Two-Michelin-starred, Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius’ achingly beautiful creations appear to put nature on the plate in front of you. The food ranges from delicate (lengths of pickled and compressed cucumber are artfully decorated with linden flowers) to red in tooth and claw (truffles made from pigs’ blood, butter and rose hip), but always seem to evoke a wild Nordic landscape. It’s surprising then that his restaurant, Aska, after which the book is named, is located in a Brooklyn back street under the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Berselius is a resolutely urban chef: “I knew I wanted to be in New York. I fell in love with the city as soon as I set foot here.” However, his cooking draws on formative experiences and memories from growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm and visiting his grandmother in the north of Sweden with its “reindeer and white and black birch bark” and summers spent among the “wheat, oat, rapeseed, grazing cows and horses” of the lowlands.
Recipes tick all the modish New Nordic boxes, with ingredients like aged dairy cow, birch, buttermilk, lingonberries and white currants, and techniques such as smoking, pickling and fermenting (along with a fair bit of foraging), but Berselius has his own distinctive style. Some of the most impactful presentations are the most simple, yet belie the numerous processes that go into their creation.
Lamb heart burnt in bedstraw appears to be a black disc on a plate, but is in fact brunoise of fermented Jerusalem artichoke and rendered lamb heart fat, dusted with a powder of lamb heart that’s been cured, dried, grated, dry-fried, burnt with bedstraw, dry-fried and burnt a second time, then blended and passed.
Berselius writes evocatively about his Swedish homeland, his foraging trips to upstate New York and being a restaurateur and chef in Brooklyn. Aska provides genuine insight into the mind of an exciting chef who appears to be pushing the boundaries of his own creativity; I get the feeling that there is much more to come from him. Roll on Aska book two.
Aska by Fredrik Berselius (Phaidon, £39.95)