Reinventing the Way You See Dessert: A Chat with Norda’s Pastry Chef Jimmy Wigh

“Never stop thinking. The day I stop thinking of new ideas, I should quit my job and start doing something else."

I look up at Jimmy and realize he's serious. Creating sweet concoctions at Norda in Sweden may seem like child's play to some people, but to Jimmy Wigh it's serious enough for him to consider a new profession. “I like using my creativity to make unexpected twists…to show people my viewpoint and how I see things differently,” says Wigh. He scrolls through his phone to show me the many iterations of the Princess Cake he toyed with before settling on the version being served today at Red Rooster, and I can see the hundreds of photos of buildings, graffiti and New York street scenes he's taken since arriving on Saturday. Wigh clearly derives inspiration outside of the kitchen, as is the case with the black-and-white truffle dessert he wants to put on Norda's menu.

"The other day I was walking down the street listening to the Wu-Tang Clan song, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ on my headphones and I thought about the truffles we make at Norda...I got the idea to possibly present them on a chess board with royal symbols for the king and queen. It was just a can get inspiration from everywhere just as long as you keep thinking.”

There are four chefs doing pastry at Norda and all, like Wigh, share a passion in the sweet creative. So much so that they started a blog called “El Pastelero” which launched the first day Norda opened. El Pastelero may be only written in Swedish, but with the help of Google Translate and Instragram photos, visitors can get a peek into the Norda team's thinking process while making and conceptualizing desserts. On the blog, the pastry chefs opine on what works and doesn’t work and show photos of them having a lot of fun while doing it. “Not a lot of restaurants [have behind-the-scenes blogs], but they should,” says Wigh. Included in the blog are random thoughts and inspirations, including other forms of art the pastry chefs are interested in, like street art and graphic design

Wigh's Wu-Tang-inspired chess truffles are only one instance of how Norda’s Sous Pastry Chef is using his creativity to reinvent how people see dessert. The list is long: he and head pastry chef Patrik Fredriksson collaborate on their interpretation of many classic dishes and desserts and came up with the "Club Sandwich," a chocolate puff pastry creation topped with a coconut cream and cascading with fruit and greens. An ice cream truck parked in a highly congested crosswalk in front of the Clarion Post (where Norda is located) inspired an innovative twist to a dessert-filled cone, and the Cloud dessert available now at Red Rooster came to life based on the feeling Wigh gets from biting down on a fresh piece of rhubarb--like he's sitting on Cloud Nine.

And by no means is that viewpoint simplistic. Jimmy goes on to tell me how one dessert at Norda consists of up to 28 different components. “In pastry, you get to always think about not only flavors but also textures, colors, presentation, and so many other aspects.”

But when asked what attracted him to pastry, he replies, “I just have a huge sweet tooth!” Wigh continues: “Actually, in Sweden, there’s a different kitchen system where the chefs work at all the stations wherever they are needed and they work on components of a dish while the executive chef tweaks the end presentation. But Norda Bar & Grill takes the American approach where chefs work only one particular station and put together whole dishes themselves. Most restaurants don’t have a particular pastry department like we do but my chef, Patrik (who I used to make wedding cakes with), knew I enjoyed doing pastry so he asked me to join their team at Norda.”

So what else inspires Jimmy? He told me one of the most rewarding aspects of his job so far has been helping and teaching other chefs, especially a group of cooks he helped accredit in a new municipal program to bring healthier food to schools. “I was asked to help train and accredit cooks that were in their 40’s and 50’s; I taught them how to cook things from scratch and use fresh whole produce to create healthy meals for kids. At first many of them had low confidence in themselves and in their skills, some even had trouble in writing and reading. But I helped them through it and showed them that even I wasn’t great at writing and worked on all the aspects of the kitchen with them. You could see how their self-esteem grew throughout the program and to see them completely confident in their craft at the end, now that’s inspirational!”

You can still catch Chef Jimmy Wigh and his creative treats at Red Rooster Harlem today. Also be sure to check out the Norda Pastry Blog, El Pastelero, here.

What has inspired you lately?