Pontus Frithiof was just 15 when he began working in the kitchen of Erik Lallerstedt's restaurant in Stockholm. He then gained experience under Michel Rostang in Paris and as a sous chef under Leif Mannerström before returning to Eriks i Gamla Stan as head chef. He opened his first restaurant, Pontus in the Green House, in 1999. Since then he has continued to develop his various ideas and himself as a person.
These are exciting times for the Pontus group. New projects are being launched at a rapid rate. What is the biggest challenge facing you today?
The biggest single challenge for me is staff. Finding new staff, taking care of and developing the staff we already have, and building strong, lasting teams. Nothing takes up as much time as that. And this aspect of my work is not all positive energy – there's also a lot of frustration. But at the same time it's often hugely satisfying and, above all, necessary.
Your new venture Pontus in the Air opened in spring. Tell us a little about the concept.
The concept is fun – there are three different parts – Brasserie, Market and Take Off. The brasserie offers good, tasty food at reasonable prices and quick service - no diner should wait more than 12 minutes for their food. Everything from fresh salads to hamburgers, fish dishes and meat dishes, as well as lots of Swedish favourites. We also have a fantastic wine list with almost 1,000 wines.
Market offers an extensive breakfast buffet and then, later in the day, a traditional Swedish smörgåsbord where everything is made from scratch. Take Off is our app that allows you to pre-order food to take away.
And we have loads of exciting things going on.
Where/how/when do you draw inspiration?
I am inspired every day. My radar is constantly on. I can get inspiration from a fashion store, a work of art, a book or a plate of food. I make a lot of notes on my phone.
Who/what are your greatest role models/sources of inspiration?
In terms of business it is definitely Jan Stenbeck who has been my biggest influence. The best thing about Jan is that he was also a bit of a foodie, and we had lots of fantastic discussions about food.
Food-wise, I get inspiration from all sorts of places: restaurants, bars, websites, books etc. One role model as a chef is Alain Ducasse who is unrivalled when it comes to opening new restaurants and operating at an incredibly high level.
What is the best thing you have ever eaten?
Incredibly difficult question – so much depends on the occasion and the company.
There are times when nothing can beat freshly caught oysters eaten on a beach; likewise a perfectly grilled steak, or why not a home cooking classic? And in spring I love freshly cooked top-quality asparagus with a delicious rich sauce! Many years ago the best asparagus was that served at La Tour d’Argent in Paris; it was so long that the plate wasn't big enough, and almost as thick as a rake handle.
What is the trickiest thing you have ever cooked?
I generally avoid cooking things that I am unsure about. One of my most nerve-wracking experiences was when, as a 20-year-old, I was at Jan Stenbeck's weekend cottage and I had to prepare crayfish timbales to a recipe Jan liked. He wanted me to bake them in the oven in his antique heirloom porcelain cups that were so delicate I was terrified they would shatter in the heat of the oven. Thankfully it all turned out all right and he was pleased.
What are your best tips in the kitchen?
Keep everything tidy, write lists, be organised. If you are having guests round for dinner and are doing the cooking yourself, I would suggest a menu which allows you to prepare almost everything in advance and just save the most important elements until the last minute. Then both you and your guests can enjoy it properly.
What food trends do you predict over the next few years?
There are contradictory trends just now. Vegetarian food and restaurants that don't serve any meat are becoming more and more popular, while at the same time new steakhouses are opening. Awareness is growing and people are concerned about what they shovel into themselves, but at the same time dishes with lots of butter and cream are often big-sellers
I hope and believe that one of the effects of increased immigration in Sweden will be that we get a more multicultural cuisine.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
If I had asked myself that question five years ago the answer would not bear much relation to where I am today, so that's quite hard to answer. I hope to be able to concentrate more on the things I enjoy doing and that are important to me. The future of the industry, our gastronomic heritage, and matters relating to service are important to me. In terms of my business, I believe things will be much the same as they are today, but with a major boost for Pontus Brands AB, our branding company that is currently going through an exciting phase and has loads of fantastic projects in the pipeline.
If you could open a restaurant anywhere at all in the world, where would it be? What would it look like and what style would it be?
I would take over Jules Vernes in the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I would divide the restaurant in two and have a fine dining section and a bistro with 40 covers each. That would have to be the ultimate location for a restaurant and I could really see myself there! The current owner, Alain Ducasse, probably wouldn't think it was such a good idea.
Thank you, Pontus, and GOOD LUCK!
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