Aska, from the Swedish word for “ashes,” is a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, helmed by Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius. The restaurant earned its first Michelin star within a year of opening its original location (where it stood from 2012-2014) and upon reopening in 2016, Aska earned its second Michelin star a few months later.
The restaurant’s Nordic roots and New York influences are felt in the physical, bi-level space as well as on the menu, which changes seasonally. Aska’s signature tasting menu is served in the main dining room, where dishes float from the open kitchen to guests seated at one of just ten tables. Reservations are required and can be booked through Tock.
I had the opportunity to chat with Fredrik Berselius, the chef and owner of Aska, to get a better idea of his culinary philosophy and how he goes about crafting a multi-course menu that speaks to the seasons and inspires such high praises from guests, food critics and institutions like Michelin.
When asked to describe his culinary philosophy, Fredrik Berselius said,“Scandinavian food, at its core, is about promoting local, natural and seasonal produce including foraged and wild ingredients. When creating a tasting menu my goal is to serve a procession of courses that seamlessly flow together and create a narrative for the diner, but at the same time for each dish to stand out and be memorable on its own. The way I approach cooking has always been mostly instinctual. It involves all of the senses in such a direct way and, for me, is essentially about finding harmony between ingredients, flavors, colors, textures, as well as presentation.”
Take the scallop and grilled onion dish on Aska’s current tasting menu: To add layers of flavor to sweet scallop meat while simultaneously showcasing a season where there aren’t many ingredients to pick fresh, Berselius grills onions and adds an oil made in-house from black currant leaves and nuts from the ginkgo tree in the restaurant’s backyard. “The flavors of the ocean, leaves and grill remind me of scents from making a small bonfire by the sea,” said Berselius.
Nature is a central inspiration for Berselius, and the ever-changing menu at Aska goes beyond using ingredients at their peak flavors become a vehicle for capturing memories and the essence of a season. “When I think of nature and spending time outdoors, it always makes me reconnect with where I grew up and I try to bring those flavors and that feeling to the restaurant,” said Berselius. “When creating dishes, I look at the similarities between New York and where I come from in Sweden – in the landscape, in the vegetables and in the products that we use in the restaurant, and try and find the relationship between the two.”
A menu that changes with the seasons means a flurry of new dishes in the spring and summer that go almost as quickly as they come, highlighting “the first sweet green peas, the first berries, first potatoes and wildflowers,” Berselius said. “The spring and summer months are all about the bright and colorful ingredients from the plant kingdom that are at their peak this time of year.”
On the flip side, Berselius explained that very long and cold Scandinavian winters and a lack of fresh vegetables at this time necessitated preparations like pickling, preserving, marinating, smoking and salting. “These techniques are commonly utilized at Aska today, both due to necessity and to celebrate the different flavors and textures created when ingredients are treated in these ways,” said Berselius.
The birch and pine mushroom ice cream on the tasting menu captures the scents and feeling of walking in the woods in early spring. The ice cream has flavors of birch (collected from upstate New York) and candied and raw mushrooms (often black trumpet or pine mushrooms), and is topped with a warm woodruff-infused syrup which has grass and vanilla notes. “This is a dessert inspired by some of my favorite aromatics from the forest,” said Berselius, who added that these ingredients are often associated with savory dishes. “I love the naturally occurring scents and aromas that linger in the air as you walk through the woods hunting for mushrooms.”