“I have to try and push myself as hard as I possibly can—I don’t know where that stems from, but I like to challenge myself and I like challenging other people, too,” says Fredrik Berselius, chef/owner of two-Michelin-starred Aska located at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn.
At Aska, the Stockholm-native chef brings his Swedish roots and approach to cooking while using local ingredients. “Aska is very much a New York restaurant,” he continues. “I’m just trying to find that connection between where we are in New York and these memories of growing up in Sweden. I want to find that balance between being an interesting restaurant where we serve food that is tasty and approachable but also makes you think. It stimulates more than just your tastebuds.”
When it comes to his career, Berselius is completely candid, noting that he’s had to sacrifice a lot, including friends and free time, to get to where he is now. “That’s why I think it’s important for chefs to have something outside of the restaurant,” he adds. “I know I need something in my life to reflect on what we do everyday. Funnily enough, I can’t think of a sport that is more similar to being a chef and do what we do than competitive cycling.”
Berselius competitively races with the Rapha Cycling Club; his leisurely rides take him over the George Washington Bridge and north up to Nyack, a common local cycling route. “In order to get better, you have to train, you have to learn how you function, you have to learn your threshold, how much stress you can handle,” he notes. “You have to find ways of making it easier for yourself—on the bike it could be how you adjust your saddle, in the kitchen it can be how you set up your station. It’s constantly reevaluating how you breathe, where you position your hands. It’s a way to escape. It’s a way to clear your head. It’s a way to plan for the week. It’s almost like a meditative state.”
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Cycling is also a means of exploring for the wandering chef. “From riding bicycles, I’ve found mushrooms and ramp patches, and met farmers and potters, you know, people who are in one way or another involved in the restaurant today.”
“Everyday we put this pressure on ourselves to do the best we can, and the same thing goes for cycling,” he says. “Sometimes I ride as far as I can in one direction because I know I have to go the same way home. If you go two hours one way then you have to pull yourself all the way home. And the same is with the restaurant. We set goals where there’s no turning back, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Video and photos shot by Kathryn M. Sheldon, an award-winning producer, photographer and editor with a background in still photography and television production. Having produced food and beverage content for seven years at NBC, she is currently producing video content for the MICHELIN Guide.