by Alice Levitt
With the opening of Grünhaus Nordic Street Eats in Montpelier, Vermonters are finally getting a taste of Scandinavian food. But this week and next, there's a very special way to enjoy excellent Swedish food for next to nothing.
Last night, I was the oldest nonemployee at the University Marché in UVM's Living and Learning Building. I was there to taste food prepared by Göran Päandel Berggren, a member of Sodexo's Global Chef program and executive chef at GE Healthcare in Uppsala, Sweden. Berggren's path to Sodexo was a common one. Once a Stockholm restaurateur, he found that managing the cafeteria where he feeds thousands of workers each day allows him more time with his family.
Each meal that Berggren will prepare during his visit to Vermont features several courses. And there are a number of opportunities to meet the chatty chef and try his delicacies.
He'll be at Redstone Unlimited Dining from 4:30 to 8 p.m. tonight, then will serve lunch at the Davis Center's Marketplace from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday. He'll head to dining halls at Champlain and St. Michael's colleges at the end of this week and next week.
Last night, each three-course meal ($9.99) began with a bowl of pea soup.
It may not look like much in its compostable paper cup, but the soup was about as perfect as a pea soup can be. The thick potage got its saline balance from salt-cured pork shoulder. No additional salt was necessary. There was plenty of the tender meat in the bowl, and meltingly soft carrots. I wished I had ordered another bowl on the side. Berggren's history lesson made the soup even more interesting: According to legend, it was a poisoned bowl of pea soup that killed 16th-century king Erik XIV.
Luckily, we all survived to try the main course. There were two options, but it seemed only right to try the traditional Scandinavian poached filet of cod first.
This could be a scary proposition at a dining hall, but the clean-tasting fish was delicious. A light cloak of beurre blanc mixed with the fresh sprigs of dill laid carefully across the tender filet. Dried shreds of horseradish added a lovely burn to the otherwise placid dish. A squeeze of lemon was just enough to make the whole combination sing.
For my taste, the creamy-soft potatoes were underseasoned, but the slightly al dente carrots, also in butter, made up for it.
A good dish, to be sure, but the other entrée blew my mind. Not having been exposed to a great deal of Swedish food, I was unfamiliar with the glories of the Wallenbergare. Created for one of Sweden's most famous financial families, the dish is deceptively simple.
Egg yolks and heavy cream are all it takes to make ground veal a dinner fit for Sweden's 1 percent.
UVM doesn't serve veal, so pork stood in, but I was enchanted nonetheless. How could such simple ingredients create so much flavor in the burstingly moist patties? I could have sworn that Berggren crumbled a gingersnap's worth of spices into the mix, but he maintained that his only seasonings were salt and pepper.
The side of mashed potatoes was creamy and the peas had more fresh pop than I would expect of cafeteria fare, but the best side was a spoonful of sweet and tangy lingonberry jam. Berggren said that he usually serves the dish with something more along the lines of a coulis, but in lingonberry-light Vermont, jam would have to do. He suggested using cranberries for a similar effect when I try to make the dish at home.
I finished the meal with a pair of Swedish desserts.
Despite a nice balance of sweet and sour, an ice-cream-topped rhubarb cobbler wasn't as exotic as I might have hoped.
But, luckily, it's semla season. Berggren explained that, in Sweden, most bakeries wait until Shrove Tuesday (or the second Tuesday of February) to begin serving the sweet buns.
That means he hit Vermont just in time to craft the crisp, profiterole-like desserts. A filling of piped almond paste lent the dish both more personality and more body than your average cream puff has.
And Berggren's cuisine is far from your average dining-hall dinner. I deem it worth a visit, even for grown-ups.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.