Swedish Chef Invasion


When thinking about Michelin stars, Bocuse d’Or World Cooking Contest winners and celebrity chef-hosted events here in the Hamptons, Sweden isn’t typically the first country that usually comes to mind.

But bringing award-winning Swedish chefs and their cuisine to the fore is most definitely the goal of the Swedish Culinary Summer, where 15 of Sweden’s top chefs will partner with more than a dozen culinary charity events here on the East End through Labor Day. The events, which began on Memorial Day, highlight the techniques of Swedish cooking. Menus from Swedish Culinary Summer will also be featured at the Living Room c/o The Maidstone in East Hampton on select Wednesdays throughout the summer.

John Maroney, a partner at Manhattan- and Hamptons-based public relations firm Company Agenda, has been instrumental in bringing the events stateside. He’s the one who worked with the Swedish company, Pound, to select the best spots in the Hamptons to host the chefs.

Though the idea might seem unusual at first glance, it’s not really once one thinks about the concepts, he said.

“There’s a real similarity in the way that they cook. Nordic table is all about local sustainability, so there is a real synergy about where all the chefs are coming from,” Mr. Maroney reported.

Andy Reice, the Hamptons Project Director for Pound and a driving force behind Swedish Culinary Summer, is a self-professed Swedophile who grew to love Swedish culture after a trip to Stockholm more than a decade ago. The idea of the Nordic table—the simplicity of Swedish cooking and its impeccable attention to detail, not to mention a surprising resonance with an American lifestyle—is what made him want to bring Swedish culture to America.

“Thirteen years ago I discovered Sweden on a business trip in the middle of winter, it was cold, dark and snowy and there were things I saw that caught my eye. Stockholm was like a giant Greenwich Village,” Mr. Reice said.

Mr. Reice eventually shifted his business to working with Swedish clients interested in the United States. In 2002, he made his initial foray in bringing Swedish chefs to America by arranging for the chefs to cook at local charity events. That year, two chefs cooked at receptions for the annual Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game and three of them prepared dishes at the Hampton Classic Horse Show.

The first summer was successful, but this year it’s the first time the chefs have returned since and the program is already hitting its stride, Mr. Reice said. The events have also provided him with lots of opportunities to learn more about the culture, and the extraordinary talents of the chefs.

“What I’ve learned about Swedish cooking is it’s not Swedish food, it’s an approach to food. The Swedish chef looks upon food, looks upon ingredients with a completely different approach,” Mr. Reice explained. “I was fascinated when I went to Europe to learn that Swedish chefs were beating French chefs.”

He cited the Bocuse d’Or in Lyons, France, which is the biggest culinary competition in the world. It’s run by professional chefs, for professionals chefs, and during the heated competition, 24 countries compete. According to Mr. Reice, Scandinavian countries have placed first, second or third 60 percent of the time for the past 18 years. Additionally, Sweden swept the American Culinary Federation’s 2012 International Culinary Olympics in Germany this past year, taking home five gold medals.

“None of this is generally known in the U.S.,” he added.

The reason for this may be a Danish concept called “The Law of Jante,” or “Jantelagen,” a mentality that de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers. The Scandinavian social norm essentially means that one is not to brag, not to show off and not to think they are better than anyone else.

Mr. Maroney said Swedes are generally terrible at promotion and Jantelagen is most likely why. So when it comes to Swedish Culinary Summer, it’s up to him and Mr. Reice to promote the talented chefs.

Swedish chef Jonas Dahlbom, who recently cooked for the “Get Wild” fundraiser at Chuck and Ellen Scarborough’s Southampton home, which benefited the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, is no exception to the rule of Jantelagen. During a telephone interview from his hotel room in Manhattan, he failed to mention that in 1996 he won Swedish Chef of the Year and in 2005 he competed for Sweden at the Bocuse d’Or, winning the Prix Poisson for the best fish creation, though he admitted to a knowing about Sweden’s growing position in the gastronomic world.

“It’s a lot about the competitions of course, the Culinary Olympics, the success in the competitions made Sweden famous. Also there are a few two-star (Michelin) restaurants in Sweden now that made publications,” he said.

When it comes to what sets Mr. Dahlbom and his fellow Swedish chefs apart, he said that it’s all about following the techniques of the European masters.

“We use whole animals and use everything,” he said, adding that “the taste is different, we use a lot of acid and smoke, salt to cure. It gets cold in the winter so we historically had to take care of food to last all winter.”

The result, he said, stems from simplicity.

“I think it’s more clean taste. The Nordic Scandinavian kitchen is clean taste, use one ingredient and make it taste as good as possible.”

Though he has reached the top of his profession, in true Scandinavian fashion, the chef was quick to deflect the spotlight. His career as a chef started, as it has with many other cooks, through a “degenerate” relative, he playfully added.

“It was my brother’s fault, he dropped out of high school and became a chef. I didn’t know what to do and it looked like fun,” Mr. Dahlbom recalled. “I was going to be an electrician but the culinary school had fun parties on Thursdays so I decided to go there instead.”

For more information about the Swedish Culinary Summer, chefs, and events visit swedishculinarysummer.com.

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