Chefs Pantry | Aska

22 May 2016
4 min read
Fredrik Berselius of Brooklyn’s Aska restaurant reveals his larder favourites…

There is one potato that is so tasty it deserves its own course on the menu.

It is a small fingerling looking variety called Ruby Crescent. It is grown commercially and if lucky you might find it in your local grocery store, but I believe the ones we get from Rick Bishops farm in Roscoe, New York, are the best potatoes I have ever tasted. Rick Bishop focuses mainly on growing different potatoes, but he also has strawberries and many varieties of heirloom peas growing in his fields. His farm also dedicates a large portion of its soil to grow many kinds of herbs and experiment with other crops.

Rick told me a story how deer had feasted on his land. They snacked on some lettuces, but went to dinner on the potatoes. From a handful of varieties to choose from they only touched the Ruby Crescents. In the restaurant we char the potatoes before cooking them very slowly in pork fat and clarified butter. It is then served with a sauce made from butter whey and thin slices of cured and dried aged beef.

Rutabagas are often found in grocery stores covered in layers of wax making them look more like candles than food. The most common way I ate them growing up was a side dish of rutabaga boiled with potatoes, carrots and mashed. I still like that use of the vegetable when cooking at home and when the rutabagas are on the larger side. For the restaurant we get our rutabagas from an organic farmer who often harvests them when they are still quite small, a little bit larger than a plum. It’s a perfect size to roast whole and we normally cook them at a high temperature for a long period of time so that the skin gets very roasted and the inside sweet and slightly caramelized around the edges. We serve it in a dish with cured and lightly smoked roe from winter flounder, a fish common on the beaches of Long Island and at a time of year when their body structure changes to make room for the relatively large sacs of roe or milt. The root vegetable and fish eggs are served with an emulsion of unfiltered rapeseed oil.

Fish roe is one of my favorite things to eat. With overfishing and decreasing population within many species of fish you want to make sure you know the status of the fish you are using and whether it is a good idea to buy it while female fish have eggs in them. We always get all our fish in whole. My main purveyor being Gabrielle Stommel and her company called Gabe the Fish Babe. Gabe is very passionate about her fish and always goes out of her way to find us species that suit the way we want to work with fish and seafood. For me, it is a bonus the time of year it carries roe and we always use it and put it on the menu when we can.

In northern NY, a few hours from the city, we have a small house with land where we dedicate a portion of it to the restaurant. It used to be a farm with grazing animals but we only grow vegetables and leave a large portion of it to wild herbs, apple trees and berry bushes. We work together with a man named Russell Wallack to develop the land from a perspective of permaculture to re-introduce and introduce plants and vegetables that will naturally thrive in this environment. Nature has always had a presence in our cooking, therefore we want to grow our vegetables in the most natural way possible. All kinds of herbs, like yarrow, sorrel, woodruff and cresses,grow in the fields near the forest around the land, together with different types of wild flowers, radishes, nuts, berries, and constantly change throughout the season. We use them in everything from aromatic broths, seasonings, salts, syrups, in sorbets and ice creams, and liquids to ferment for drinking.

You can also find various types of mushrooms in and around New York. We hunt for some kinds like Hen of the Woods and Chanterelles ourselves, but also work with a young man called Ian Purkayastha who supplies us with a larger variety from the area. Ian started his own company a couple of years ago while still in his teens, importing and selling truffles. Even though he still sources and import mushrooms he is an amazing mushroom gatherer himself and understands the importance that freshness and overall care is crucial when it comes to mushroom quality. Even if you were to preserve or dry mushrooms for certain uses like with any ingredient you have to start off with the highest quality product to get a high quality result in the end. When serving mushrooms in a restaurant I want it to be a generous portion. A profound memory from growing up would be the weekends when we would go mushroom hunting in the morning… afterwards [we were] served a mountain of mushrooms on toast as reward. That is still my favorite way to eat chanterelles—just cleaned and cooked in a pan with a little butter, chopped shallots and salt.

Where we are, upstate in New York, we are surrounded by farmers; hills and hills of grazing cows, pigs, horses, sheep, donkeys and goats. The milk and the meat from the animals raised up in this region are the best I have had in the last couple of years. Many ofthese farms are small operations, farms with real names for their animals, the kind of farm that slaughter one animal at a time. We prefer to hang all our meats for at least a couple of weeks to further their character and the beef that we get already has a complex and developed flavor at the beginning of the aging process.

At the restaurant we use meat in limited quantity depending on how much we can get our hands on and use every piece of flesh to the bone. A cut like rib eye we often simply roast or grill. Shanks, cheeks and ribs we braise. Heart we roast high and quick. Small cuts with a lot of fat we often cure and dry.

Images |Tuukka Koski