Bringing Scandinavian flavors to the U.S.
By Håkon Vinje
New York, N.Y.
For the Norwegian American Weekly
The Smörgås Chef Restaurant Group was founded in 2003 by Norwegian chef and entrepreneur Morten Sohlberg and his wife Min Ye.
From the first modest sandwich shop in the Financial District in New York City, a full-service restaurant and bar followed. Soon after, two new restaurants in Midtown and the West Village opened – to acclaim from the local food critics.
Sohlberg sees his Norwegian background as an important part of his enterprise.
“Not just the food, but also the name of the concept, is journey through the Scandinavian history. A couple of hundred years ago, while attending a meal with their Danish counterparts in Copenhagen, Swedish dignitaries could not help noticing that next to the bread was a small platter of butter, molded into the shape of a goose. This decorative element was a novelty, and upon asking, the host explained this was a ‘smørgås’ (lit. butter-goose). The name stuck, and through Swedish, the term eventually entered English ‘smorgasbord’,” explains Sohlberg. He continues: “And now there is a Norwegian who has reclaimed it, and is using it as a trademark to develop a restaurant concept here.”
Sohlberg is Executive Chef, and oversees the creative aspects of his three New York City-based Smörgås Chef restaurants. This includes not only food and menu, but lighting, sound, interior design, and plate presentation as well. For the job, he boasts an impressive résumé. Raised in a family with long traditions in the food service industry, he finished preliminary studies in Norway, studied art in Florence, and entrepreneurship and economy at New York University; worked as a designer in Milan, taught design at Parson’s School of Design, and is the founder of the world’s leading online design academy: sessions.edu. He is still teaching at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, and has published a book on Scandinavian cuisine.
Now he is ready to take an even greater task in an unprecedented move to bring Scandinavian food to America.
“We should have had 10 restaurants by now, but the set-back in the economy slowed the process a little bit. However, we seem to be back on track now and we are out there looking for new locations and new partners, and are also trying to develop a new and smaller concept – an express version, if you like – for airports.”
Sohlberg did not want to disclose any specific locations other than a possible fourth addition to his popular restaurant chain in New York City.
“All I can tell you at this point is that we are in dialogue with potential partners regarding perhaps 50 new locations around the country. This will give us an extraordinary opportunity to let Americans share in the uniqueness of the Scandinavian cuisine.”
Scandinavia ingredients such as cloudberries, lingonberries, salmon, herring, and lamb are prominent on Smörgås Chef’s menu, and when asked what it is that that draws New Yorkers to his restaurants, Sohlberg says:
“This is a product unlike anything that has been presented in this country before. Scandinavian food, with its unique ingredients, and its focus on fresh unprocessed ingredients and flavors is gaining attention all around the world.”
This article was originally published in the Jan 22, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.