If your image of a Swedish chef is still the mumbling cook in the Muppet Show it is time for a reality check!
Just look at Singapore where several Swedish kitchen virtuosos perform their cooking skills in high end restaurants.
One of them is Anders Atte.
Early 2005 he quit his chef job at the Embassy of Sweden and went hunting for a new challenge in the Lion City.
In March, he found it and became chef at Coq ‘N’ Bull, a steakhouse that belongs to the esteemed Singapore restaurant chain Les Amis.
By the time he made his switch, Anders had spent three years with the Embassy of Sweden.
“I was looking for a new job in Singapore and wanted a fairly small restaurant where I would work hands-on in the kitchen and not doing administrative job at a desk.” says Anders Atte.
“Then I found this offer. The Coq ‘N’ Bull is not a big place, we have 60 seats. It belongs to a very well established quality restaurant group in Singapore with professional management. I have been given very free hands here.”
Becoming a chef on the international scene was never the kind of dream the young Anders had as a young boy.
“Actually I have no formal education as a cook. It all began when I was chosen to serve as a cook when I was drafted to the mandatory military service back in Sweden. I thought it was interesting and fun. Afterwards I got a job as a cook trainee at a luncheon restaurant in Stockholm,” explains Anders.
Anders stayed with that place for some time but he was early on reminded by his chef that working in such a restaurant would not bring him anywhere in the cooking career.
“My chef helped me to get an evening job as a cook apprentice in a first class restaurant. I kept my paid job in the lunch restaurant daytime while working for free in the evenings for the other restaurant and learning the trade.”
“Eventually this paid off as I got a real paid job at KB, one of Stockholm’s better restaurants. I have been with them a couple of times during my career which besides Singapore abroad also have brought me to Petrossian Restaurant in New York,” says Anders.
Like most chefs Anders does not have a particular mentor but borrows ideas and inspiration from a handful of great cooks. From Sweden Magnus Ek at Oaxen and Svonko Stocic at KB is his inspirators.
One of his biggest challenges so far came about early 2003 when HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia brought Anders to Brunei to create the royal couple’s dinner in honour of the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam.
Getting the right ingredients for Swedish dishes was not as much of a problem he had anticipated. Most ingredients were imported to the sultanate anyway.
“No, the difficult part was to manage the local cooks. There was no way I could cook all food myself, we were preparing dishes for 150 guests, so I had to instruct those Brunei cooks how to make Swedish dishes. Having the recipe is just part of the job; the trick is to get Swedish touch้ on the food. And the hotel we were at for this function it was quite a big place and food was prepared in several different kitchens there so I had to run around keeping an eye on it all. But the end result was good and we got full acclaim for the outcome.”
Asians, he says, are not that picky with Swedish food as one may believe. But sometimes we should change or adapt the dishes slightly. For example reduce the level of saltiness. Many Swedish dishes contain more salt than Asians are used to, so we may use less salt to make it more appealing to locals.
“Other than that, I would say they dare to try whatever is on the table,” says Anders.
And his favourite dish?
The answer is that it completely depends on the situation what food he goes for. Of course there is nothing like duck liver or foie gras if you are in an air conditioned fine restaurant, or a simple grilled fish by the beach, if you are outside.
“But generally speaking, what I prefer to eat depends on the situation.”
In what direction do you want to take Coq ‘N’ Bull as its new chef?
“We are a steakhouse and we will stay a steakhouse. But I am changing some of the appetizers and desserts and will bring in some more seafood main dishes. Steaks are quite heavy dishes. Some guests may prefer lighter food. Therefore we will introduce some lighter appetizers and main dishes. No Swedish cuisine is planned, unless at special events maybe. So the menu will stay contemporary American and European.”