New Nordic food movement

How to eat like a Scandinavian

New Nordic food movement

You've heard the gripes about Scandinavian food being boring. There's the obligatory holiday exodus to visit grandparents in outstate Minnesota and eat lutefisk — a Norwegian cod preserved in lye — served with potatoes and mashed peas in a meal that lacks color and taste. Or the oh-so-true Ole and Lena joke: "We used lutefisk to get rid of the raccoons, but now we've got a family of Norwegians living under our house!"

Garrison Keillor describes our Scandinavian food heritage as though it were an allegory for the biblical book of Job. We willingly suffer, over and over again, just to show our faith in a higher power, or so as not to offend our fellow Lutherans next door. To be sure, no episode of Top Chef will be filmed anytime soon in A Prairie Home Companion's Lake Wobegon.

It's not that our forefathers chose to eat bland food — it was just all they could afford.

Paul Berglund, executive chef at the Bachelor Farmer, uses fresh and local ingredients with traditional Nordic favorites
Sasha Landskov
Paul Berglund, executive chef at the Bachelor Farmer, uses fresh and local ingredients with traditional Nordic favorites
At Heartland Restaurant, Lenny Russo uses Scandinavian wild game such as wild boar and local fish such as freshwater bass, but with spices popular in the Nordic region
Shaun Liboon
At Heartland Restaurant, Lenny Russo uses Scandinavian wild game such as wild boar and local fish such as freshwater bass, but with spices popular in the Nordic region

"Many people who came here during the turn of the 20th century were really, really poor, and so [they ate food that] we don't really eat anymore in Scandinavia," says Sibban Johnson, a Swedish immigrant who co-owns Café Finspang in the Midtown Global Market. "Who wants to eat blood pudding? I know people love it here, but it's just pig's blood and wheat. I don't really want that."

But for those descendants of Leif Ericson who don't salivate at the thought of blood pudding, help is on the way. The "New Nordic" food movement has come to the Twin Cites, turning traditional culinary ideas on their head. Best of all, New Nordic borrows just enough from our ancestors' recipes that it won't offend your grandmother — her meatballs are still on the menu.

We visited the top spots in the Twin Cities for both traditional Scandinavian and New Nordic food. In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, you can now enjoy delicious plates as sophisticated as those served at restaurants in Copenhagen or Stockholm. But so long as the wooden Viking stands watch next to the deli at Ingebretsen's on Lake Street, traditional meatballs, pickled herring, and lutefisk will be there for you too.

To Paul Berglund, executive chef at the Bachelor Farmer, the swanky new restaurant in Minneapolis's Warehouse District, the concept of "New Nordic" isn't that avant-garde.

"There's a push as part of New Nordic cuisine to reconnect with traditional food ways and ingredients," says Berglund, who was raised on his grandmother's Swedish meatballs. "To me, Nordic cooking more than anything is about a connection with nature.... There's this real intimate connection between food and nature."

The Bachelor Farmer

GOV. MARK DAYTON is a creature of habit, says his eldest son Eric, who, together with brother Andrew, opened the Bachelor Farmer last summer. The first 14 times the elder statesman visited the New Nordic hot spot, he ate Berglund's Swedish meatballs. Alas, on the 15th visit he was finally forced to order something else.

"We didn't take them off the menu specifically to spite him," says Eric, "but it did take Dad out of his comfort zone."

Here you can enjoy the governor's favorite meatballs (which will probably return to the menu when the weather turns cold) and cuts such as the Wieninleike, a Finnish-style wienerschnitzel. But guests can also feast on lighter entrees that incorporate fresh and foraged delicacies, such as the poached eggs with glazed carrots and sugar snap peas, or the sockeye salmon with grilled asparagus and nettle purée.

"We've been well received here by people who grew up on Scandinavian food," says Andrew. "It's maybe not the exact recipe they had, but some elements might stir up emotions in people. 'These meatballs take me back to my grandma's kitchen when I was young,' they say."

When President Obama visited the Bachelor Farmer for a June 1 fundraiser, the menu featured house-smoked pork breast with chives from the restaurant's rooftop garden; English pea and crème fraiche pureed soup with radishes and mint; a salad of early-summer vegetables and flowers, goat's milk cheese, pistachios, and cider vinaigrette; Copper River sockeye salmon, new potatoes, and grilled asparagus with tarragon; and roasted chicken with arugula-bread salad, chicken confit, and pickled shallots. That's hardly the greasy diner food that American politicians have to stomach in photo-ops to win blue-collar votes.

Entrées at the Bachelor Farmer are typically preceded by four slices of homemade toasted bread with a variety of toppings. Authentic Nordic choices include the sugar- and salt-cured salmon gravlax and the Pate de campagne. This Smørrebrød course is typically eaten (by the Danes, at least) with a knife and fork.

The appetizers seem particularly reflective of New Nordic experimental cuisine. Behold the combination of purslane, pickled duck hearts, strawberries, and toasted hazelnuts, which offered a sweet, sour, and crunchy sensation. Purslane is a little known but nutritious weed with a tart, lemony taste. It grows all around us, reflecting the impulse in New Nordic cuisine to pull from nature's abundance.

"Foraging is one tenet of the new wave of cooking known as New Nordic, but it's more about establishing a deep connection with the source," explains Berglund. "Whether it's the woods or the wilderness, or a cultivated plot of land that's tended with affection. That relates to the current zeitgeist of Minnesota food, which is an appreciation for what grows around us. There's a passion of local farmers that's projected through local chefs and finally experienced by the diner."

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