When a restaurant is a work of art

STOCKHOLM – “Can someone tone down the Dan Flavin?” It’s not a request you typically hear in a restaurant, but at the inaugural preview...


STOCKHOLM – “Can someone tone down the Dan Flavin?” It’s not a request you typically hear in a restaurant, but at the inaugural preview party at Brutalisten, artist Carsten Höller was pulling cords from their random outlets, while solving a few problems. in his restaurant, in particular by dimming the glare fluorescent tubes. of the minimalist masterpiece on the dining room wall.

Most of the flaws had already been ironed out, with a miraculous same-day installation of Mr Höller’s bespoke furniture just before guests arrived, and the staff, outfitted in their custom-designed gray jumpsuits, were a joy unshakeable.

Last week, the paperback brutally (“the brutalist” in Swedish), with just 28 seats, was packed to capacity with Mr. Höller’s highly Polish friends and supporters from Stockholm and far beyond: Miuccia Prada; Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert; Mikael Schiller, owner of Acne Studios; Max Schiller, the founder of the Eytys shoe brand; patron Maja Hoffmann; musician Baba Stiltz; director Jonas Akerlund; photographer Mikael Jansson; and a host of other artists.

They came to eat art in the form of brutalist cuisine, a cuisine of Mr. Höller’s invention intended to sharpen our perception of taste with “one-ingredient” dishes, served simply or enhanced only with the constituents of a element, like a raw oyster. he would never deign to spoil with lemon, or white asparagus steamed in asparagus liquids and served with a fermented asparagus sauce.

“This place is going to be a catalyst for interesting people, and we desperately needed it in Stockholm,” said Ms Battaglia Engelbert, who chatted with Ms Prada before dinner. “Only Carsten could create this kind of magic.” Visibly pregnant, Ms Battaglia Engelbert looked unstoppably glamorous in Mylar stilettos and candy-big rhinestone necklaces from Swarovski, of which she is the artistic director.

“Carsten and I share an interest in art that engages people,” Ms. Prada said, raising her voice above the din of worshipers feverishly discussing food as the art to come. “Art should make reality more interesting and investigate life to make it more interesting. This is what Carsten’s art does.

A former entomologist who spent years in labs experimenting with insects before transitioning to art and rising to prominence with his often participatory creations, Höller subjects his audience to works that can look like human experiments, with its jaw-dropping corkscrew slides. , hallucination-inducing light frequencies and upside-down glasses that flip the viewer’s perspective on the world – “art that is both bodily and cerebral”, gushed one of Brutalisten’s guests.

An intellectual with an unusually genius approach to social life, he collaborated with the Prada Foundation on the Double Club, a pop-up restaurant in London and at Art Basel Miami Beach with a Western-Congolese mash-up that was the precursor to Brutalisten.

It was, Mr. Höller said, “probably one of the best things I’ve ever done, even though most people thought it was just a place to relax and didn’t realize it was a work of art.”

Brutalisten Restaurant occupies a copper-roofed pink granite cube built in 1926 to house a public staircase – a small, isolated pavilion surrounded by the densely populated towers of central Stockholm. The interior has been transformed by Mr. Höller, its arcades now lined with a polychrome rainbow of luminous tubes, the walls lined with scalloped cowhide banquettes and oak stools and tables made by the studio The Metropolitana of Mexico. Mr. Höller’s signature fly agaric were transformed into small table lamps.

A beady-eyed study of the restaurant reveals a five-degree slant in the center post of the spiral staircase, table bases, bar, and staggered wooden slats lining the interior. “I hope this makes you a little dizzy,” Höller said.

Mission accomplished, the guests agreed – especially as one ascends the stairs to a ceiling mural by American artist Ana Benaroya, a Technicolor drinking binge, competing with the minimalist works of M. Flavin and Carl Andre on the walls.

“We needed some classic minimalists in reference to the recipes,” Höller said. “And then we needed the opposite with the exuberant Rubens style of Ana to represent the pleasure of eating.”

Mr. Höller, a secular practitioner of brutalist architecture, designed his own beach house in Ghana in his square concrete vernacular. “Brutalist architecture is essentialist and cooking is essentialist, reduced to a single ingredient,” he said.

Brutalist cuisine also refuses adornment (“Decoration on the plate is avoided”, the menu manifesto in 13 points declares) while embracing utility (the use of “overlooked, hard-to-obtain, or rare ingredients, or commonly discarded ingredients, is characteristic” of brutalist cooking) and explores all possibilities of materials (“If you go eat chicken, why not eat chicken brains?” he asks).

Only water and salt are allowed, and truly “orthodox” brutalism – scallops served raw or grilled in their own broth, for example – would abstain from even those.

“The manifesto,” said Stefan Eriksson, head chef at Brutalisten, “holds you back, so you have to go in new directions. You’re discovering new aspects of ingredients all the time — that’s the advantage of constraints.

Brutalisten uses high-quality, seasonal ingredients, as many other restaurants do, Höller pointed out as he sipped bubbles from the brushed pewter bar. “But if you have your perfect ingredient, why do you need to add more ingredients to it? You have found the perfect love of your life. Do you really need another one, or two, or three ?”

So what’s it like to have dinner according to this artist’s vision? Brutalist dishes are “like being a kid and going back to your first taste of flavors,” said Emilia de Poret, a fashion entrepreneur and former pop star, as she tasted Mushroom Carsten prepared four different ways. The metaphors continued through the banquettes.

“It’s like walking into a building you think you know well and suddenly realizing there are doors you can open to access one room after another you never knew existed” , said Giulio Bertelli, the son of Mrs Prada, as his table companions toasted with natural wines and pure cloudberry juice, one of the many brutalist drinks created by Mr Höller’s girlfriend, Kajsa Leander, an entrepreneur and pomologist.

When dessert arrived – a grilled apple served with apple sorbet over smoked mashed potatoes – artist Precious Okoyomon took a bite and, eyes closed, leaned back for a long minute of meditation on flavors, oblivious to the noisy jokes of the table. “My vibe is excessive pleasure”, Mx. Okoyomon said, “but Carsten strips down to the core of the thing, which is poetic, like being in a quiet room.”

Mr Höller makes art, he said, a “proposal to look at things in a different way”. With Brutalisten, he welcomes friends and guests to rethink food: Why don’t we use all of an ingredient? Why don’t we delve into a single flavor? Why is cooking so rarely an artist’s medium?

“For me, art is a social experience,” he said. A restaurant is “actually a terrible business in terms of time, money and health, but I couldn’t help myself,” he added, scanning the slowly emptying dining room. “The role of an artist is to be an experimenter, after all. Like a scientist, but without the rational considerations.

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