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Aquavit And The New Scandinavian Cuisine
by Marcus Samuelsson
(Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Interview with Marcus Samuelsson

What inspired you to write this book?
MS: I wanted to explain the foundation of Scandinavian cooking. For a lot of people in this country, Scandinavian food means meatballs, herring and gravlax. I wanted to go beyond that for people. I talk about the history of the cuisine and where it is today.

How do you see your book being used?
MS: The book has multiple uses. The recipes are meant for at-home cooking. There are some simple recipes, but you can also make a fancier meal if you like. There is also something for the chef. The book is meant to inspire chefs to see flavors and ideas beyond what they're already doing.

What did you learn in creating this book?
MS: You create a book purely with passion. You have to combine passion and vision - it's really a labor of love. And there are so many aspects that go into the book. It takes a minimum of three years. You start with the idea, then develop the direction. You’ve got to shop publishers, a photographer. Then you actually have to write it, publish it and finally sell it. You have to dig deep within your own soul and figure out what your cooking is about. It’s a lot different from telling your kitchen staff what to do. I really found a voice.

What do you read for culinary inspiration?
MS: When I was a kid I read all the big French cookbook authors. Then as I became a more serious chef, I turned to Marco Pierre White and Charlie Trotter in the late 90s, and then
The French Laundry Cookbook. Today I read a lot of ethnic cookbooks for ideas. I read about ethnic cooking more like history books to inspire me.

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Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine
by Marcus Samuelsson
Named "Best Chef: New York City" in 2003 by the James Beard Foundation, Star Chef Marcus Samuelsson incorporates his Scandinavian culture and his grandmother’s cooking techniques to create flights of fancy with astute culinary vision. In his first book Aquavit, Samuelsson uses his childhood experiences to take you on a Scandinavian tour of persons, places, ingredients, and cooking methods. He combines age-old curing and preservation methods with his love of fresh ingredients to create palates that are pleasing to all the senses. Samuelsson’s book leaves no aspect of the kitchen unturned - recipes cover everything from raw and cured foods to soups and salads, breads and chutneys, as well as desserts and drinks. His recipes are well detailed with comprehensive ingredients, cooking methods, procurements, and suggested alternatives. Stunning photographs by Shimon and Tammar Rothstein depict both raw ingredients and finished dishes throughout the book.

Black Pepper Cheesecake
From Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 6-8 Servings

Ingredients: Black Pepper Cheesecake

  • 1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
  • ¾ pound Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • ¾ cup crème fraiche, sour cream, or whole milk yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream


Preheat oven to 250°F. Spray an 8-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper and spray parchment paper. (If using a springform pan, wrap pan in a double layer of foil to keep it watertight.)

Blanch peppercorns in a small pot of boiling water for one minute; drain. Repeat two more times. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Spread peppercorns out in a small baking pan and dry them in the oven until thoroughly dry, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Raise oven temperature to 350°F.

Grind peppercorns medium-fine in a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until very smooth and light. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add them to the cream cheese mixture. Beat in the crème fraiche or sour cream or yogurt, as well as the lemon juice, and scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in cream and peppercorns.

Scrape batter into prepared pan. Set pan inside a large shallow baking pan and pour about 1 inch of hot water into the pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until the sides of the cake are set but the center is still a little loose. Transfer cake pan to rack to cool completely. When the cheesecake is cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To unmold the cheesecake, run a thin knife or spatula around the sides of pan. Set the pan on a hot burner for about 20 seconds, shaking the pan gently from side to side to release the cake. Invert cake onto a cake plate, peel off parchment, and serve.


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What is the relationship between the Aquavit cookbook and your latest venture, Riingo?
MS: I don't know if there's a pure relationship. The book is an expression of the Aquavit restaurant, which is an institution now. With Riingo, we have similar goals, but it's different. We still have a lot of things to prove to customers. We have a long way to go before that relationship is established - we're not there yet. But the direction, passion, and commitment to food is one to one.

Anything else you'd like to share about the book?
MS: It has been one of the greatest experiences of my career as a chef. Truly a milestone