Q's and A's with Scandinavian Artist Mikki Nylund

I took the ferry across the Hudson River on a recent chilly morning to meet Scandinavian artist Mikki Nylund. Sitting there in his characteristic black, he was silence personified - but as he says, he put language into a tin box a long time ago and instead chooses to share his thoughts through composing his paint brush. Mikki has lived in New York for just over 2 years. The journey so far has been one of exploration and unpredictability validating just why he left Sweden in the first place. I first came into contact with his work at his event at Soho House hosted by Enskilda (a leading Scandinavian Bank) and his New York-based gallery, Element 6 Arts. His work tells a story that is richly infused with so many different aspects of his life such as a folkloric childhood in Scandinavia, the impact of popular culture, his political points of view and later on, his life as a Scandinavian in New York.

Whilst the banter was clearly at a minimum, when it came to his work there was volumes to discuss. Here’s what he shared:

Saira Malhotra: Why are you an artist?

Mikki Nylund: Good question. The truth is, I don't really know and I am glad that I don't know. I think if this question could be answered easily, the magic would be gone. It started when I was very young, sort of an urge to develop something to express strange thoughts (for a young boy). Although back then, I did not have any kind of vocabulary to explain any of this, it was mostly visions I had before going to sleep, always laying awake late at night, creating, in philosophical terms. Then I was hooked and there has not been a moment where I don't sketch on a piece of paper, in a sketch book, or anything else at hand. I am not seeking answers, but rather posing questions. There are none. I am here, I have one life, then I am dead and gone. Fin. Art for me is about making life more interesting and I always think in artistic terms, whether it's on a painting, a piece of music, or a philosophy and writing. I am not choosing art, art choses me.

SM: Tell me about your paintings (Scandinavian/ American/ culture)

MN: I've always had a huge imagination. Perhaps to deviate from the norm and create something unique for myself. My art are little stories woven from diffused pictures from my own past, but I also read a lot. I am a historical junkie and of course moving between two such different cultures has to have its imprint on everything you do. I don't think it has a huge impact in reality but believe it's more about what's in my head. Yes, Scandinavian mythology and folklore is very interesting to me and explains who I am – (and with that I don't mean I believe in trolls!). Stories that have been told for thousands of years, from generation to generation. They in some way end up impacting who you are as a person. How can this not reflect in my work? With the backdrop of Finnish Tango music played by a grandpa, it's not surprising that in later years when I depict Brooklyn through my art, it is with Folk dancers that dance in the night by the Brooklyn Bridge. It is my perspective and I view things with the eyes of my past, a past from which I cannot disengage.

You are born and walk out in to the world trying to make sense of things, create your own understanding, perhaps develop a new set of understanding's – but bottom line is that you never have 100% control over any of this.

I am who I am. I am from Scandinavia but living in New York. While living here, a part of my soul will always be in Scandinavia: the melancholy, the food, the light summer mornings and dark, cold, winter nights – and even with all the neon of New York – they will always both be there. That's partially why I paint both of the worlds, using symbols to create modern stories that relate to me, whether the occupy movement, music, religion, sex, TV…

SM: Who influenced your work?

MN: Originally, my mom and dad. They both were/are very creative although they aren't active artists.

SM: How does art influence food?

MN: In the same way as food influences art. When I was younger I was like so many others having to make choices at some crossroads. I had to choose between becoming a chef or an artist. Well, I chose art. But that does not mean I could give up my love for cooking or food because they're both lifelong loves. It's difficult to say how art influences food or the other way around. On a deeper level, both are needed for survival. Growing up, food was an anchor that tied my family together. There was always food in the middle of political discussion, artistic discussions, philosophical discussions. You can't have one without the other.

When I cook, I am not trying to think in terms of art at all. Cooking is the most liberating activity of them all and I shut everything else out. I cook for hours, just because I can, not because I have to. This is where cooking becomes like art, when you give yourself to it and become one with it. Sometimes when I cook I just close my eyes and let my nose do the work. Sometimes I add classical music and a glass of wine. It's process without rules. Yes, there are cook books and there is nothing wrong with them as there are books on painting, and manuscripts - but since I am not responsible for anyone but myself and my closest, I prefer to cook without recipes.

SM: You seem as passionate about your cooking as you do art. Who is the one person that has influenced in the kitchen?

MN: Without a doubt this one goes to my grandmother Ragnhild. Her iron stove, her basic ways of preservation through pickling and salting – ways that today are considered ‘artisanal’. She was a great cook and like many women in Scandinavia, she prized herself on her meatballs – perfectly tight yet moist, with a touch of pickling juice to liven them up.

SM: Which artists are you inspired by?

MN: Oh, probably more than I could count or even know about. Of course many artists, from many genres. I don't have a favorite style or artist but I know when I see something if I like it or not. There are other things that influence me as well of course, many authors, composers and musicians, nature, food, the course of life, dreams…etc. As a composer and a musician myself, there are of course very little borders between visual art, music, cooking and writing. Indeed they tend to melt together and I believe they do so very well.

SM: You have a series of work on Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street. Are you protesting through the paintings or simply depicting what you see?

MN: Both. Although I am depicting things I see, I did not of course come face to face with death on a circus horse. I have participated in several demonstrations, but would not call myself active because I don't work well with crowds. However politics and awareness, morality (not strictly in a religious matter), are issues and subjects that have always stood close to my heart. I worked with political movements back in Scandinavia, and have always been active no matter if it's in demonstrations or today's online political movement.

It's important to compare, and to care. Of course, it's quite mind boggling to see how so many things are so absolutely upside down and wrong here and elsewhere. I believe in good, and love, guys like John Lennon, that's where I stand. I believe in good even in bad times like these. If I wouldn't, I don't know if I would be able to carry on

SM: If you could paint the ideal world, what would it look like?

MN: Oh, that's an easy question…NOT, ha, ha. I don't know, but I have this old Swedish song that I often think of..

"Mother, why so sad, why don't you smile today, do you want me to paint you something? I have many beautiful colors left, don't cry little Mother, everything will be just fine. I shall paint the whole world little Mother, filled with sunshine every single day. If it rains and it is gray it doesn't matter, sunshine in your window you shall have…"

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To see more works from Mikki Nylund, visit www.element6arts.com/mikki.html

Saira Malhotra's Victory At The Varli Cook-Off and Her Winning Recipe

MarcusSamuelsson.com would like to send out a big congrats to our contributor Saira Malhotra for her recent win at the first ever Varli Cook-off! On April 6th, 2012, one day after the Varli Food Festival, Celebrity Chefs and Next Iron Chef competitors Jehangir Mehta and Maneet Chauhan hosted foodies, aspiring chefs, and lovers of all-things-Indian at the Varli Cook-Off competition.

Saira was one of the 8 participants in the fierce two-round competition that was judged by 4 internationally renowned and talented chefs and restaurateurs: Sanjeev Kapoor, Kunal Kapur, Prasad Chirnomula, and Rajesh Bhardwaj. As Saira mentioned, she was quite nervous about competing but her two sons and husband showered her with support all throughout.

The first round was the appetizer round with shrimp as the primary ingredient. Saira prepared an Herb-Crusted Shrimp with Peruvian Salad that got her safely into the next round. In the final round with only four competitors left, she whipped up a Kung Pao-Inspired Chicken dish with Deconstructed Egg Fried Rice that won her first place! As the winning prize, she's being whisked away on a trip to Dubai come next February. Congratulations, again Saira!

Check out Saira's winning recipe below...

Kung Pao-Inspired Chicken and Deconstructed Egg Fried Rice Recipe

Ingredients: 1/4 cup of cashew nuts 4 whole red chilies 2 cloves of garlic (chunkily chopped) 2" piece of ginger (chunkily chopped) 1 green pepper, medium dice 6 Scallions chopped (white and green separated) 2 tbsp soy sauce Juice of 1 lime Salt to taste

Chicken & chicken marinade: 1lb, 1" diced pieces of chicken 3 tbsp soy sauce Salt to taste

Deconstructed egg fried rice: 1 1/2 cups rice 4 eggs 1 1/2 tsp mango pickle

Method:

Kung Pao Chicken:

  1. Combine all marinade ingredients and marinade chicken for 10 minutes (I didn't have time for marinating).
  2. Heat the wok on high, add 2 tbsp of oil, when hot add cashews and sesame seeds and keep stirring. As the cashews and sesame become golden brown in color, remove immediately (approx 1 1/2 minutes) and drain on paper towels.
  3. In the remaining oil, saute the chicken on high heat and cook for approximately 7 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.
  4. Add 2 more tbsp of oil and throw in the chilies, continuously tossing until they turn a shade of burgundy. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and after 1 minute, add the white part of the chopped scallions and then the green pepper. Add remaining soy sauce.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine: soy sauce, lime juice and salt to taste. Add this mixture to the pan and cook for 4 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken to the pan and just before serving, toss the scallion greens and peanuts and green pepper.

Deconstructed egg fried rice:

  1. Boil rice and keep covered on low to make it sticky.
  2. In a frying pan, saute the pickle on medium heat, evenly distribute on the base of the pan.
  3. Break four eggs on to the pan and cook until almost done (as egg continues to cook in its own heat)
  4. Remove eggs and lay over the top of the rice.

Photo: Saira Malhotra

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What Real 'Brits' Eat: A Conversation with Chef Jason Hicks of Jones Wood Foundry

By: Saira Malhotra

Tucked away in the historic neighborhood of Jones Wood, on the Upper East Side, lies a humble and slightly recessed food driven pub; Jones Wood Foundry. This city has had its fair share of British and Irish pubs, but what many Brit expats will attest to is the feeling of home they get from their pint of Fullers and bangers and mash here at Jones Wood Foundry.

The pub culture is a way of life for Brits. Many recognize that there are few problems in life that comfort food, drink and straight forward British 'talk 'can't provide relief for. The place is charming and quaint with its warm lighting and mahogany accents, yet, there is an element of wit, be it the restrooms or the hand-picked art work. The food is understated and simple yet there is mastery behind it; your very palate will tell you so.

I headed over to Jones Wood Foundry to meet the man behind the magic, who serves up plates of Britain's finest with a side of nostalgia - Executive Chef and Partner, Jason Hicks. In this interview, he gives us the low down on real British food and simplicity.

You have gone from classical French to humble British cuisines, what inspired the switch?

My travels and experiences have shown me that while cuisines are different all over the world, they draw from a similar pool of techniques. When I was in the desert in Australia, the food was fantastic and yet there was such an overlap in methods of preparation.  French techniques are at the source of a lot of cooking practices, it comes back to 'bechamel or veal stock'. Here at JWF, the guiding principle is to keep it simple - pie and mash is pie and mash.

What is a Food Driven Pub?

For examples, Jones Wood Foundry is a food driven pub because it is the food that drives the flow and interest.

What is the first item you would recommend off your menu?

I would have to say the 'bangers and mash'. There are a lot of great dishes from perfectly crusted pies to crispy duck confits, but the bangers and mash are an example of simplicity and how simple things just 'work'. Perfect mashed potatoes and good quality bangers (sausages) with some caramelized onions that have been 'hit' with a touch of veal stock brings about the perfect balance of sweetness, starchiness and protein.

What do you cook at home?

My kids and I go to the farmers market and buy chicken, garlic, potatoes, cream and thyme. My little chefs truss the chicken and stuff it with the other ingredients and we put it on the spit and roast over the fire. We make a sauce from the bones and reduce with cream and butter. It goes on a plate, heaped with mash, slathered with gravy and life is good.

What can we expect to see on the JWF menu in the horizon?

We plan to expand our repertoire with dishes from the Commonwealth. Perhaps curry, after all, it is a very important part of British culture and something you can see on the menu in most pubs. I would also like to expand my dessert offerings and offer real traditional English Puddings - Eves pudding, Bakewell tart, treacle tart, steamed cakes.

Check back for a real Brit recipe of Toad in the Hole right from Chef Jason Hicks himself!

Saira Malhotra is a classically trained chef and graduate from the French Culinary Institute. Saira brings her European, Asian and American background together via the palate and communicated through her food blog: www.passportpantry.com.

Photos courtesy of Jason Hicks

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Mind Games and Dieting: How to Trick Yourself into Eating Less

By: Saira Malhotra

We have seen the paintings that create an optical illusion over and over, and each time we are dumbfounded. The mind enjoys playing momentary tricks on us and if we could see its face, we know its smile would be wry. When the mind games are obvious, we are able to call them out, but what about when they aren't so obvious?

This week, NPR looked at the Delboeuf illusion, understanding how two dots of the same size, appear different when outlined by different-sized circles and the relationship this has with food consumption. Based on this understanding, Professor of Marketing at Georgia Tech, Koert Van Ittersum and Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell, Brian Wansink, conducted a study to understand the impact of illusions and serving size.

When participants were asked to estimate volumes of soup in smaller bowls versus the same volume in larger bowls, their estimates confirmed the Delboeuf illusion. Food plated in small plates created the perception of a more hearty serving versus the same food offered in larger plates often resulting in overeating. This also shed light on the overindulgence that takes place at a buffet.

According toVan Ittersum, "We are oftentimes our own worst enemy. And that's not because we want to overeat." The study indicated that we have very little control over these illusions as we are not able to recognize them even after being alerted to them.

Understanding this is very useful if you wish to achieve your dietary goal by reducing your food servings. Here are some useful tips:

1)      Serve yourself in an appetizer plate rather than a dinner plate.

2)      Use chopsticks rather than forks wherever possible.

3)      Take a few seconds to chew each bite thoroughly before swallowing.

4)      Switch out the dessert spoon for a teaspoon.

5)      Drink beverages from 8oz glass without filling it up.

Photo: Rakesh Rocky

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Chai Makes Way For Coffee: India Embraces Starbucks

By: Saira Malhotra

Delhi, India: brutally hot in the summer and brutally cold in the winter. A city where meal, snack and dessert options adjust to reflect changes in a climatic backdrop, yet there remained one consistency- chai. An integral part of the day, chai represents not just the hot beverage steeped with tea leaves and spices, but also a homely setting with company allowing for moments to regroup and share happiness and sorrow.

Today, the fundamental elements of getting recharged and exchanging notes continue to be a required part of the day. However, the beverage and venue have changed. In just under a couple of decades, India has witnessed the rise of coffee houses, a trend off set by coffee lounge company 'Cafe Coffee Day'. There are now thousands of inviting coffee shops all over the country with their own signature look and feel, offering Western snacks of biscotti and donuts as well as traditional Indian high tea snacks of pakoras and samosas.

For India, whether the organic preference for people is tea or coffee, people are drawn to the lifestyle coffee houses bring with them. Whether it's simply to drop in to get a quick fix, a social gathering or a place to read the paper, these comfortable and modern joints provide an instant experience.

As the market share for coffee houses continues to grow, other global players are setting up shop. This week, NPR reported that Starbucks will be launching its coffee shops with corporate giant The Tata Group across the country.

India is not the only country to experience a cultural shift from tea to coffee, the UK offered up part of this tea drinking nation to Coffee houses, such as, Costa Coffee, Coffee Republic and Starbucks. Not only do companies like Starbucks offer coffee, but they are also tastemakers for other food and beverages. In the way that they have influenced non-coffee drinking nations to drink coffee, they have also encouraged coffee nations to embrace tea, coined as 'chai lattes'.

Photo: ELPhotographia

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