When a Restaurant Is a Work of Art

STOCKHOLM — “Can somebody dim the Dan Flavin?” It’s not a request one generally hears at a restaurant, but on the inaugural preview night at Brutalisten, the artist Carsten Höller was pulling cords from their sockets at random, still working out a few kinks at his restaurant, including toning down the glaring fluorescent tubes of the Minimalist masterpiece on the dining room’s wall.

Most kinks had already been dekinked, with a miraculous same-day installation of Mr. Höller’s made-to-measure furnishings just before guests arrived, and the staff, outfitted in his custom-designed gray boiler suits, was unflappably cheery.

In the past week the pocket-size Brutalisten (“the Brutalist” in Swedish), with just 28 seats, has been packed to the rafters with Mr. Höller’s high-polish friends and supporters from Stockholm and far beyond: Miuccia Prada; Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert; Mikael Schiller, an owner of Acne Studios; Max Schiller, the founder of the footwear brand Eytys; the art patron Maja Hoffmann; the musician Baba Stiltz; the director Jonas Akerlund; the photographer Mikael Jansson; and a host of fellow artists.

They came to eat art in the form of Brutalist cooking, a cuisine of Mr. Höller’s own invention intended to sharpen our perception of taste with “mono-ingredient” dishes, served simply or embellished only by an element’s constituent parts, like a raw oyster he would never deign to corrupt with lemon, or white asparagus steamed in asparagus liquids and served with a fermented asparagus sauce.

“This place is going to be a catalyst for interesting people, and we desperately needed that in Stockholm,” said Ms. Battaglia Engelbert, who chatted with Mrs. Prada before dinner. “Only Carsten could create this kind of magic.” Visibly pregnant, Ms. Battaglia Engelbert was unstoppably glamorous in Mylar stilettos and necklaces of bonbon-big rhinestones from Swarovski, where she is the creative director.

“Carsten and I share an interest in art that engages people,” Mrs. Prada said, raising her voice above the din of devotees feverishly discussing the food-as-art to come. “Art should render reality more interesting and investigate life to render it more interesting. This is what Carsten’s art does.”

A former entomologist who spent years in labs doing experiments with insects before crossing over to art and shooting to prominence with his often participatory creations, Mr. Höller subjects his public to works that can feel like experiments on humans, with his heart-stopping corkscrew slides, hallucination-inducing light frequencies and upside-down goggles that flip a viewer’s perspective of the world — “art that is simultaneously corporeal and cerebral,” gushed one of Brutalisten’s guests.

An intellectual with an uncommonly genial approach to social life, he collaborated with the Prada Foundation on the Double Club, a temporary restaurant in London and at Art Basel Miami Beach with a Western-Congolese mash-up that was the precursor to Brutalisten.

It was, Mr. Höller said, “probably one of the best things I ever did, even if most people thought it was just a place to hang out and didn’t realize it was an artwork.”

The Brutalisten restaurant occupies a copper-roofed pink granite cube built in 1926 to house a public staircase — a lone small pavilion surrounded by the densely packed towers of central Stockholm. The interior was transformed by Mr. Höller, its archways now edged by a polychrome rainbow of tube lights, the walls lined with scalloped oxblood leather banquettes, and oak stools and tables made by the buzzed-about Mexico City studio La Metropolitana. Mr. Höller’s signature fly agaric mushrooms were retooled as petite table lamps.

A gimlet-eyed study of the restaurant reveals a five-degree slant in the spiral staircase’s center pole, the table bases, the bar and the off-kilter wood slats lining the interior. “I hope it makes you a bit dizzy,” Mr. Höller said.

Mission accomplished, guests agreed — especially as one ascends the stairs toward a ceiling mural by the American artist Ana Benaroya, a Technicolor drinking party, competing with Minimalist works of Mr. Flavin and Carl Andre on the walls.

“We needed some classic Minimalists in reference to the recipes,” Mr. Höller said. “And then we needed the opposite with Ana’s exuberant Rubens style to represent the pleasure of eating.”

Mr. Höller, a lay practitioner of Brutalist architecture, designed his own Ghana beach house in its boxy concrete vernacular. “Brutalist architecture is essentialist and the cuisine is essentialist, pared down to a single ingredient,” he said.

Brutalist cuisine likewise rejects adornment (“Decoration on the plate is avoided,” the menu’s 13-point manifesto declares) while embracing utility (the use of “overlooked, hard-to-get or rare ingredients, or ingredients that are generally discarded, is characteristic” of the Brutalist kitchen) and explores the full possibility of materials (“If you’re going to eat chicken, why not eat chicken brain?” he asks).

Only water and salt are permitted, and truly “orthodox” Brutalism — the scallops served raw or grilled in their own stock, for example — would abstain from even those.

“The manifesto,” said Stefan Eriksson, the head chef at Brutalisten, “restrains you so you have to go in new directions. You discover new aspects of ingredients all the time — that’s the upside of the restraints.”

Brutalisten uses high-quality ingredients, in season, as plenty of other restaurants do, Mr. Höller pointed out as he drank bubbly by the brushed tin bar. “But if you have your perfect ingredient, why do you need to add more ingredients to it? You found the perfect love of your life. Do you really need another one, or two, or three?”

So what is it like to dine according to this artist’s vision? The Brutalist dishes are “like being a child and returning to your first taste of flavors,” said Emilia de Poret, a fashion entrepreneur and onetime pop star, as she tasted the champignon Carsten of mushroom prepared four different ways. The metaphors continued across the banquettes.

“It’s like entering a building you think you know well and suddenly realizing there are doors you can open to room after room that you never suspected were there,” said Giulio Bertelli, Mrs. Prada’s son, as his tablemates toasted with natural wines and a pure cloudberry juice, one of many Brutalist drinks created by Mr. Höller’s girlfriend, Kajsa Leander, an entrepreneur and pomologist.

When dessert arrived — a grilled apple served with apple sorbet on smoked apple purée — the artist Precious Okoyomon took a bite and, with closed eyes, leaned back for an extended flavor-meditating minute, impervious to the boisterous table banter. “My vibe is excess pleasure,” Mx. Okoyomon said, “but Carsten’s is stripping down to the core of the thing, which is poetic, like being in a quiet room.”

Mr. Höller makes art, he said, as “a proposition to look at things in a different way.” With Brutalisten, he is welcoming friends and guests to reconsider food: Why don’t we use the entirety of an ingredient? Why don’t we go deeper into a single flavor? Why is cuisine so rarely an artist’s medium?

“For me, art is a social experiment,” he said. A restaurant is “actually a terrible business in terms of time, money and health, but I couldn’t help myself,” he added, scrutinizing the dining room as it slowly cleared out. “The role of an artist is to be an experimenter, after all. Like a scientist, but without the rational considerations.”

(With Inputs from nytimes)

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