“We don’t do the most fanciest dishes most of the time, this is the place you come for very delicious food."
Born and raised in Berlin with American, English and Swedish roots, Björn Swanson is not your typical German Chef. Along with celebrity chef Tim Raue, he is part of the elite group of Berliners, part of the Michelin club.
"Everyone thinks I am Swedish. When I won my first star, the Swedish Embassy called to invite me and I had to break it to them, that I did not speak not one damn word in Swedish.”
The American Embassy also called and it was an invitation Björn accepted. He moves with ease between his different experiences and heritage.
“I was in a typical military family. Food was never a big deal. We eat food not get hungry. Quality was never a thing.”
Björn’s father was in the U.S. Marine Corp for over 25 years. His Grandfather before him was in the army and fought in World War II and also the Vietnam and Korea wars. Björn followed in his family’s footsteps had stints in the German and U.S. Army. His career was cut short when he was 18 and broke his knee. He found himself back in Germany, to figure out his next steps and the idea of being in the kitchen caught his interest.
“I like food, I like to work. The atmosphere in the kitchen, sometimes feels like in being the Military as well. It was just a good fit”
Growing up in the Schöneberg neighbourhood of Berlin, he was introduced to Asian, Arab and Turkish flavours through local restaurants. Later on, during his first apprenticeship, he was taught classical french techniques.
“You cannot hide your roots! I cook based on what I know. Sometimes it’s more Asian, sometimes more German or American influenced. It all depends on season, but also on how I feel.”
Golvet is a fine dining experience but with food like pizza, chicken breast or fries that sometimes feature on the menu. There is not one clear way to classify the restaurant. If there is one underlying theme, it is the focus on quality and seasonal produce. There is a serious effort to source things locally, a nearly impossible task for a Michelin Star restaurant in Berlin that seats 85.
“We are not in France or the States. In Germany we are a bit different. If I tell a farmer we need 80 chickens a week, they will go crazy. They just can’t do it!”
The entire experience at Golvet is designed to play with your expectations. Located uniquely on the corner Schöneberger Ufer / Potsdamer Strasse in the site of the former 40 Second Club. It is not a place where you would think a restaurant of this caliber would exist. Even if you see the Golvet name in the ground floor, you are not really sure till you get to the eight floor and enter the main dining room with an incredible 360 degree panorama view of Berlin.
“A Michelin Star usually suggests to a customer white table cloth, formal setting with classical music in the background. We are anything but that.”
The experience at Golvet is designed to be customer focused. For this reason are no constraints on what you can do here. If you want a set menu it's there. If you want a la carte, it’s there as well. If you just want to grab a drink and a snack at the bar that is an option as well.
“This is not your Nobelhart Schmutzig and Eins Unter Null, where if you don’t like what’s on the menu, it’s not my problem.”
The menu at Golvet changes every 3 months. The process is structured where Björn and his chefs’ brainstorm and put forward ideas on what should go on the menu. Once they have a final list of dishes, Björn picks out what he wants on the menu. The kitchen staff then prepares the dishes using the same ingredients with different techniques for tasting session with the entire team. Four weeks prior to the menu change, the menu is decided by a democratic process with Björn occasionally pulling rank.
“This is not about Björn Swanson. This is about the Golvet. It is about the team and I am just part of it. Without them I cannot do anything.”
The moment the new menu is out, the team has already worked on what will be on the next menu. This gives his suppliers enough time to source the produce when Golvet needs it.
“I love to play with different kind of expectations. The dishes that I love to serve is where customers have something in mind when they read the menu but when it they eat it, it completely surprises them”
It is the reason why some of the more traditional German dishes that are not universally liked such as beetroot and apple, and potato with curd have featured on the menu. The beetroot and apple dish is taken from its simplest form and elevated with elements of caraway caramel, nut butter and red and green curry spices. The Golvet version of the potato with curd is a salt baked potato with an herbal infusion sauce, goat curd, poached quail eggs and onions chips, takes this dish to the next level. This is as close as it comes to as signature dish at Golvet.
“It was on the menu for a long time for our standards and at some point it did not feel right anyway. We are still very young and it is dangerous right now to have a signature dish. If I am already on my limit, stop being creative and doing just what I know, it becomes the wrong approach”
A typical work day for Björn starts at 6:30am when he drops his kids at kindergarten. He reaches work around 9am, and works on administrative tasks for 6 hours before jumping into the kitchen at dinner service. It is not usual for the Head Chef to do the administrative work, but it shows Björn is an all in kind of guy.
“From greeting the guests, being in the kitchen with the guys, being in the office, doing service, to selling events. I love to do everything!”
Ambition is something that Bjorn does not hide. The moment he completed his apprenticeship he knew he wanted to be a Head Chef and achieve a Michelin Star, but he did it on his own terms, his own way.
“I wanted to create a restaurant where I wanted to go out for dinner. That is why it’s casual, with this kind of kitchen and music.”
With techno music playing on most nights, you know this anything but the usual.