Current Roux Scholar Spencer Metzger headed to Stockholm's Restaurant Frantzén for a three-month stage as part of his prize. He tells Emma Lake how he was blown away by the restaurant's organised approach and ‘natural' cooking
An invitation to complete a three-month stage at any three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the world would be a daunting decision for any chef. When the choice was faced by 2019 Roux Scholar Spencer Metzger, premier sous chef at the Ritz London, he started methodically, but in the end the decision was made for him during a six-hour lunch in Stockholm.
Metzger explains: "I wrote down 10 restaurants that I thought I might want to go to, then I narrowed it down until I had three or four. I thought I would go and eat in them all and then make my decision based on my experiences, but I went to Restaurant Frantzén and decided there and then. It was the first restaurant I went to and it was everything I wanted.
"The guest is king there. From the moment you walk in to the moment you leave, you have everyone's full attention. It is a different world once you step into that restaurant; it's amazing."
Björn Frantzén's Restaurant Frantzén was the first restaurant in Sweden to be awarded three Michelin stars. Situated in a three-storey, 19th-century townhouse in the Norrmalm district, it offers a set tasting menu, which is served to 23 covers at lunch and dinner, with chefs preparing and presenting dishes from an open kitchen. The style of cooking combines classic and modern techniques, inspired by local traditions, with a strong Asian influence.
Metzger, who returned at the end of March when the spread of coronavirus cut his stay short by two weeks, explained that the restaurant's brigade is split between a prep kitchen and an upstairs service kitchen. Chefs will work in one of the kitchens, with the prep space operating on two shift patterns a day and preparing everything needed by the service team, who will cook the dishes in front of the customer and serve them personally.
"The service team come in at about 10.30am and work until midnight, but their job is pretty much just to do service and look after the guest. They have to be there all the time during lunch and dinner service. Lunch service is about four hours – it's a good chunk of the day," he explains.
"It's a big team effort to pull it off. It takes amazing organisation: everyone knows what they need to do and they communicate so well with each other. If you're in the service kitchen, you come in at 10.30am with your tray, pick up everything you'd asked for the day before and take it to your station and that's it."
Metzger spent his first month in the downstairs prep kitchen before moving upstairs to join the service team and present the dishes he had made to the guests.
He adds: "I loved the prep kitchen – all the interns wanted to work in service, but prep is where you learn to make everything. I was the quiet guy in the corner getting on with what I had been told to do. Every day I made something new and did a different job – if they saw you were a little bit competent, they would give you more to do.
"I also liked going back down to the bottom and watching the kitchen from a completely different angle. It's good to see how they organise and manage and work from that position. You have no responsibility but you can take everything in."
Moving up to the service kitchen, the chef found a lot of familiarities, as well as some new techniques and ingredients. He says: "The style of food used a lot of classical French techniques – for example, there was the poaching of fish and the making of beurre blanc sauce. It's very traditional, but there were also a lot of modern techniques.
"It was not scientific, it was actually quite natural cooking that let the ingredients speak for themselves. They have a big open fire and cook pretty much everything over that, rather than using water baths. It was clever cooking that let the ingredient be the star.
"They source produce from around the world. There was lamb from the south of France, which was amazing. It was milk-fed to four weeks old and then aged in the restaurant's cabinet. The razor clams came from Scotland every day, the scallops from Norway. Everything was beautiful.
"They also used a lot of Asian ingredients, which was interesting – there were a lot of kombus, a lot of dashis, a lot of different ingredients I hadn't seen before."
Both the theatre of the restaurant and the personal interactions blew Metzger away on his earlier visit. He explained that on entering, the diner is greeted and led through a ‘secret' door into a dimly lit, eerie lift complete with rose petals and a water feature. As the lift rises, Metallica plays at an increasing volume and a light bulb becomes brighter and brighter, building the anticipation before the doors open on to a lounge area. It was here where Metzger joined the show, presenting the food he had made to the customers and chatting with them.
He adds: "I was a bit nervous at first. I was serving the canapés and the petits-fours I had made. I explained the food and had a little chat with people – it was very relaxed. The restaurant was all about personality; there wasn't a script and they didn't tell you what to say, I was just told ‘these are the facts of the dishes and be yourself'. It was nice to see, because you would think a three-star restaurant would have a mould and a programme, but it wasn't like that."
Metzger, who said he is looking forward to returning to the Ritz, when it's able to reopen, and continuing to develop his own style, described the competition as career changing. He adds: "It only gets better and better and you grow with it."
Summarising his three-month stage, which is the scholarship's star prize alongside trips to New York, Madrid and Champagne, as well as a host of other opportunities, he said: "It was an amazing experience and I've come away inspired by it all. They were so confident in their food and what they do. It was great to be a part of their persistence to achieve perfection and I think the leadership style of the whole restaurant was amazing."
The regional and national finals for the 2020 Roux Scholarship competition and the award ceremony have been postponed due to coronavirus. New dates are expected to be announced in due course.
- Nori tartlet filled with braised enoki mushrooms, myoga and finished with shiro kombu
- Croustade of crustacean with dill and lumpfish roe
- Mango and cloudberry jelly with espilette pepper sugar
- Pistachio macaroon, apricot and miso
- Warm madeleines brushed with brown butter and cardamom sugar.
On Metzger's experience
Michel Roux Jr
"Chef Frantzén and his team were very welcoming. Spencer immediately became one of the team and has made life-long friends. In essence, this is what the scholarship is about: life-changing experiences that will be with you forever." Alain Roux
"Spencer was so excited at having a ‘secret door' opened to him by the Roux Scholarship – a brilliant, unique, priceless experience. Although having joined and excelled as a humble ‘stagiaire', Spencer has forged a lasting relationship with his mentors. He has learned that kindness and attention from the team can transcend a guest's experience and is as important as the dishes and flavours."
"Spencer has really made an impact on not only everyone within the team, but also our guests. It has been a pleasure working with such a talent and I really wish him an amazing career."
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In