If most of your Scandinavian food knowledge comes from IKEA’s cafés (meatballs and lingonberry sauce, anyone?), you’re missing out on a sea change. More Scandinavian-inspired restaurants are gracing our shores every day, and as it turns out, there are a lot of healthy secrets in Nordic cuisine: Get ready to try sea buckthorn, smoked fish and…lichens. We talked to Chef Fredrik Berselius of Clean Plates-approved Aska about the New Nordic fare coming to America, and his locavore-friendly version.
Q. What’s the basic philosophy of Scandinavian cooking, to you?
A. Scandinavian cooking is based on simple, wholesome ingredients. Grains, root vegetables, tubers, onions, wild berries and mushrooms. Long winters and mild summers made preservation of food, like drying, smoking and fermenting important for us and [it’s] something we still do on a regular basis.
Q. What did you have for breakfast today?
A. Organic oatmeal, muscovado sugar, roasted apple and full-fat local milk. Also, Swedish pastries we make at the restaurant, and dark roasted coffee.
Q. One dish that stuck out to us at Aska is the earthy “fallen leaves” broth. What’s the story behind this rich vegetarian broth?
A. The whole kitchen staff was out picking mushrooms, lichens, and different leaves to use in our cooking. We found very aromatic leaves and brought them back to the restaurant. The first broth we made reminded us of the smells of the forest in a very comforting way. We kept working on it, and started serving it with lichens, wild carrots and other root vegetables.
Q. Though the food may seem foreign, you’re working with many local suppliers. Who’s one that you’re particularly excited to work with?
A. I get most of my seafood from Gabe Stommel of “Gabe the Fishbabe” in Point Judith. She will call me when the boat arrives at the dock and let me know the catch of that day.
Q. Is there a favorite food from your youth that you’ve brought to Aska?
A. Many things, but I am particularly happy to be getting fresh herring right now. I grew up fishing for herring as a kid, and it is definitely bringing back memories for many of us here, both in the kitchen and front of house. We all get excited as the seasons change, and we’re looking forward to warmer weather and seeing more wild greens.
Q. What do you find most inspirational about the food industry right now?
A. The appreciation of vegetables and forgotten ingredients. I really love eating food that does not have animals in it. And I like to look to how people used to cook before there were all kinds of crazy technology and cooking devices.
Open seven nights a week; Sun-Thurs prix fixe available, $65 (plus $35 for pairings)
90 Wythe Avenue (@ North 11th St.), Brooklyn, NY