“Having spent some time in the kitchen at the Grand’s Veranda during my education, I always felt it could serve as the ultimate experience. It was a small kitchen, with five of us working side by side and in a very calm, even subdued, atmosphere with an open glass wall to the seating area,” says chef David Johansson.
David Johansson, 34, is yet another addition to the growing Scandinavian culinary experience in New York.
Johansson served as executive chef at the New York Consulate General’s residence on Park Avenue from 2003 to 2006. The assignment entailed preparing for small intimate lunches or dinners to literally royal banquets of 100 seated guests or receptions for up to 400.
With his partner, Lars Åkerlund, Johansson opened “FIKA,” an espresso bar in New York City, not far from restaurant Aquavit’s original location in fashionable Midtown. With the new Löfbergs Lila espresso coffee beans, house-made pastries and specialties such as smögenröra sandwiches (the seafood mix so typical of Sweden’s west coast area), the bar, which opened in the late summer of 2007, is a different experience. The second location FIKA, on Park Avenue south opened fall, 2008.
Johansson started his career in the kitchen early on. Hailing from the area between Lakes Vänern and Vättern in Sweden, he started working at an inn at the age of 15. He went on to the restaurant school in Lidköping, and after returning to work for the inn, went on to pursue an executive chef’s education in Karlstad.
“The 1.5 years of continued education were formative for me,” says the youthful Johansson. “Other than learning book keeping and the business end of running a restaurant, most of the time was spent working in other chefs’ kitchens. I spent four months in the south of France with chef Jaques Chibois in Grace, Provence, and another stint at the French Grand’s Veranda at Stockholm’s Grand Hotel.”
The months in France and with renowned Swedish chef Roland Persson at the Grand must have been well spent. Soon after finishing his education, and a short time running a catering alongside the Inn on his home turf, the aspiring chef was offered a position with chef Erik Lallerstedt’s Gondolen in Stockholm. It became a short visit with the popular Stockholm restaurateur.
“Having spent some time in the kitchen at the Grand’s Veranda during my education, I always felt it could serve as the ultimate experience. It is, or was [the restaurant was closed following a major renovation in January 2006] a small kitchen, with five of us working side by side and in a very calm, even subdued, atmosphere with an open glass wall to the seating area.”
So when the Grand called back after he’d been with Gondolen ten months, Johansson gladly accepted.
After four more years at Grand, Johansson took a job with then-Consul General Olle Wästberg as a one-year break from the Stockholm routine. The break became two years, then three, and as his new bride Marina got her own foothold locally as a stylist and make-up artist, the couple decided to stay in New York on a more permanent basis.
When eating out, the Johanssons enjoy French cuisine, but at present favor Bonita, a Spanish restaurant in their Brooklyn-Williamsburg neighborhood. “At home we share the cooking between us,” says Johansson. “If Marina, who is very capable in the kitchen, were cooking for me for our anniversary dinner, she would likely pick something classic Swedish, maybe a bleak roe toast with finely chopped onions and crème fraiche, then a salad with walnuts and a terrine of duck’s liver.”
Johansson prefers classic cooking methods with a twist. “I like food that feels special, different and yet is something everyone can understand. There are chefs that cook more to be admired by other chefs than to serve a good meal. It’s important to remember that it’s all about food, not art.
“Lately, I’ve been inspired by the California-based Thomas Keller, whose Napa Valley restaurant French Laundry paved the way for another successful restaurant in Las Vegas and recently Per Se in the Warner Building in New York.”
The FIKA espresso bar on West 58th Street will serve Swedish espressos and cold drinks, cold dishes, sandwiches, salads and pastries. Johansson’s chef-educated partner Åkerlund becomes almost poetic when he starts talking about their own chocolate factory and how their chocolate and pastry recipes are made to balance with the different tastes of the espressos to be served. The two are working on the renovation hands-on.
As we meet, they’ve just finished tiling the walls and building the counters… the space already looks promising, in spite of cement bags and the heavy tools everywhere.
As for the lingonberry soufflé and ice cream Johansson is planning to prepare, “It may be available from time to time. We are testing different menus and will serve many different Swedish and Scandinavian specialties as we open the doors to the public,” he says. “The soufflé base can actually be frozen in its serving cups after preparation, then quickly thawed in the microwave prior to another seven minutes in the oven, so serving a soufflé at an espresso bar is not entirely over the hill,” according to the chef. “Besides, every good recipe collection deserves a soufflé, and this was the main reason I wanted to utilize the lingonberries for a soufflé combined with the ice cream here.”
Chef David Johansson and Lars Åkerlund’s FIKA is located at 41 West 58th Street, Manhattan, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. For more info, see: http://www.fikanyc.com
Written by Eva Stenskär
Photographed by Henrik Olund