Fresh off of a red-eye from New York to Stockholm, Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius’s first matter of business was catching up with a friend over a breakfast spread of bread and butter, hard-boiled eggs, salted fish roe kaviar, coffee and orange juice. “It could have been a googled version of what breakfast in Sweden is,” Berselius says.
In the Northern reaches of Europe, where the sun can wait until midday to climb over the horizon, it’s custom to “set aside enough time to eat breakfast before you start your day,” the chef explains. The meal is ritual-like and includes plates like those Berselius recalls, often with the addition of jams, cured fish, yogurt and bowls of porridge topped with fruit compote or cinnamon sugar to stave off the notorious winter chill.
But while the fresh and bright flavors of new Nordic cooking have woven their way into the fabric of upscale American dining culture over the past several years, thanks to restaurants like Luksus and Aska, they have primarily been on the dinner table.
That trend has started to shift recently, courtesy of Noma cofounder Claus Meyer’s Great Northern Food Hall. Open at 6 a.m. during the week, his bakery, Meyers Bageri, serves pastries, exceptional rye breads, and coffee and porridges at the grain bar. In addition, breakfast service was added earlier this month to the offerings at his critically acclaimed restaurant, Agern. Tucked away in a space that is closed off entirely from the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Terminal’s 750,000 frantic daily visitors, guests are served what Gunnar Gíslason, the Icelandic chef at Agern, calls “little twists on the classics.”
The menu offers Icelandic skyr, a thick yogurt topped with peach compote and served on a tray alongside a small bowl of granola, a tiny nod to a leisurely morning at home (a feeling much appreciated after a harrowing trip through the halls of Grand Central). There are also eggs with pork and herb sausage; dill potatoes and sourdough; full spreads of breads, meats and cheeses; and toasts topped with pork belly, cauliflower and almonds.
But the most uniquely Nordic expression of the menu is a section dedicated to porridge, “a huge [part of our] national conscience,” Lasse Skjønning Andersen, the co-owner of Grød, an all-day restaurant in Copenhagen dedicated entirely to the dish, says. “It’s a really important part of our national identity and our lives.”
Darra Goldstein, who authored Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking, explains, “When I was doing my book, I felt like I could have a whole chapter on porridges.”
Still, in America, porridge is hard for some to embrace—despite the fact that it is a cousin, not even a terribly distant one, to the beloved oatmeal. Even in Copenhagen, Andersen explains, he and his team are “trying to redefine the way we think about porridge. It’s not just boring poor man’s food; it can be savory and damn tasty.”
Gíslason’s modern take, however, might soon bridge that gap for hungry New Yorkers. Poached eggs and fried sausage are set atop steel-cut oats that get an added pop of color (and nutrients) from green and wax beans (see the recipe). “If you think about this as a porridge, then you can’t come up with [this],” the chef says about developing the recipe. But when thinking instead about what he likes to have for breakfast, he says, “It just came kind of naturally.” The result is both familiar and new at once, hearty, but not heavy.
Could a marriage of the innovative Nordic porridge and the American affinity for all things breakfast help inspire more options this side of the Atlantic? There are chefs who certainly hope so. Andersen says he dreams of opening in the United States, and Berselius adds, “I would love to do breakfast—maybe one day. My staff would kill me if I said we are starting it soon.”
In the meantime, we will happily carve a space for this new morning ritual, anchored at a restaurant that’s hidden away in the most unlikely corner of a busy train station.
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