experience should be different and unique in its way.”
Is the way you guys run Agrikultur the new way of running a restaurant?
“I hope so. It’s also something you see more and more across the world at the moment. I hope it’s not a trend. First and foremost, it’s important as a chef to be aware of your well-being knowing when to take a break and enjoy other aspects of life which makes you happy. Everybody knows how tough this industry can be. It can break you. As a chef, you need to stay curious and keep exploring.”
Thanks to Joel and Filip from Agrikultur for putting guest experience first. Experience Agrikultur here
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