Aquavit’s Marcus Jernmark, Continued: Scandinavian Food as the Next Big Thing, Keeping Kosher (Around the Wife), and the Woman Who Was Allergic to Everything


Yesterday, we heard from Marcus Jernmark, the new chef at Aquavit, about the real challenge of going farm-to-table, telling the true story of Scandinavian cuisine, and why he thinks Aquavit was a more pretentious restaurant before he got there. Now, Part 2 of our interview …

San Pellegrino recently named Noma in Copenhagen the best restaurant in the world. And there’s been all this talk of the Scandi diet being the new Mediterranean diet. Do you think Scandinavian food could be the next big thing?

The biggest people in the industry, such as Ferran Adria, predicted like eight years ago, when he was on top, that Scandinavian food would be the next big thing. Here, right now as we speak, we have the best restaurants in the world and it’s just a matter of a couple of years until the attention goes somewhere else. We just have to get as much as possible out of the time we have so we can build a sustainable brand, so people recognize us. We want people to come to Scandinavian countries to try food and consider it a gastronomic destination. It’s all about the pickling and curing and textures and natural flavors of the ingredients that they don’t really do in other cuisines. You have prosciutto and dried meats in Southern Europe, absolutely, but nothing as extensive as in the Nordic countries.

Are you a fan of Noma?

Noma is the most cutting-edge restaurant because they combine the super-Nordic cuisine with cutting-edge techniques. And they’re definitely going to be the carrier of the torch in that sense. We have another restaurant, Mathias Dahlgren, that’s in Sweden, Stockholm, that’s considered one of the best restaurants in the world. And I’m very much influenced by [chef Dahlgren] because he’s a true believer in food. He’s probably the best cook in the world. And I say “cook” because there’s a big difference between being a chef and a cook. In America, once you get to a certain level in your career you become untouchable in the industry. The superstars you see on TV never need to work again. It’s the American dream. But, as you know, in Sweden, you’re much more fragile. You don’t make the same money, you don’t get the same attention. You have to work.

Where do you like to eat here in the city when you’re not at your own place?

I’m trying to see what everybody’s up to. I had dinner the other day at Scarpetta and I’m trying Marea and Eleven Madison Park. I don’t really have any favorite spot, although Eleven Madison Park was probably the best gastronomic experience I’ve ever had in New York so far. But I’m always trying to see and taste new things, mostly around the corner.

Was there much of a handover to you from Marcus Samuelsson?

To be honest with you, I worked with Johan [Svensson]. He was the executive chef when I came in. I don’t know when [Samuelsson and the other owners] went separate ways but, quite frankly, he wasn’t in the kitchen when they hired me. Do you cook much at home?

I’m not home much. I’m not gonna lie. And if I’m home, it would be a Sunday night, and if it weren’t for my pregnant wife, I would not cook.

She keeps kosher I hear. Is that difficult for you?

It’s impossible. I will never get used to it. And I find myself, after we eat meat, say, asking, “So, honey, would you like a cup of coffee with milk?” and she just looks at me like, “We’re married and have kids and you still can’t get it right? You’re stupid, right?” Sorry, dear. I’m Swedish. It’s rude to drink coffee without milk after food. So, no, it’s not easy at all. Some things you just have to live with, but it’s not easy.

But you accommodate her at the restaurant?

Yeah, absolutely. She eats fish so it’s not a big deal to find something for her. She likes it well done, and I’ll accommodate. I’ll accommodate all our guests. We had one just yesterday that had severe food allergies. She had this business card with all of her allergies stated on it and I was kinda nervous when I saw that. I went out and spoke to her and we tried to find her a menu that she could eat. Afterward, she asked if she could see me. She said it was the best meal she’d ever had since she was diagnosed with cancer, that it was through the cancer that she got all these diet [restrictions]. She was very impressed. She’d never been in a restaurant that could accommodate her. They’re afraid of hitting a weak spot, getting her sick, whatever, and getting sued. That’s unfortunately how many restaurants look at it. We do whatever we can to try and accommodate people. And that is also something I take pride in. I am very happy to hear people say things like that.

Do you have any special events coming up at the restaurant?

We have the herring coming out. The herring festival is running from June 14 to 26. We’re setting up a smorgasbord in our bistro from Monday through Friday and I thought, you know what, let’s lower the price. So we have a really good value this year. I think it’s going to be a bit crazy. There’s going to be a lot of people coming in because it’s warm outside and it’s really nice to eat chilled salmon and cold herring and things like that in the summer. You drink cold beer and aquavit with that. I think it’s going to be a big hit.

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