MUZSE: Talking food and data with Fredrik Berselius
Food is such an essential component of human life that it’s hard to remember that it too, like everything else, has had quite the technological evolution. However, as opposed to other things which have become more distracting towards us, food’s never-ending collaboration with technology leads to the pinnacle of pleasure through sensory experiences.
Frederik Berselius, founder and head chef of former Michelin star Williamsburg hotspot Aska – which is set to relaunch at a new location late this year – knows the value of food and its role with technology. It was no surprise therefore that when he teamed up with MUZSE and Intel to create a menu to represent the conversation for the Experience Lab, the results were powerful and delicious.
The dinner was divided into four courses that each served as an analogy for a different topical question regarding privacy, ownership, value, and usage. At the beginning of the night the attendees were given a survey to fill out with their answer to each question, which was then translated into a personalized serving of each of the dishes – the amount of a certain ingredient in each person’s recipe depended on the answer they selected.
The successful dinner illustrated the success of the night, during which the conversation flowed seamlessly. At the end of the night we had the chance to chat with the chef, talking about everything from the process of creating the delectable dishes of the event’s menu to how Aska benefits from technology.
What made you come up with each representation according to the themes of tonight’s event?
We based the dinner on four questions to individualize them in four courses, each one representing the part of the questionnaire they filled out at the beginning of the meal. You know, this is not normally how we work in restaurants; we don’t play according to statistics or anything, but it was an interesting subject matter and we wanted to somehow showcase in the presentation how these questions were answered. And it came down to statistics, the number of ingredients we put on one plate and which ingredients represented the thoughts of the guests on what box they checked from the multiple choice questions.
What is you personal relationship with the subject matter discussed tonight like data, privacy, etc?
I mean it’s something that everyone in their personal life goes through, it’s in almost every moment of your day. I think it’s interesting – information sharing, in general…what’s out there. To many degrees I’m a pretty private person. There’s social media out there but I often don’t have time to even think about it, but I think as far as in the restaurant we use it on a regular basis. It’s interesting for us to put in a little bit of energy to possibly find out more about our guests. In the restaurant we want to try and give our guests the best possible experience and most people freely share a lot of information about themselves which can help us in the end and make their restaurant visit a more pleasant one. I think also people in the hospitality industry do it freely through the services that they use when they book their tables, when they make reservations for dinners.
You have a risk-taker reputation, creating plates that are eccentric but completely perfect. How do you come up with the recipes? Is there a sort of sixth sense about what ingredients would work well together even before you try them or is it more of a trial and error?
I think that’s very kind of you to say. I think that we try to work with ingredients that we personally like and they’re often simple ingredients and flavors that you somehow relate to, whether or not from a food background, you know? If we use spruce tips, for example, not long ago I’m sure we snacked on spruce tips more than we do today and everybody’s familiar with the flavor. You don’t go and eat it every day but the flavor profile on something like that can resemble more common ingredients like, you know, the acid in the lemon or the aromas of what you smell when you walk through the woods or the park. So even if we use ingredients that are not used in everyday cooking I think the flavors might be around you the whole time and we’re just making them more relatively easily approachable.
Would you say that Sweden has the most impact on your food? And how does New York influence your creations?
I think both work simultaneously to help us come up with the menu. Many of the memories that I have about foods, simply, the menus that we write and the dishes that we work on, I want them to mean more than ‘they used to be ingredients on a plate.’ So they somehow backtrack off of many years, and often back into childhood with flavors that I remember growing up in Sweden. The flavor profile is based on growing up in Sweden but the menu, in many ways, is a New York driven menu. We look at some narratives between New York and where I come from – in the landscape, in the vegetables, in the products that we use in the restaurant, and for me when we write menus, yes, many of the courses somehow reflect back on these memories growing up in Sweden but the ingredients are from here and we are constantly following this New York landscape and trying to find the relationship between the two.
What are your favorite benefits of technology when it comes to food and cooking?
Information sharing helps improving food, helps improving what we do in restaurants. I think we often look backwards in history to help how we cook, especially how we cook: how we look at the ingredients, you know, we’re trying to source high quality products, and often we don’t manipulate them too much, we just let them be. But technology is great for understanding what we work with and also learning more about our guests or finding out what people are doing on the other side of the planet today. So I think technology is a great benefit to restaurants. We’re so new and we’re just finding out about it, we’re in the very beginning of “I don’t know where this will end.”
Check out Aska at 90 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn.
Photos by Andrew Boyle