Star chef Frida is driven by a fear of missing out
Award-winning chef Frida Ronge has started one of Stockholm's hottest restaurants, found peace with her own drive, and thinks it's really cool that Petter Stordalen likes her work.
"My baby is asleep, so we can keep going as long as she is sleeping. Then we'll see what happens," says chef and author Frida Ronge (38).
In previous interviews, the 38-year-old from Gothenburg, who now lives in Stockholm, has opened up about struggling with performance anxiety.
But as she sits at home in her kitchen, with white tulips on a spotlessly clean counter, sharp knives in every imaginable shape on the wall, and a four-month-old, sleeping baby, there's little evidence of anything but drive in her bright blue eyes.
We think we can just skip the topic of anxiety for now. She has an impressive track record that leaves most people in the dust and is the woman about whom the owner of Strawberry, Petter Stordalen, has said he is a “hard core fan!”.
"I actually think it's really cool that he said that," says Frida, laughing when we mention it.
"It's a great honour. He is a very involved type of person and has followed my journey from VRÅ to TAK, supporting me every step of the way. It's a great honour for me that he likes my work."
Nordic-Japanese and sustainable
On her admirable CV are positions such as head chef at Råkultur in Stockholm and the restaurant VRÅ in Gothenburg, and a position as culinary director at TAK Stockholm before being headhunted to TAK Oslo. Frida wrote the book "Nordic Sushi" and has received awards such as "Rising Star of the Year" and "Nöjesguidens Göteborgspris".
Her latest project is part ownership of Kobb, where seaweed is grown, and pioneering work is being done on the food of the future. In addition to that, she has just been appointed ambassador for The Hunger Project. Somewhere on this long list of achievements, she should have listed FOMO. But we'll get back to that later. What all her activities have in common is a love of seafood. Nordic and Japanese. But sustainability also plays a strong role in everything Frida is involved in.
"My dad ran a fishmonger when I was little. So, I learned early on about fish from a quality perspective, about the seasons and the ingredients. And then I trained as a chef as an adult and became head chef at VRÅ. That's the very short summary," says Frida about why show chose to focus on seafood.
It was VRÅ that became the start of her fusion of Nordic and Japanese elements since Frida finds it easier to work with ingredients from the Nordic countries while finding unique collaborations. She is known for putting together dishes with Nordic ingredients such as skrei (Arctic cod), salmon, halibut, and mussels, while using Japanese techniques. She was also an early adopter of seaweed and using seagrass to roll sushi.
About frozen and fresh strawberries
"When I was launching TAK Stockholm, I understood how complicated shelf life and sustainability really are. In a small restaurant one can calculate, but with TAK there was such a large volume. TAK is a meeting place for all types of occasions – everything from groups of friends on a night out to business meetings, to aunties eating a good lunch. Having so many people required a completely different organisation and mindset. And then also I had to find out what is actually sustainable," she says and elaborates:
"For example, a fish transported a great distance may be better from an environmental perspective than an endangered species."
Regardless of the number of guests in the restaurant, Frida therefore chooses to trust the environmental certification in the industry and makes choices accordingly. She also supports local businesses and follows the seasons. The latter is something everyone should embrace, she points out.
"Don't buy things that aren't in season. There's a tremendous charm in longing for asparagus, strawberries and mackerel that's coming soon. Eat fresh strawberries in summer and frozen in winter. It is both cheaper and more sustainable to eat things that are in season."
Frida's own Instagram shows that she lives by this principle herself. It's all about the season and balance. Her feed is filled with mussels, berries, crayfish, sushi, and yoga. Coffee and wine. Turquoise waters and white mountains. Norway and Sweden.
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Norway versus Sweden
With a home in Stockholm, a Norwegian partner, and projects in both countries, it is impossible to avoid the topic of the differences between the two neighbouring countries.
"The biggest difference is probably that there is hot food in schools in Sweden. I think that helps a lot. The children can eat pea soup one day, and an African casserole the next as there is a lot of freedom in the public sector. The children get to eat a lot of different foods early on, and learn about spices and different dishes," says Frida.
Good eating habits and thoughts about food is something all families should embrace, according to one of the biggest stars on both the Swedish and Norwegian cooking scenes.
"It's about creating a nice frame around the meal. When we were little, five or six in the evening was a time that often created good food memories of hot food and good conversation. It is the adults' responsibility to engage children and let them be in the kitchen. Talk about the food, how carrots are grown, explain that potatoes come from the field and fish from the sea. Make dinners something fun, something you long for, and laugh together and become involved in. The dinners when I was a kid were exciting," recalls Frida.
From a chef's perspective, Frida believes that there is a greater selection of ingredients in Sweden and that it is easier to find alternative ingredients. But the seafood in Norway is outstanding, she points out.
"But Norwegians have a great deal of curiosity. When I worked with TAK Oslo, I introduced dessert with sweet brown cheese and appetizer with boknafisk (a type of stockfish). Norway has a big culinary map, and Norwegians are curious about their own history and ingredients. It's cool," she says.
Back to the roots
"Access to the ingredients is probably unique to the entire Nordic region," the chef adds. "Denmark, Finland, and Iceland also have a rich menu with good ingredients of the highest quality."
"I'm in favour of a 'back to the roots' approach, but with nice presentation and different flavours. No matter which country in the Nordic region we are talking about, we should have great pride in our food heritage."
"In Norway, stockfish is something that should be used more, it is so exciting and cool to work with this fish, but unfortunately there are not that many restaurants in Norway that use it."
"I mean, you can find stockfish from Lofoten on the menu in Croatia, but not at a restaurant in Drøbak," says Frida with a smile.
"I'm actually working on a TV project with Arne Hjeltnes (a Norwegian chef and TV personality), and he said this about stockfish: "It takes a damn Swede in Norway to do this."
She laughs: "It's about not being able to see what's right in front of you."
We will be visiting TAK Stockholm next to see the place the young chef agreed to run -performance anxiety or not. It abounds with creativity, a commercial eye and an à la carte menu that makes 400 guests eager to return.
And, not least, it is home to one of the capital's coolest rooftop terraces. But first we need to take a break. A cheerful baby has just woken up and is sitting on Frida's lap.
"Where were we?" asks Frida.
Fear of missing out
Although her days are different as a mother of a young child, Frida works a little from time totime. Right now, she is solely working on developing projects, and not on day-to-day operations. She has a full focus on family life.
"Personally, I have FOMO and that's also kind of my driving force. I've always worked a lot, even on weekends. It's part of my identity, and it makes me feel independent."
But now it's her baby Iris who decides, and she's the first priority. The fear of missing out is diminishing. The interview must therefore end somewhat abruptly, but with laughter and a big smile towards the little one.
"This is the first time I have to deal with my day a little bit as it comes. For the first time in my life!"
Frida Ronge's restaurants
TAK Stockholm Address: Brunkebergstorg 2-4 Restaurants with Swedish-Japanese menus, sake, extensive wine lists, and a rooftop bar. Chambre séparée and various events. You will find the concepts TAK (modern gastronomy), Izakaya, IMA (cocktail bar), and UNN (where the chef serves an omakase menu).
TAK Oslo Address: Sommerrogata 1 The restaurant is located at the top of the hotel Sommerro in Frogner and is a Nordic-Japanese restaurant. On the floor above TAK Oslo lies Izakaya (casual street food and cocktail bar).
VRÅ Address: Drottningtorget 10 Restaurant VRÅ is located at Clarion Hotel® Post in Gothenburg. The focus is on sustainability, inspiration from Japan, and ingredients from Sweden's west coast. Gothenburg's largest sake bar.
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