When Cultures Collide: Meet Chef Nils Noren at Megu
February 22, 2018
How did you come to join the team at Megu?
Nils Norén: I came to New York quite a while ago from Sweden. I was the executive chef at Aquavit for many years and after that I was head of all programing at the French Culinary Institute where we transformed it into the International Culinary Center. I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture and cooking and I am a board member of the Gohan Society an organization that promotes Japanese culture through a culinary lens. We have a scholarship program where we take young chefs, who otherwise wouldn’t have access, and send them to Japan to be immersed in the culture and work in their restaurants. My Japanese interest and knowledge goes way back. Even at Aquavit I used a lot of Japanese ingredients and techniques despite it’s Scandinavian focus.
Meatpacking: Have you spent time in Japan?
I’ve been to Japan, but I haven’t spent a lot of time cooking in Japan. I think Japanese culture is incredible, and being at Megu, I have an outlet for that fascination. I think it’s very interesting for non-Japanese born chefs to be cooking Japanese food because we are not bound by the same traditions. Megu‘s menu is modern Japanese, and it allows for liberties to be taken with dish preparation and to combine the best parts of Japanese with Western influence to create something new.
Meatpacking: How do you see your Swedish heritage impacting your Japanese cuisine?
The ingredients and some techniques are similar because both of our countries have a lot of coastline, and therefore a lot of seafood. Both countries get very cold in winter, meaning a short growing season, and a focus on preservation in preparing. In Sweden, the tradition is mackerel with salt and vinegar which is basically pickling. Sushi from the beginning was also a preservation technique, so in that sense there is a lot of pickling and fermenting. Also, design concepts see similarity in their minimalism.
I love The Whitney. It’s actually one of my favorite places in the entire city. I do a lot of my personal shopping in Chelsea Market. If I’m going to buy seafood, I go to The Lobster Place, where the fish is guaranteed fresh and I can even find live sea urchin!
Meatpacking: What new dishes have you developed for Megu?
What we’ve developed is a very simple dish, based on the Swedish staple called a Hasselback potato. You take the potato and slice it thin, but not all the all the way through. We have taken that concept here, and created a new spin on it, using Japanese sweet potato and miso butter.
Meatpacking: What’s your favorite menu item currently at Megu and what’s a customer favorite?
Customer favorites are the tuna tartare cones and the nori salmon belly tacos. They are both delicious crowd pleasers. One dish that I really like on the menu, depending on when we can get them in, are Hokkaido scallops from Japan. We cook them with farro, and they have a very Japanese flavor profile. It’s quite delicious.
Meatpacking: What can one expect from the Megu experience?
You can expect very good food, of course, and a great dining experience as a whole. It’s not just the food, the service or a great vibe, its all of the above., which is the best kind of restaurant experience.