Valkommen to Minnesota

During a month of jet-setting across the U.S., Marcus is naturally stopping in the city that touts the largest enclave of Swedish residents. Surprising to most is that this thriving populace nestles in the city  as the colossal Mall of America; truly a collision of worlds. Minneapolis has long been the destination for migrants since the 1850s and continues to draw modern waves of Swedes looking to make their home in a communal environment that shares cultural familiarity. On this leg of the Yes, Chef tour Marcus will hold a talk and book signing at the American Swedish Institute. We were able to snag exclusive insight on the fun facts and history of ASI, so read on for fascinating trivia about the craftsmanship of glass-blowing and tile-making, the delicious custom of taking not one, but two dessert breaks during the work day and the best places to grab a bite in downtown Minneapolis. Som ar hungrig? (Are you hungry?)

The obvious question--why so many Swedes in Minneapolis?

In the 1850s-60s, Minnesota was the edge of the frontier. This time period saw a huge wave of immigration from Sweden into what land was available. Once these communities started to form they would write letters back home and from then on it was essentially word of mouth where to settle.

When did the ASI come into existence?

A very savvy Swedish business man, Swan Turnbald, made a few good calls in his day with his sharp and visionary talent for jumping on the opportunity to serve the growing immigrant population. He purchased a struggling Swedish language newspaper and managed to successfully turn it around and make a fortune.

In 1903 Turnbald commissioned the building of his mansion (or castle, rather) on Park Avenue, also known as Golden Mile where the rest of the city's opulent homes were perched. After his wife passed away in 1929, the mansion was donated to the community to maintain the cultural preservation of Swedish customs and sustain the links between newly American Swedes and the homeland.

What does the ASI do today to keep Swedish pride alive?

The purpose is still to keep people connected to the country and to help them keep up with contemporary Swedish culture. We provide Saturday morning language classes and a strong emphasis on handcrafts like wood carving, tile making and glass blowing.

Now let's talk food. What would you say is the quintessential Swedish dish?

People of course know meatballs with lingonberries (and hopefully those other than IKEA's) but it's more than that. Seafood is important and right now at Cafe FIKA we're serving variations of open faced sandwiches and salads. Right now Nordic cuisine is using fresh ingredients and the cafe is combining gravlax, beets and shrimp, just to name a few key ingredients.

For a culinary adventurer in Minneapolis looking for a great Swedish meal, where do you suggest?

1) Cafe FIKA (of course) at the ASI: Translating roughly to "coffee break," fika is the tradition of sitting down with family, friends or co-workers to partake in coffee and sweets.

2)  Eat Street: This is a ten block stretch on Nicollet Ave. where there are only three chain restaurants in the entire area. What you'll find instead is a mix of fantastic German, Chinese, Vietnamese and Greek cuisine.

3) The Bachelor Farmer: Owned by the Dayton brothers, sons of Minnesota's governor, the Bachelor Farmer is a new spin on the best of Nordic cuisine, where they clearly state there is no serving of lutefisk. Sorry to disappoint.