Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Meet Chef Frida Johansson from the Embassy of Sweden

The big DC Embassy Chef Competition is tonight.  Chef Frida Johansson is competing for the Embassy of  Sweden.   Chef Frida Johansson has experience preparing everything from breakfast buffets to desserts for nightclubs. Chef Johansson studied at the Hotel and Restaurant School in Götebor, Sweden and served as a trainee in Antwerp, Belgium at Restaurant Kommilfoo and Restaurant Bernardin. In addition to her studies in Belgium, she has worked in Italy, Austria, New Zealand, and her home country of Sweden. Chef Johansson has added the United States to that list; she is now the private chef for Swedish Ambassador Jonas Hafström and Mrs. Hafström at the Swedish Residence.

How did you become an Embassy Chef?

I was at the right place at the right time.
I was working as a chef at the Park Avenue Café in Gothenburg, Sweden. I often joked with my head chef Ola Andersson that I wanted to go out into the world and cook again.

One day when I least expected it, the question came up again: could you consider going to Washington?  Obviously I  turned the question back on him and asked why he asked. Ola told me that the day before he had met Leif Mannerström, a famous food profile and chef in Swedish cuisine.

Leif had gotten a phone call from the wife of Ambassador Jonas Hafström, Eva Hafström, and was asked to recommend a good chef. During the conversation between Leif and Ola, my name came up, and that’s how I was recommended for the job - a job I never could have dreamed up. It as though a dream I never had, came true.

What is unique about the cuisine of your home country?

Swedish cuisine is a combination of delicious and unique ingredients. We have so many fresh seafood, grains, fish, vegetables, berries and well fed animals. Our food is always well prepared and we enjoy a genuine food heritage. Swedes have always loved to cook and experiment with  our cornucopia of natural foods. Swedish cuisine recently began to attract attention and gain much higher status because our great chefs began venturing out and entering competitions abroad. And they won medals in those competitions, like Bocuse d´Or and the Food Olympics. And finally, the world started to know and appreciate Swedish food and all it has to offer.

Where did you train?

I had three years of culinary training at Ester Mosesson’s Gymnasium in Gothenburg, Sweden. The first year we learned a little bit about a lot of things related to service, cooking, managing a restaurant. The second year we choose the direction of our studies and that’s when I chose to go all in for the cooking and become a chef.

In my third and final year in school, I received a scholarship that took me to Belgium, where I spent one month in PIVA Antwerp’s culinary school and 5 months at two of their finest restaurants. 

In 2005, during my time at the restaurant Kommilfoo in Antwerp, I  watched my head chef, Olivier De Vinck, prepare for a highly prestigious competition, Prosper Montagné, surrounded by some of the best chefs in Belgium. Chef De Vinck turned out to be the winner, and the staff and I joined him for the big gala dinner.

Belgium was a kick off for my travels and work around the world.

What is your favorite dish to make?

This is a question that everybody asks me, and it’s always difficult for me to answer. 
This will certainly sound strange to many ears, but I don’t really have a favorite dish to cook. It’s my great passion to develop and improve my cooking skills, and learn something new every day. There is always a new food culture and food heritage out there; a cook’s learning never ends. 
I wish I could put my finger on one dish, but there are just too many good ingredients and vegetables out there to just choose one.

Why do you think you will make the winning dish?

I think my dish is a winning dish because it’s different, and it contains a lot of new and interesting flavors that people haven’t tried before. I decided to use ingredients and flavors that are very Swedish and can truly represent both me and my country.  It’s hard to translate exactly what makes Swedish food so great, unless you can experience it locally. But I have tried to bring together ingredients that are very Swedish to me.

What is your favorite restaurant in DC?

DC has a lot of different kinds of restaurants and a lot of good food. However, my absolutely best experience so far has been 2941, which is in Virginia. My favorite place in DC is Mate on K Street near the waterfront. It serves sushi with a twist in a fresh and pleasant environment with good service. But I haven’t been here that long, and there are still a long list of restaurants that I want to try out.

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