Hidden in the Swedish countryside with a kitchen team that includes his mum heading up the waitstaff and dad as sommelier, chef Daniel Berlin's restaurant is as notable for its uniquely hospitable vibes as it is his vegetable-centric take on Nordic cuisine. This week, Berlin's reputation as one of Sweden's most interesting new chefs was further cemented when he was voted by industry figures as the country's best chef, second only to Magnus Nilsson.
For me, it was always important not to have a restaurant in the city. It's so hard to control everything and have a good relationship with producers. When I worked in different restaurants in the city, we were always talking about the produce as if it was something that was happening "out there." We would order things but not really know where they came from or whether they would be good.
Of course, even in the country, you have good producers and bad producers but now they're so close, you know them all and can really choose the best of everything.
It also means you have to accept that you might not have everything you want, which actually makes it more fun to eat. If you're close to the coast and they have really good shellfish, of course you want to eat that. But in my restaurant in the south of Sweden, we only have fish like cod and mackerel during the season and we never cook shellfish.
Instead, we use a lot of vegetables a lot of wild game. I think it's really important to be where you are.
I also wanted a restaurant that you had to go to and really plan the visit. We have people who arrive and they've been planning it for a long time and looking forward to it. It's something special. It gives us a great opportunity to take care of everyone.
When you have a destination restaurant, people are spending a lot of money and expecting more. You want it to be something to remember. For us at Daniel Berlin, it's about taking care of everyone. But we're not a fine dining restaurant—I don't want it to be stiff, we're simple people and we want it to be a fun thing.
If we care about everyone who comes to the restaurant, people will come back. Often you go to restaurants and they're cooking food for chefs, it's so stupid. You never want to go back, you just give them the cheque. At our restaurant, if people don't want to come back, it's a big failure.
We try to grow as much of our own produce as possible. When I talk to people about gardening, I always say, "It's very nice, but you have to know it's going to take a really long time. If you fail, it can take one year to try it again."
And we've failed on lots of things. We have chickens—just for company and the eggs—but chickens love berries and herbs so it was a problem this summer because they all got eaten. You learn, though and it's an ongoing thing. Next year, we're going to focus on ten things that we can have that are really good and that we can't get from any other producers around us.
Organising the menu at Daniel Berlin is about how we want everyone to feel. There are only 14 people in the dining room and people can get really nervous. They're really quiet at first so it's important for me to open up and get everyone comfortable. I meet all the guests outside the restaurant beforehand so we can have a chat. Everyone arrives at the same time and we do some snacks and then starters, before having a break so people can go outside.
When they come back in, we change the whole dining room with new glasses and ceramics: it's a new experience. I don't like big tasting menus where you do six courses and you forget everything and it starts to get boring, so we have a break and people start chatting and relaxing. We end in the garden house outside with coffee.
I do the celeriac every night and it's a dish that really says everything about Daniel Berlin. We cook a whole celeriac outside for eight to ten hours, then we take it into the dining room and it's all black. I open it up and talk to everyone and from the burnt shell, we make the bread and from the stems, we make oil. Any leftovers we cook into bouillon.
It's only celeriac but we treat it like it's something really special and expensive. It's a dish that says so many things about restaurant: good produce like a perfectly cooked celeriac tastes so good that you care about it. It's really simple but people understand it—it's not just a garnish.
We cook what we want to cook and we try not to look too much at other restaurants. It's impossible for us to move the restaurant, you just can't do it. We can cook a few dishes somewhere but it won't be Daniel Berlin—it's about the people and maybe that's what makes it special.
As told to Phoebe Hurst.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2015.