In Vino Päritas – Anna Rönngren Is Heading Towards The Stars

”They’ve got great coffee at Café Pascal, let’s check if it’s still open before the holidays”. Anna Rönngren is meeting me outside Tranan at Odenplan around lunchtime on a quiet Stockholm summer day. We’re meeting to talk about her new role and position at famous two-star Michelin restaurant Frantzén, set for a highly anticipated re-opening. Our conversation over a coffee is first taking us far from the hectic life of the Stockholm restaurant world and far into the deep woods of Värmland in rural Sweden, where she grew up. We continue by sharing some other stories from Örebro, where we have both spent time in the past, before we dig closer to the given subject. ”Well, it all started out of necessity really. I’m from a small Swedish working-class town, in the middle of the woods, where you usually end up in the local factory – however I really didn’t like the big machinery, so I had to work somewhere else. Since I had taken a short bartender class, and yeah I sucked, I was qualified enough to get a job at Systembolaget. I must have sucked there too in the beginning, since I didn’t know the difference between Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but I’m stubborn and hard-working, so slowly I started to learn. One day I said to myself ‘wow, I like this – I want to know it all’ and applied to and got accepted to sommelier school”.

Anna studied hard and three years later she got her bachelors in Hospitality and Meal Science at Campus Grythyttan at Örebro University and packed her bags and moved to Stockholm. Lucky enough to get a job as a cellar manager at Magnusson Fine Wine and to have Johan Magnusson as a boss and mentor, she considers that time to be one of the best educations one could ever ask for. In 2013 she was asked to come back to Grythyttan – this time as a university lecturer in wine. ”Working at a university was awesome since you get paid to study wine and meet all the young sommeliers. This was a productive time for me as I started working on my master thesis and also finished my WSET level 4 Diploma in wine and spirits”.

As well as a full-time job as a teacher, her studies, being heavily involved in the national Sommelier Associations and writing small articles for a wine magazine, she also missed the restaurant scene and took a part-time job at Nook restaurant at Södermalm. ”After going back and forth between Stockholm and Grythyttan every week, I felt I needed to be in just one place. Around this time I got the call from Restaurant Frantzén – an offer I couldn’t refuse. I went back to Stockholm full-time and dove deep down into my new job at Frantzén. The job was highly demanding and took up most of my time so I needed to slow down on my extracurricular activities. I’ve been giving guest lectures at Restaurangakademien and sometimes I’m hired to give a few master classes in wine, but my main focus now is the new restaurant”.

As a noted professional and lover of wine, what do you prefer in your own glass?

I get asked this question a lot, both by guests, colleagues and students and it’s one of the few questions I always give vague and different answers to depending on my daily mood. You know, some days I’m a Juragirl and some days I’m a Savennièregirl. The most honest answer is probably “I like everything that is well made and puts a smile on my face”. It all comes down to what I get excited about that particular day. I always love white Bordeaux though.

Building a wine-list to accompany an ever-changing and evolving menu must be a challenge. How do you plan and execute your decisions, alone or in a team?

I do all the planning, execute the final decisions and manage the beverage programme, but at my restaurant it’s all about the team. Always. Our motto is “one team, one dream”. There is so much talent and eagerness in the team that I would be a fool if I didn’t listen to my colleagues’ opinions. It’s actually a very cool experience to work at a restaurant where even the chefs are involved and get educated about our wines. Björn’s (Frantzén) food goes very well with wines and I’ve learned to understand the dynamics of our menu so the biggest challenge for me is to find the beverages that will thrill me, my team and our guests. The way I’m building our list by making smart, long-term choices will not only compliment the cuisine but will also give guests their own unique experience. I try to always make sure that I buy beverages that I know each individual member of the front of house team gets excited about because it makes it more fun for everyone; if my colleague Fred loves chartreuse for instance, I’ll buy the best chartreuse I can find and I know he’ll knock the socks off the particular guest he sells it to, because he loves it himself. I strive for the win-win-win situation. It all comes down to the team, keeping ourselves educated.

What does your daily routine look like?

The last 12 months have been different to my normal routine, as the restaurant has been closed. We’ve had a management team that has been planning every single small detail possible. We’ve had Thursday meetings where we’ve been given reports on how the planning process has been going – the last few months has been all about executing the decisions that we’ve made. When the restaurant actually opens I’m guessing that my routine will consist of me arriving to the restaurant together with the general manager before the rest of the team arrive. Looking through inventory, buying what I’ll need for the wine pairing menu, putting together the non-alcoholic beverages, meeting importers and just making sure that we have everything we need. I also put a lot of time into educating the staff that I need to prepare. I work every service so basically it all comes down to making sure that we have everything we need to open the doors of the restaurant each night.

How would you describe your new position at Frantzén compared to how you have been working before?

The biggest difference for me is that we have brought in Carl Frosterud as a general manager, which means that I will have one of the best in the business as my closest colleague. With me as the head sommelier and him as the manager it means that we can focus even more on the service experience than before and that I can pick his brain about my ideas. Another thing is that since the restaurant is so much bigger than the old one, it means that I will get more space for the beverages. I have increased our beverage list with a lot of new entries, but it has also meant that we have been able to re-invent the entire beverage program. The sake, the spirits, the beer, the coffee and the tea – everything has been given extra attention and space.

So, as I understand it there’s more than wine considered for pairing with your different dishes, what more can you tell us about all the rest?

The world of beverages is un-ending. There are millions of different beverages we want to try out. What we will bring to the table when we try the new menu is – apart from wine – also sake, beer, fortified wines, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages that we will make ourselves. The wine pairing menu needs to be spot on, but we have to explore the entire world of beverages to find other interesting things to offer our guests.

What will be the biggest challenge on the new floor [at Franzén]?

The fact that we have never had that extra floor before. We will not be able to properly assess how to make the best of that space before we actually try it out. We have a good idea of how to do it, but before we are actually try, it’s just an idea on a paper. That is the challenge that we are looking forward to the most.

What is important for you when visiting other restaurants?

The service. That is hands down the most important thing to me. I can stand mediocre food and even wine if the service is good. However I do get a bit annoyed when I can see that no thought has been given to the beverages, so that is important for me too. I am a simple guest – just give me a good glass of wine and good service and I will be a happy camper.

Can you reveal some gems that can be found on the list at the opening?

After working with the new list for so long I find myself thinking that they are all gems, but if I must name just a few I really like the back vintage lists of white Domaine de Chevalier and Domaine Leroy Pommard Les Vignots.

It’s no secret the new Frantzén is aiming for three Michelin Stars. How will you all accomplish this goal and how long will it take?

Of course we always want to strive towards being better than our last service. We do that by keeping the team motto at heart. We need everybody in the team to truly believe that we will achieve greatness and work towards our goals. The only way to do that is by creating a working environment where everybody is happy, well-educated and enjoys going to work every day.

We are all dying of curiosity, please elaborate a little about what we will experience at the new restaurant.

Hopefully you will experience all the hard work we put into it, boiled down to a grand and personalized experience. We want you to feel that you are a part of the heart and soul of Frantzén when you visit us. If you’ve paid a visit to us before, we want you to recognize the old restaurant but in a new and upgraded version. We just want our guests to feel embraced and spoiled.

Will you please recommend three wines from Systembolaget that represent your style and taste?

2010 Ch. d’Arlay Rouge (92108)
2015 Uvas de la Ira, Dani Landhi (99839)
2006 Pape Clement Blanc (99102)

The new Restaurant Frantzén is open at Klara Norra Kyrkogata 26. The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday with lunch on Friday and Saturday and reservations can be made at www.restaurantfrantzen.com

Words: Pär Strömberg