Julbord, the tradition Swedish buffet shared with colleagues or friends, comes in many flavours, from a warm and fun night with your near and dear to stilted small talk with someone from the edge of your office. It’s the positive that this collaboration is aiming for, as Swedish dream-pop band Amason and classic Stockholm restaurant Den Gyldene Freden have come together to launch their own julbord special. Over three nights in December they’ll be serving up their take on the best julbord possible, with Den Gyldene Freden and its captain, award-winning chef Filip Fastén, providing the food and Amason providing the entertainment. To find out more about this, and what in their views makes Christmas special, we sat down with Fastén and Amason’s brothers Pontus and Petter Winnberg.
So how did the idea for this come about?
Pontus: We’ve been talking about some kind of Christmas show for years, and then the idea with Filip came up through mutual friends. And then I think that everything it became came from us actually meeting him.
Filip: And then the idea started from there about what we should do and how we should do it. The collaboration is based on making a night that is going to be all about food and music together, and creating an evening that is special, that’s not just a normal Christmas dinner.
Was there also from your side, even before you met the Amason guys, a desire to something like that?
Filip: Since I took over this place, it’s always been my goal to bring back the music to this restaurant, because that’s a big part of its history. So I did want to do more of these things.
To go back to Amason, it’s not your first adventure in Christmas, last year you did the song [En God God Jul, with lyrics by poet Mattias Alkberg] . Would you say that you guys in the band are Christmas sentimentalists?
Petter: It’s a good concept to create a show around anyway.
Pontus: And I think the band’s mindset, which was a great match with Filip, was to do a real collaboration. To do something that has a seamless vibe to it, to create an experience.
Petter: It’s the same thing with our Christmas songs, we do collaborations with poets and lyricists.
Filip, as a chef, how do you approach julbord? It’s not something people associate with fine dining really?
Filip: No, definitely not. Julbordet has gotten a bad reputation for being not that posh, kind of dirty. Traditional food is something that has changed a lot in the restaurant business recently. If you go 20 years back, traditional Swedish food has gone from being home-cooked, really-crafted food, to being something more basic. People are taking shortcuts and destroying traditional food. So what we’re doing here is making a really proper traditional julbord, but in a modern way, with traditional ingredients, everything from the pig to the root vegetables. Doing that is not an easy task. It’s harder to create this than for example, a tasting menu at Agrikultur, my other restaurant, which is Michelin-starred. With the julbord menu, there are a lot of the same flavours, the same ingredients, the same techniques that you use. It’s about using the old techniques from the past, and showing the beauty of them.
So your goal is to stick to the more traditional format, rather than going in an overly radical direction?
Filip: Yes, I would rather stick to the classic seven different tables of the buffet, but doing them using my knowledge of both old and new techniques, and creating something that might seem really simple, but is really worked-through, and made into the best it can be. But I don’t want to change the whole vision of a julbord, that’s not something I or Den Gyldene Freden want to change. I would rather show the old methods and bring them into the light and show what they can be. And maybe show how it should be served. And that’s a really fun thing to be able to do, and in this environment, with all the history that’s in the house as well.
Approaching from the restaurant’s point of view, Julbord is a meal where the meal itself is almost not really the important part. So how do you go about creating the atmosphere, and the non-food parts of what Julbord should be?
Filip: That’s why we’re doing this. My philosophy has always been that food is much more than what’s happening on the plate. Food is also about what’s happening in the room and the restaurant, and it’s about taking the long route to creating that atmosphere. It’s everything from lighting to candles to decoration, and also about how and where you sit. Julbord involves a lot of walking back and forth to the buffet table, and then walking from point A to point B and back again, I think this house is made for that. Julbord should also be something that makes you have fun, that makes you want to eat and drink and sign and laugh together.
When you guys were all putting together this concept, did you have shared ideas of what the atmosphere at a Julbord should be?
Pontus: I think that one thing that resonated with us early on was something Filip mentioned in the beginning – taking it back to the traditional methods. That you can have high-quality entertainment and food, but it doesn’t have to be presented in what we perceive as a high-quality manner by modern standards. It can be rowdy, people don’t have to be quiet and be almost afraid that they might act in a way that’s not appropriate. They can be more open.
Filip: We created this for people. It’s for us as well obviously, but it’s something that we want to give the guests who are here, so they can experience it and we want to see what we can do with it. It should be a lot of fun.
Pontus: And it will have an open atmosphere hopefully. It should be quite rowdy. We don’t want there to be a preconceived way of how to act. People should feel relaxed and welcome to indulge.
Filip: We’re inviting them into our home. Everyone has a part to play.
Do you have any Christmas memories that are particularly tied to music?
Filip: I’m one of the guys that doesn’t put on classic Christmas music until it’s actually Christmas. Music has always been a big part of my life growing up, and it’s one of those things you need to create a good restaurant, it’s a really important thing to have. At Christmas, I really love listening to live music, everything from being in the church at Lucia to going to concerts. It’s part of the way you get into the Christmas feeling.
And do you guys have any strong Christmas memories connected to food and eating?
Petter: When we grew up, we went to a school where they just served vegetarian food, so the dream was always a massive plate of meat. And when we went to our grandmother’s, she always had the biggest plate of meat you’d ever seen, with all the traditional sausage and things, the meats you would have at Christmas. We’re brothers, so we have similar experiences. Hopefully! [laughs].
Pontus: Christmas Eve started with mom and dad putting on this specific song. Then we would have Ris á la malta…
Filip: In the morning? Wow!
Pontus: And our oldest sister, we would have the presents there, and she would be so eager to get them. But I was always so slow eating, so everyone had to wait for me! [laughs]. Food, music, food, music. That marked the whole Christmas.
Petter: That’s what it’s all about.
Filip: Food, music, drinks, that’s what it’s about.
Petter: And then after a while, just drinks [laughs].
One last question. What should people expect from this Julbord?
Filip: Hopefully they won’t expect anything, they should come in open-minded. That’s what we want from people. Show up, hopefully in a good mood or we’ll put you in a good mood, expect good food and music and be open-minded. And don’t be afraid of meeting new people. Of course, you book your table for your group, but it’s an open restaurant and everyone is there for the same reason. That’s what’s fun about food, connecting people around it. And when you add in music as well, you can’t go wrong.
Pontus: Totally. We’ve all been to Julbord at different restaurants where you go there with your crew, eat and then get out of there. This is a more communal experience, and you don’t know who you’ll be drinking with by the end of the night, it could be anyone in the room. The food and the music is supposed to bring everyone together.
Main Image: From left to right: Filip Fastén, Pontus Winnberg & Petter Winnberg. Photo: Austin Maloney