‘Evangelist’ Promotes Swedish Culture, Cuisine

A lot of our ignorance is due to a concept of humility that informs the Swedish temperament called janteelagen
At a Guild Hall event on Aug. 22, from left, Ruth Appelhof, Matthew Broderick, and the Swedish chef Paul Svensson joined Andrew Reice for a photo. Adriel Reboh

   With the exception of Swedish meatballs and gravadlax, most Americans, no matter how culinarily sophisticated, have a limited knowledge of Swedish food.

   A lot of our ignorance is due to a concept of humility that informs the Swedish temperament called janteelagen, according to Andrew Reice, an American who lives in Sweden and mounted Swedish Culininary Summer, a marketing campaign to introduce South Forkers to both Swedish cuisine and culture this summer. “It’s hard to promote yourself when you’re not supposed to brag,” he said.

   So, as a “self-appointed evangelist” Mr. Reice has taken on the mission to “show the world what I’m discovering every day about this incredible country from food to products to culture.” Zagat just placed Swedish restaurants in the number two and number three spots on its list of the world’s top 10 restaurants, he said. Not only that, in 2012 Sweden swept the entire Culinary Olympics, a big deal in Europe, taking away five gold medals. Who knew?

   In June the goal was to make appearances at 15 events, but as the summer progressed and invitations multiplied, that number turned to 20. In order to create a “critical mass of attention,” he said “it had to be a campaign that took place over an entire summer.”

   Fifteen chefs were brought over  — “all the best in the country, several with Michelin stars, all with their own restaurants” — to prepare dishes for such high-profile events as Much Ado About Madoo in Sagaponack, the Get Wild! benefit at Chuck Scarborough’s house, and Authors Night, the annual East Hampton Library fund-raiser.

   At all the events little plastic cups, filled with flora and fauna like culinary terrariums, were lined in neat rows, beckoning to curious partygoers. At the Benefit for the Bays held on a yacht docked in Sag Harbor, to raise money for the Peconic Baykeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance, a chef prepared such exotic items as a flan made from Vasterbottens cheese, one of the sponsors of the campaign, Swedish ceviche, cured and baked back of cod with crispy kroppkakor (Swedish dumplings) stuffed with anchovy and chives, and cloudberry mousse. Diners were surprised with the innovation and quality of the offerings, Mr. Reice said.

   Another major aspect of the campaign was to introduce people to Swedish tourism and products by offering live and silent auction lots of such items as a wheel of Vasterbottensost cheese, home furnishings from Lexington Clothing Company, a Swedish retailer with a shop on East Hampton’s Main Street, handmade steak knives by Mora of Sweden, an “ice driving” trip to Are, “the Aspen of Sweden, where you can ski in and ski out right from the hotel,” and a springtime stay in Cotenberg.

   Mr. Reice, a business developer who had a house in Water Mill for 20 years, visited Sweden 13 years ago when one of his interns, a Swede, told him about a Swedish product she thought would sell well in the States. He “fell in love” with the place and subsequently moved to Stockholm.

   He spent 11 years “trying to get Swedes to understand that one of best ways to make inroads in the American market is through the Hamptons and through charity events.” Finally, this year he was able to raise enough money through a clutch of sponsors to see his dream come to fruition.

   The series of summer events was, he believes, a huge success, so much so that he was approached by Guild Hall to feed guests at a recent reading. He also created a happening for the Hayground Summer Camp. It was a perfect fit, as the camp has a culinary program. With members of the Swedish Junior Olympic Culinary Team as mentors, campers prepped a gala eight-course dinner for 150, doing everything from setting the table to baking their own bread and making their own butter.

   He also produced several small events in the organization’s rented Wainscott house including a Ten Mile Dinner for Harvest East End. At that “experience,” he said, 20 guests participated in preparing their own dinners including making their own aquavit.

   Mr. Reice plans to return again next year, and has already booked a date — Swedish midsummer — for an event to benefit the World Childhood Foundation, founded by the queen of Sweden.