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Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine

Sophisticated yet Accessible Regionally-Inspired Recipes

By Marcus Samuelsson


arcus Samuelsson has it all. The celebrated chef and co-owner of Restaurant Aquavit, he has brains, talent and looks—and now a gorgeous new book.

Whenever I see a cookbook so beautiful that it should be kept under glass instead of in the kitchen, I get suspicious. Does usability take a backseat to ego? Is it going to offer anything that will take less than a week to shop for, and a day to cook? Happily, there is no such cause for concern with Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine.

Like its author, Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine seems to do everything well. It is a hefty five pounds of surprisingly accessible but sophisticated Scandinavian-inspired recipes, given the masterful treatment you would expect from Samuelsson. The photography (by the team of Shimon and Tammar) is riveting. It is so breathtaking, vivid and plentiful that you'll have hours of eye candy for those off-days. The book embodies Swedish preoccupation with aesthetics as much as it showcases Samuelsson's talent.

Photo of Marcus Samuelsson by Paul Brissman

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia but adopted at age three by a Swedish couple from the West Coast town of Göteborg. In his book's introduction, Samuelsson tells of learning to cook at his grandmother's side when he was "no more than five or six years old." For her, he says, "each year was a cycle of gardening, preserving, and cooking." From berries, produce and fish she made jams and mustards, pickled herring and aquavits. Her food was rustic and simple and, thankfully, she instilled him with a sensibility and passion that led him—via the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, Interlaken, aboard international cruise ships, and Lyon—to New York City and Restaurant Aquavit.

Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine is the best of all worlds. Like his cooking, the 140-plus recipes are inventive but sane. They are well tested and clearly written, so there's no room for intimidation. What's so great about Samuelsson is that he is creative and sensible. He never takes his food so far beyond its roots that it suffers from mistaken identity. For instance, you may question the integrity of something like Curry Sorbet. But Samuelsson explains that sweet and spicy flavors are frequently the underpinnings for Swedish food. It works. Trust him in this case and all of the rest.

Samuelsson starts with basics like Gravlax with Mustard Sauce, and Salt-Cured Duck Breasts in a section entitled "The Raw and the Cured," to Serrano-Wrapped Figs with Mascarpone in "Bites, Snacks, and Little Plates." The Lamb Sausage Wrap in "Sandwiches" comes from the Turkish community in Sweden, but soups feel more familiar—like Juniper Apple Soup, or Corn Soup with Smoked Salmon. His worldly experience shines throughout, from Coconut-Poached Cod in "Fish and Shellfish" to "Honey-Glazed Pork Ribs in "Birds, Meat and Game," right on through to Soft Ginger Cake with Mascarpone Mousse in "Desserts."

Foie Gras "Ganache" is an Aquavit signature dish and probably the most challenging recipe in the book, but there are plenty of elegant, straightforward dishes like Swedish Roast Chicken with Spiced Apple Rice, Braised Red Cabbage and Chocolate "Blini."

The book's resource guide is just right. The pantry glossary and kitchen equipment notes cover everything necessary for a successful Aquavit cooking venture. If you're challenged to find Swedish staples like lingonberry spread and juniper berries (as well as kitchen equipment, kaffir lime leaves and truffle peelings), Samuelsson includes a well-rounded source list.

Please heed this one warning. Keep Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine at a safe distance if you are working on something like Samuelsson's Curry Sorbet…or anything for that matter. His food is so frequently vibrant and colorful that it will stain your book—unless you don't mind a few reminders of saffron or turmeric for that slightly used look.


Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

(Updated: 10/30/08 SB)

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