Culinary Canvas

Anton Bjuhr: From Washing Pots to Top Pastry Chef

Meet one half of the creative duo behind two Michelin Star restaurant Gastrologik.

Words by Sophie Miskiw. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.

Anton Bjurh has enjoyed the kind of globetrotting career that any aspiring chef would dream of. From Paris to Dubai, the Swede honed his craft in some of the world’s culinary capitals before founding two Michelin Star restaurant Gastrologik in 2011 with long-term friend Jacob Holmström.

The pair, who first met whilst working in a restaurant in Gothenburg, share the belief that a country’s culinary profile should be respected - but that doesn’t mean forgoing innovation. Inspired largely by their time working in Paris, they use only local produce often prepared using techniques cherry-picked from around the world.

“We saw the respect people in Paris have for local produce and thought this was something we should do in Sweden. We wanted to bring back all the techniques we have learned but do it with the beautiful things we have at home. So that’s how it started,” says Anton.

Sweden’s cold climate doesn’t exactly lend itself to growing produce year-round, so this decision hasn’t always been without its challenges. But nine years and plenty of storage space later, Anton and Jacob have largely learned to leap over any initial hurdles. Today, they work strictly with Nordic (preferably Swedish) produce which relies on them working closely with producers, maintaining voracious curiosity, and spending plenty of time out in the field, so to speak.

“We always have so many questions for the producers. We ask the farmers how they raise the animals, what they feed them. We spend time in the gardens asking whether you can use certain roots or flowers. I think this is the backbone of our restaurant - wanting to learn more, to challenge ourselves.”

This humility could arguably be traced back to Anton’s earliest gig in the kitchen. His first foray into the culinary world wasn’t at a top culinary school - rather it was washing dishes at a diner in his hometown in the north of Sweden. To his surprise, the then-seventeen-year-old didn’t mind spending his shift elbow-deep in suds. Impressed by this work ethic, the owner soon had Anton helping with simple food preparation. It was enough to spark an enthusiasm for cooking that inspired Anton to enrol on a culinary course in New York City. Following an internship at Aquavit, NYC's leading Scandinavian restaurant, he landed a station despite his youth and relative inexperience. But upon returning to Sweden to renew his visa, a short spell of reflection led Anton to stay on home soil.

“I started thinking that I hardly knew how to cook and I needed to learn some basics. Why should I go to New York and work with produce that I didn’t even know how to pronounce? I wanted to learn how to cook Swedish food.”

Anton’s quest to learn the basics saw him yoyo up and down Sweden for several years, before winding up at a Michelin Star restaurant in Oslo. Despite an increasingly impressive CV, he admits feeling lost. An eagerness to learn, which included devouring every book he could get his hands on, helped him to build up his confidence - but something still didn’t feel quite right.

“I never really felt at home in the hot kitchen. I got the chance to work with pastry in Oslo because the pastry chefs left and they needed someone fast. I loved it and never turned back. I’ve been in pastry ever since.”

“I want to see the simplicity in things, and I want to be as natural as possible. If I create a dessert, it’s based on two or three flavours. I don’t want to add new things that have nothing to do with the serving. If I want to add some crisp to, for example, a dairy-based dessert, then we hang and dry the yoghurt to get a natural crispiness which fits the serving.”

The shift renewed his zeal, and he pursued his new passion to Paris - a city renowned for its love affair with all things pastry. Once there, he reconnected with Jacob, who until recently he had shared a flat with in Oslo, and wound up working with star chef Pierre Gagnaire. While part of Gagnaire’s group, Anton went on to head up a team at an opening in Dubai, work in a small restaurant in the French Alps, and spend two years as a pastry chef in South Korea.

These years spent abroad introduced Anton to flavours and techniques he continues to work with today at his and Jacob’s Stockholm-based venture Gastrologik. Just one example is spruce - a flavour which might seem typically Swedish - but which he was first inspired to use when he discovered a South Korean sparkling spruce-flavoured beverage.

While Anton doesn’t consider himself particularly experimental, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. A decision to use black garlic, an ingredient popular in South Korea, led him and Jacob to work with a nearby farm to grow batches in a heating cabinet. Reckoning that compost would work in the same way as it maintains the same contrast temperature, they tested growing the garlic in compost and enjoyed the same result.

These days, Anton seeks simplicity above all when designing new dishes. He avoids piling on superfluous ingredients, opting instead to work in interesting ways with what he has in front of him.

“I want to see the simplicity in things, and I want to be as natural as possible. If I create a dessert, it’s based on two or three flavours. I don’t want to add new things that have nothing to do with the serving. If I want to add some crisp to a dairy-based dessert, for example, then we hang and dry yoghurt to get a natural crispiness which fits the serving.”

Both Jacob and Anton credit their creativity with the strict framework they have set themselves. They often have to find suitable substitutes, for example, using reduced whey from sour cream to replace classic acidities like lemon. Ultimately, it’s this challenge that keeps the duo on their toes and that continues to drive their passion for what they do.

“Boundaries feed creativity. We have to find solutions, we have to find new ways. That is also a way of keeping up the energy in this industry. There can only be love for this. If there isn’t, you’re lost.”

Words by Sophie Miskiw. Photography by Johan Ståhlberg.