Get to Know Carl Frederiksen of Aamanns-Copenhagen
Chef Carl Kristian Frederiksen is cooking up accessible Scandinavian food in a sleek new spot in downtown New York City.
By Hannah Keyser
“We have a rainy day today, it’s really terrible out, and people are still here.” Chef Carl Kristian Frederiksen is right on both accounts. It’s a little after 1:00 p.m. on a Tuesday in early August and the sun is just starting to illuminate the Tribeca streets visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows outside Aamanns-Copenhagen after torrential downpours all morning. And yet several of the tables in the clean, unfussy restaurant are occupied by undaunted diners.
“We actually sent people home on vacation, which is now a mistake because we are busy. But it’s a luxury problem,” Carl says of the unexpected traffic to Danish restaurant for this late in the summer. He is soft-spoken and baby-faced with a neat beard that I can only assume has eased the transition to his new neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
“It should be the slowest week next week of the whole year and we have a lot of reservations, a lot of functions.” He is quick to express adamant appreciation for this fact, even if it means being on the line himself every night while the place remains understaffed. A restaurant cannot be too busy ever, let alone in the crucial first year and Aamanns-Copenhagen won’t celebrate a birthday until November.
Before Aamanns-Copenhagen opened, Carl had only ever been to New York on vacation. He was born and raised in Denmark and after moving around a lot when he was very young, his family settled in a small town on the West Coast called Kalundborg. There, Carl learned to cook from his mother and his grandparents, for whom food was more than just sustenance, it was a source of celebration.
“Both sides of the family have always cooked a lot and all holidays have always been around the kitchen, around food. Sometimes, they made up holidays just to eat better,” He says with a laugh, specifically citing his maternal grandfather for insisting on serving typical winter fare at a made-up summer holiday when he missed a certain pea soup. “It’s a very hardcore Danish dish,” Carl says of the soup which is made from a puree of boiled split peas served with potatoes and boiled sausage and boiled pork belly.
Carl was inspired to pursue cooking as a career and eventually ended up at Skagen Fiskerestaurant. It was there that he was discovered by general manager of Aamann-Copenhagen, Morten Friis. Adam Aamann had decided to launch a New York outpost of his popular eponymous restaurant – which is located in Copenhagen, despite, ironically, nominally differing from the stateside version only in that it lacks that designation – with Sanne Ytting as a partner. They asked Carl to head the new venture and he agreed.
Both Aamanns specialize in Smorrebrod, a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich served on dense, sour rye bread. And for lunch, Carl stays mostly faithful to Adam’s elevated take on this classic, doing so with delicious results. The house-made rye bread, in particular, is so uniquely flavorful that it bucks the role of bread as a utilitarian necessity in a sandwich to take center stage.
The dinner menu, however, is all Carl’s doing and he is free to break tradition. But that doesn’t mean he is necessarily pursuing the latest culinary trends coming out of his home country.
“Our food here is more Scandinavian than it is the New Nordic,” he demurs when I mention the epicurean movement that is lately all the rage. “I try to have something that people will recognize more from the American point of view. I have an American strip on my menu, which you would never find at a New Nordic place. I try to cater more in between the bistro and the New Nordic.”
Carl respects the New Nordic’s strict adherence to a philosophy that emphasizes hyper-local and hyper-seasonal ingredients and insists he will pursue more foraging techniques when he has the manpower to do so. But for now, he is more “loose” in his methods in order to prioritize the food.
“If I can find some potatoes from Montana that are beautiful and fantastic, I will use these.”
That’s not to say Carl doesn’t have his own philosophy for the kitchen at Aamanns-Copenhagen. If not New Nordic, I ask, than what? “Happy chefs make good food.”
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