Photo by Ross Greenberg

Marcus's Muse

Marcus's background is not typical of most top, young New York chefs. His mentor is not a renowned French chef, he didn't go to the CIA, nor even did he do the typical stints in New York's four-star restaurants. Instead his grandmother is his mentor, he went to the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, Sweden and he's worked in Switzerland, Austria and France. That's why, far from being limited to meatballs and herring, his Scandinavian cuisine is innovative and at the same time traditional. While a meal at Aquavit may answer your culinary dreams, it also plays with your culinary expectations; oysters topped with curry-mango sorbet as a first course, foie gras ganache comes with a main course, and rhubarb served six ways as a dessert.

Marcus is kind enough to simplify it for us as he explains that his cooking can be broken down into 5 elements he calls building blocks. "One thing that I think Scandinavia and Sweden are known for, more so than for their food, is their minimalist design. We have a lot of similarities with Japanese culture. The aesthetic for me is key. All these five building blocks: aesthetic, texture, working with fish and seafood, pickling and preserving and game combined. These elements drive the flavor."

Minimalist design was a part of Marcus's daily life growing up in Sweden, from the way he dressed to the way he put together his room as a kid, and it has become part of who he is today. When he's not sporting his navy chef coat with gold trim, Marcus opts for Prada and Calvin Klein more so than Gucci or Versace. He says he's drawn to their strong but simple lines. Even at Ikea (one of his country's most recognizable modern imports) you see simple stuff, but when shopping for special teapots and ceramics for his restaurant, Takashimaya* is his weakness.

It's providence that Aquavit is a block away from New York's Museum of Modern Art and Marcus often visits its exhibitions as well as those of downtown's newer galleries. Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollack and Basquiat are a few more of Marcus's muses.

Back in the kitchen, Marcus uses the plate as his canvas - think Pollack with less splatter. Marcus's most prized tool in the kitchen is his brush: "It's something I've had forever, since I was a kid. I paint on plates. Anything is a vehicle for me to serve food on." Contrasting colors and texture is one of Marcus's trademarks. He'll often paint a striking, ribbon of balsamic reduction or a spoon of black mustard on a stark, white plate. He eagerly draws on New York's multiculturalism, from East Village grunge to Park Avenue pristine - and he mixes them. Take for instance, how he serves osetra caviar on broken glass… junk culture juxtaposed with luxury and prestige.

Marcus's artistic control of his presentation and bold cuisine symbolizes the essence of his personal style, reflecting the postmodern influences of his upbringing in Sweden and his gift for incorporating strong minimalist design in dishes that are nonetheless full of astonishing, vibrant flavors.

The first part of Marcus's Muse is on aesthetic. Stay tuned for the scoop on all five of his inspirations he calls building blocks.

*Takashimaya is located at 693 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (between 54th and 55th Streets). The store carries specialty products from cosmetics to flowers to their own home collection. The main attractions for Marcus are their beautiful plates, bowls and teapots. It's like an F.A.O. Schwartz for grownups.