The tempo is high around the stoves and griddles, as high as the temperature and spirit among the cooks. It’s an utterly captivating experience to catch the cooking show live in a first-class, international kitchen, at the moment of truth when the guests are seated and waiting. The photographer and I try to stand clear as the wonderful dishes are lined up and made ready to serve. We are in awe watching the well-oiled machinery of 18 cooks and two sous-chefs orchestrating the evening’s spectacular show. And in the wings stands Stefan Benjaminsson with his sharp eye on every detail.
Stefan Benjaminsson owned a restaurant in Stockholm,then a bar in Greece. Longing for winter and a bit homesick forSweden, he moved up to jukkasjärvi in 2001 and worked as a bartenderat ABSOLUT ICEBAR. Today he is the Restaurant managerat ICEHOTEL.This hotel built of snow and ice is visited by over 15 000 guestsduring the intense winter season, from the middle of december untilthe middle of April. About 70% of the guests are from abroad, GreatBritain being the greatest market. ICEHOTEL has two restaurantswith different profiles and directions, as well as two bars serving lightermeals and snacks. The kitchen also prepares all meals for differentoutings, from picnic baskets with coffee and sandwiches to extravagantfour-course dinners served at a wilderness camp.
ICEHOTEL is not only a hotel built of ice, it is so much more, with plenty of warm and cozy environments. Take for instance the modern-style ICEHOTEL Restaurant, with influences from the Lapland region. Here the menu is based on local produce that is elegantly refined with international influences. In contrast, the rustic Restaurang Hembygdsgården (the old Homestead) offers more traditional fare. ”our guests want this variation. few enjoy eating gourmet meals every day,” says Stefan.
In the kitchen, the work is divided up pretty much like out in the world, with different stations where one or several cooks are responsible for a few steps of the finished dish. The staff represents a range of nationalities: mexico, france, Switzerland and finland. They all contribute to the wide spectrum of tastes and experiences.
“Right now we are a great mix of newcomers and wily old birds. We got the team into shape during the pre-season, now working smoothly together as a tight team. It’s really important that everything sits just right when the wheels begin to turn. Then everything has to click,” says Stefan. during the peak season, enormous quantities of premium regional delicacies pass through the kitchen to the guests’ plates. Much of this produce is supplied by local hunters, fishermen and berry-pickers. “Our raw-produce suppliers are our friends and neighbours. It’s a wonderful feeling being a conscious part of a chain, an ecosystem, knowing the true origin of the produce. We want to offer our guests an extra dimension, the luxury of enjoying that which nature offers. I’m really proud and know from experience that we stand for something truly unique,” says Stefan.
The cuisine at ICEHOTEL Restaurant has been featured in gourmet magazines around the world and has been awarded the prestigious Werner Vögeli Statuette. “We want to be a renowned restaurant. Our goal is to surprise and satisfy our guests, make sure that they experience something unique,” says Stefan. To be able to do that, the restaurant and kitchen together have well over fifty people in the staff of cooks, waiters, and waitresses. “We work a lot to make sure that our staff like it up here, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, and I think that we have succeeded in our task. Many of our staff members have been working here for several seasons in a row. That ensures both quality and high service-level,” says Stefan.