As part of our Chef Chat series, we talk with chef, Fredrik Berselius, about Aska; a New York restaurant that's taking diners on a journey through Scandinavia.
How has your heritage influenced your food?
The food we serve at Aska is very personal to me and is heavily influenced by my Swedish heritage. Many of the dishes are based on flavour memories from growing up, so a lot of my cooking stems from that nostalgia, yet I’m also constantly trying to look forward, to come up with new ideas and keep things interesting.
With Aska, the goal has always been to combine what I loved most about growing up in Sweden—the connection with nature, Scandinavian flavours and simplicity—with what I love about my home now in New York—urban landscapes, cultural diversity and creative energy—in a way that hopefully offers something new and unique to the dining scene.
What makes your menu unique?
We constantly try to find the highest quality ingredients, whether a foraged herb or heritage pork from upstate, then focus on preparing them in creative ways while maintaining a simplicity and naturalness to each dish.
Again, it’s very much influenced by Scandinavia, which I believe shares many similarities in terms of the land and climate to north-eastern United States.
We also try to seek out purveyors and farmers who are just as passionate about what they do as we are, in terms of dedication to and respect for ingredients and the land.
When national dishes have been transplanted, can they be as authentic as they are in their homeland?
I think the experience of eating has as much to do with time and place as with the actual dish. Eating Swedish meatballs in Sweden is, of course, different from eating them here in New York.
But many national dishes taste just as good somewhere else as they do in their respective country. Overall, it really depends on the when and where. Just as important is who is preparing the dish and where the ingredients are being sourced from.
What are your thoughts on fusion food? Can it work without diluting culture and identity?
There can be crossovers that work, where different elements of cuisines compliment each other, yet too often I find there is little reasoning or identity behind combining certain ingredients or techniques which simply don’t work well together.
It also depends very much on the chef’s objective behind the cuisine and what they are trying to achieve with it. At the same time, fusion food is a reflection of what’s happening in the world today, with so many cultures mixing together and creating such diversity. The perfect example is New York City.
What is the next evolution in the cuisine world? We have had many eras and many trends. What do you think is next?
Some of the changes I believe and hope will continue to grow are more chefs building direct relationships with farmers, sourcing ingredients responsibly and creating less waste.
I don’t think these are trends, I think we’re moving into a new era where people are becoming more aware of these issues and are recognising the importance of understanding where our food comes from, how it’s grown and the effect it has on the environment and our health.
I’m also happy to see more vegetables appearing on people’s plates.