Interview: Executive Chef Frederik Berselius of "Frej," the Hottest New Restaurant in Town

August 5, 2012 9:18 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Frederik Berselius, left, one-half of Frej's Executive Chef team, gives us the inside scoop. (Photo: Caroline LeFevre)

I sat down with Frederik Berselius, one-half of the Executive Chef team at "Frej," the hottest new restaurant in town, for the inside scoop on the state of New Nordic, where his dazzling pop-up will be going in the near future, and how it could expand to move people through its notorious waitlist much faster. Here's what he had to say.

FoodNRecipe's Anthony Smith: I think the question on everyone's minds is, how the heck do you get away with charging 45$ for five courses?

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Frej's Frederik Berselius: It's basically comes down to us doing everything ourselves from scratch, we try to be smart about what we use and how we're using it and the ways for what we're using. We're always serving one menu, and we know how many people we serve every week.

AS: Is there anything that being a pop-up allows you to do that being a full-fledged restaurant would hamper or hinder?

FB: Obviously we don't have full control because we don't own the space, so that's difficult. On the other hand, start-up costs would be lower in comparison to opening a restaurant.

AS: You've said before that the goal was once to become a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Has that changed?

FB: We still want to try and move forward. It will continue being our goal as much, and as we like what we're doing now, we want to try and take it to the next level.

AS: What do you anticipate will be some of the key differences between what you're doing right now and what you would do as a restaurant?

FB: We want to try and make it better. We want to try and develop a beverage program and we want to try and operate more days a week. We don't need to be a seven day operation but another day or two would be good. We don't want to make guests wait three months for a table.

AS: Do you have any preferences for neighborhood? If so, why?

FB: It's difficult to say. There's many great neighborhoods. I think Williamsburg is great and I love Brooklyn in general. We'll see. Brooklyn's great, and I'm not ruling out Manhattan; I love both places but I love Brooklyn.

AS: You're calling your approach to cuisine New Nordic. What's old nordic, and when did that go out of style?

FB: If you look at Scandinavian food a couple years ago, I think it's been heavily influenced by French cuisine for the last couple hundred years probably. I think what happened with the New Nordic movement is that people got sick of looking at ingredients from so far away, so we started looking right around the corner at the ingredients that have been neglected. I think this is happening all around the world. It is a great thing to be able to use products that exist all around you.

AS: So this thing that's happening with New Nordic is sort of in keeping with this collective consciousness move towards local foods?

FB: Absolutely. I'm still looking at ingredients around me and refining techniques that used to be old ways of preparing foods, but it's very heavily influenced by ingredients that are locally sourced.

AS: So does New Nordic mean something different everywhere?

FB: Not by definition in the manifest, which outlines the way they wanted to cook in Scandinavia. They had different bullet points or rules that they wanted to follow to keep it New Nordic, but I think their approach can be adapted by any country or any cook, not just Nordic countries.

AS: What attracted you to Williamsburg?

FB: I lived in Williamsburg before and always liked it.

AS: Oh, whereabouts?

FB: I lived in South Williamsburg and on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.

AS: You're doing fine-dining in a space famous for its happening bar. Is there ever a clash of atmospheres between what you're offering in the way of fine dining and what Kinfolk is offering people who wander in for a drink with some friends?

FB: I think that's part of the fun of going there. I always wanted to serve food in a fun environment. We're taking the food we like eating and an environment we like being in and combining the two or offering the choice to our guests.

AS: Now that Yuji Ramen is gone, do you anticipate being open more than three nights a week?

FB: We're definitely looking into the other days. Fridays and Saturdays are always more difficult because of the people in there, and that was with Yuji in there. We're not sure what will happen in the next few weeks, but it's still an option we're looking into.

AS: What's one dish that you've been experimenting with that hasn't quite come together yet?

FB: Tons of them. There are dishes you work on for years that you think they're probably going to work out but they still don't make complete sense. Right now, we're trying to tweak the menu quite frequently but things change every day a little bit. Everything can be made better at all times.

AS: What would you tell someone who's daunted by your waitlist, which is probably the longest in the neighborhood at this point?

FB: Don't be. We also do have cancellations regularly, or people just get stuck somehow and unable to make it. So I'd still try to get on the waitlist.

AS: Yeah. I was one of the ones who got lucky with a cancellation.

FB: Thank you for taking it.

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