With New York’s first Nordic Food Festival, NORTH, coming up (Oct. 2-7) and Scandinavian restaurants popping up like hipsters at indie concerts, Scandinavian food is hotter than ever. And if you ask the leading faces of New York's food scene, there is only one way for the Scandinavian trend to go, and that is up.
"Just 18 months ago there was really only one well known Scandinavian restaurant in Manhattan, and that was Aquavit,” says Kalle Bergman, editor-in-chief of the online food magazine Honest Cooking, which arranges the Nordic Food Festival. “Within the last year and a half we have seen an influx in chefs from overseas coming to New York and opening up shops. And I believe in the near future that number will only grow. I don't think we've seen the peak of New Nordic cuisine in New York City.”
Scandinavian cooking is settling so strongly that Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson doesn’t even think you can call it a trend anymore.
“Good food is good food,” he says. “We will pickle and preserve, we will smoke, we will always have good seafood. Trends come and go, but if it’s good quality and the technique and products are great, people start to incorporate it in their food. The food of Scandinavia has a point of view and it has always been unique.”
He points at the fact that it also helps Scandinavian dining that America trades much more with Scandinavia on other cultural areas — such as fashion and music — today than ever before, whether it’s H&M, Acne, Swedish House Mafia or Robyn.
“It’s a collective. And I’m very proud of being a part of that collective narrative. I think it’s fantastic what Scandinavian chefs are doing here in New York.”
The chef says the Scandinavian food scene in New York has been in constant evolution since the ‘50s smorgasbord and the mid-‘80s opening of Aquavit, himself coming to the restaurant with a closer focus on technique than ingredients.
“The next evolution is to get Scandinavian food items [in stores],” he says. “When I look at Italian food, it’s not a trend. You can go to any store and find 10 different olive oils from Italy. That is essentially being on the world map. Having a couple of restaurants that you can brag about, that’s great, but you need more to have a global impact.”
If we take a quick detour to this year’s summer in the Hamptons, Samuelsson’s predictions seem to be right on the mark. During the summer, Swedish was the buzzword among foodies there. Under the Swedish Culinary Summer, Swedish chefs, bartenders and brands sponsored dining and drinking events from their country at fashionable charity events.
“Sweden has been very hot in general the last years. Why? It’s quality and it’s different,” says Michelle Chernoff, the U.S. sales and marketing director for Xanté, a Swedish cognac. According to her, New York has been an easy market for Xanté to move into due to the big interest in Sweden. But will there be a market for off-the-wall Scandinavian ingredients on the long term?
“We now know about strange spices from other countries, about kimchi from Korea,” Samuelsson says. “Why wouldn’t we want to learn about lingonberries and reindeer?”
If you want a taste of the Scandinavian kitchen, Samuelsson suggests that you start out with an easy meal such as meatballs (his favorite) or Gravad Laks.
If you prefer to dine out, try one of these eateries:
283 W. 12th St.
65 E. 55th St.
90 Wythe Ave.
9 Great Jones St.
13 Laight St.
Multiple locations. http://www.fikanyc.com/
Drink with a Scandinavian touch: XANTÉ Ginger Martini
40 ml Xanté
40 ml lemon juice
30 ml sugar syrup
1 small piece of fresh ginger
Muddle the ginger. Add Xanté, freshly pressed lemon juice and sugar syrup. Shake and sift twice. Serve in a cocktail glass, garnish with fresh ginger.