With seven bars and eateries to their credit, plus another in the pipeline, restauranteur Daniel Crespi and chef Mikael Einarsson might well be Stockholm's most ambitious culinary duo. While some corners of their gastronomic empire are casual crowd-pleasers, the ones that have put them and kept them on the map err on the daring side. Take for instance Bakfickan Djuret, which loosely translates as "The Animal" and serves precisely that. Multicourse menus revolve around a single sustainably raised and slaughtered beast. If the creature in question happened to be cow, guests might dine on tartare of top round, mousseline of chuck steak sausages with bone broth, and sirloin fried in hay ash with duck fat-baked parsnip.
Even less conventional is Leijontornet 12 x 8, an ongoing popup that appears for eight lucky diners a mere 12 times a year. At SEK 3,750 ($450 USD) a head, the price is extravagant, but so is the menu, which showcases the decadent fine French dining of ages past accompanied by rare, aged wines. More than 11,000 people are already on the waiting list for its final run in the fall.
Opened last September, Omakase Köttslöjd, their newest nose-to-tail concept, is no less bold. Four evenings a week, 16 diners sit down to a 15- to 20-course menu of meticulously presented cured meats accompanied by Nordic seafood and produce. Think of it like a carnivorous spin on a Japanese kaiseki menu.
Reservations are harder to come by than a vegan at their restaurant, but I managed to squeeze in one afternoon for a conversation about hunting boar, hoarding sausages in the basement, and Viking charcuterie.
MUNCHIES: Let's get started with the basics. Can you tell me a bit about the thought process behind Omakase Köttslöjd? Mikael Einarsson: We started making dry-cured meats in the basement of the kitchen four, four-and-a-half years ago, just as an experiment. And it came out quite good. Since then, we planned to do a restaurant based on our own charcuterie. We started producing charcuterie about one-and-a-half years before we even opened.
Daniel Crespi: It's all based on the charcuterie, which we call köttslöjd—we made it part of the name.
Mikael: In English, it more or less means "meat handcraft."
Daniel: It's very common to do cold cuts in the southern European way and we decided we wanted to do something else. We like the Japanese way of working on the counter, at the same height as the guests. Even though we use a Japanese name, it's not really in any way Japanese except that we use some techniques and we are inspired by the way they approach handcrafted food—
Mikael: And their respect for the produce.
Daniel: It's more of a Nordic-Japanese-inspired meal, so to speak. It's also said that the concept of meat handcraft, of salting it and aging it, isn't originally from southern Europe; it's from the Vikings. So it's actually a Nordic way of doing things that came to southern Europe because of the Vikings and their travels.
Sure, you need to preserve meat in order for it to survive a sea voyage. So that's the Nordic half. Let's talk about "omakase." Daniel: We love the way that you come to restaurants in Japan and you meet the chefs and they do more or less everything. They change the menu in a sense that very few restaurants are able to do here, because everything is bigger. So that's why our restaurant is very small. With only 16 seats, we can pick the best scallops, we can pick the best carrots, and we can change it. It all comes down to the chefs.
How often does it change? Daniel: Everything is reconstructed every day, depending on what produce we can get our hands on. Some is foraged, some is picked, some is from our garden. And everything is paired or cooked with some kind of aged and cured meat.
How many types of meat do you have curing in your basement at any given time? Mikael: [laughs] Sausages included, I would say, maybe… 30 different types of cuts. Mostly pig, of course, but also beef, moose, bear, hare, beaver, reindeer, venison…
Can't say I've had beaver. How do you go about sourcing your meat? Mikael: Same way we source other produce. We have a very close dialogue with small producers. We buy a pig of a breed called Linderöd. That's the best breed to make charcuterie, because it's so highly marbled.
Daniel: Basically, big and fat. It's an old Swedish forest breed. Mikael hunts quite a bit too, but not so much now—more in the fall.
Mikael: Actually, I will go hunting tomorrow. Wild boar.
You say that like it's no big deal. Do you ever run into supply problems? Daniel: Take moose for example. We're about to put some moose on the menu. It's not the season for moose, but for us it is, because only now can we use the moose that was hunted last fall. We have to think of what we're going to serve in six months or nine months, so that we have a wide spectrum of aged cuts from different animals in different styles—some smoked, some not, and so forth—to have a varied menu. Of course, we have a supply problem, but it's—
Mikael: More of a planning problem.
Daniel: And since we're in Sweden, we're very focused on Nordic produce. That means that right now we have to work very hard during this part of the year to preserve and to can and to pickle and ferment, so that we have supplies for the rest of the year.
What kind of response have you gotten? Daniel: People are surprised that it's not as meaty as you might think. It's much more delicate. We use meat as a flavor enhancer, for umami richness, as something to pair with produce and make more out of it. Only the first three cuts are clean, served just as they are, and the rest are integrated into courses with vegetables or seafood. Some people associate us with a steakhouse, but it's far from it—not even close. How many grams of cured meat would be in a whole menu?
Mikael: Maybe 180 grams?
Which, really, is about as much meat as a burger. Do you have any ideas for how this might develop in the future? Mikael: I think we nailed it from the beginning actually. Every restaurant develops over time, so we will change, but probably just small adjustments. But who knows?
Daniel: The hardest part is the meat handcraft, to keep developing new styles.
Mikael: We keep wondering, "Shall we age fish as well?"
So… are you going to age fish as well? Mikael: [Laughs] We don't know!
Daniel: We're gonna try.
Mikael: We'll see if it works. There always has to be a new challenge.
Thank you for speaking with me.