The Swedish Bistro Food Truck talking Swedish cooking with Chef Karin Asmus-Herke of The Swedish Bistro Food Truck.

Published October 5, 2013 in Dining & Nightlife -

1. Tell us about The Swedish Bistro Food Truck.

We're a food truck serving authentic Scandinavian and European cuisine. All our food is made from scratch. Karin is a trained, Swedish chef and will be responsible for the menu and food preparation. The Swedish dishes will be done as they're done in Sweden using recipes drawn from Karin's family restaurant. Our signature dish will be our Swedish Meatballs, made using a recipe that has been passed down from Karin's grandfather.

2. Why did you decide to open a food truck?

Karin's family has a seasonal restaurant in Sweden where Karin is the Head Chef. We wanted to open a Swedish restaurant here in Jacksonville but Karin needs to be in Sweden regularly to help with her family restaurant and so she wouldn't be able to devote herself full time here in Jacksonville. November and December are the busiest times for the family restaurant in Sweden and Karin needs to be there at those times. So, we'll just park the food truck while she's away and resume business when she returns.

Chef Karin and Chef Lee cooking

3. Can you tell us about Karin's culinary background?

Karin: I was born and raised in my family's restaurant. My grandparents bought an old schoolhouse in 1966 and converted it into the restaurant that they opened in 1969. The property my family lived on was the same property shared by the restaurant so I was in the kitchen from an early age watching my parents and grandparents work. I started serving in the restaurant when I was 16 years old. My family ran a successful restaurant but none of them were trained chefs. So, when I turned 18 I attended culinary school to learn advanced cooking methods and did an internship in a restaurant in Stockholm. When I finished school, I worked in a restaurant in Berlin and then came back to my family's restaurant and took over as the Head Chef.

When I moved to Jacksonville I worked at a few local restaurants - first at JJ's Bistro on Gate Parkway, then at Taverna in San Marco.

Potato Wedges with Curry Ketchup

4. What brought Karin to Jacksonville?

Andre: Me! I'm from California originally but came to Jacksonville when I was hired to be the head tennis coach at Jacksonville University. I fell in love with Jacksonville and stayed here even after I stopped working for the University. Our father's grew up in Berlin and knew each other in their teens. I met Karin through my father when I was on vacation one year and visited Karin's family restaurant. Karin has been in Jacksonville now for about 4 years.

5. As a Swedish chef, where does Karin like to eat out in Jacksonville?

Karin: I like different dishes at various restaurants but BB's is one of my favorite restaurants in Jacksonville.

6. What exactly is Swedish food?

Swedes cook a lot of fish, potatoes, and meat. For lunch, sandwiches are less common in Sweden than they are here in the US. Swedes will typically have a hot-cooked meal for lunch.

7. Are there food trucks in Sweden?

No. There are no food trucks in Sweden. The roads are narrow and the weather is not good for food trucks.

Veggie Burger with Beet Slaw

8. Karin's family restaurant features a famous smorgasbord. What is a smorgasbord?

It's a Swedish buffet with a big variety of food, including lots of meats, cold cuts and fish. Fish options include things like cured fish, herring, smoked fish, and shellfish. In Sweden, herring is very popular. We won't have a smorgasbord on the truck of course. And we won't have some of the traditional Swedish fish like herring. It's an acquired taste that's very popular in Sweden and is eaten with a variety of different sauces.

9. What will your menu be like?

We're going to focus on serving a smaller menu of 6-8 items so that we can prepare things faster. Lunch needs to be quick serve. We're starting with some classic dishes and we'll see what people like and what's popular. From there we'll probably change the menu a little, but always with the idea of keeping it relatively small.

10. What's a Swedish meatball and how is it different from an Italian meatball?

Swedish meatballs are probably the most popular dish in Sweden. Most people grow up as kids eating them. They're different from Italian meatballs in a few ways. Italian meatballs use Italian spices such as oregano and basil and are served in a tomato sauce. Swedish meatballs are served with a cream sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumbers and mashed or cooked potatoes.

Swedish Meatballs with mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam and pickled cucumbers

11. Is your meatball recipe typical of a Swedish meatball or is it more unique to your family restaurant?

Every restaurant in Sweden will have its own way of making a meatball. The key ingredients of cream sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumbers and mashed potatoes will be common, but certain things will be unique. For example, most Swedish meatballs are made using bread crumbs. Our recipe uses potatoes in the meatballs, instead of bread crumbs, so the meatballs are gluten free. For people who may have tried the Swedish meatballs at Ikea, ours are not like those - they're much better tasting!

12. What's a Viking Dog?

Karin: It's a very popular late night dish in Sweden that people have after coming home from the bars or being out late. We'll start with a tortilla, which is slightly different than in Sweden where they use thin Swedish bread. We can't find such Swedish bread here so that's why we're using the tortilla. In the tortilla we put mashed potatoes, a beef frankfurter, and shrimp salad. Then we wrap it together like a burrito, but with an opening on the end for the frankfurter. It's very different.

Viking Dog with mashed potatoes, beef frank, and shrimp salad in a tortilla

13. What's a Swedish Bistro Burger?

It's a meatball patty, served on a bun with beet slaw, lettuce, red onion, pickled cucumbers and tomatoes.

14. Can you tell us about your Shrimp Wrap?

It's a cold dish in a tortilla, made with shrimp salad, red onion, tomatoes and lettuce.

15. What's Gravlax?

It's one of the most popular fish dishes in Sweden. It's cured salmon served with a honey-mustard dill sauce. It's mainly served cold. We'll call it a Salmon Wrap on our menu but for those familiar with Swedish cooking it's the popular Gravlax.

16. Can you tell us about your Stroganoff?

It's a dish made with diced franks in a tomato cream sauce and served with mashed potatoes.

Stroganoff, made with Onion Tomato Cream Sauce, Mashed Potatoes and Diced Beef Franks

17. Can you tell us about your dessert?

We'll have one main dessert called a Chocolate Ball. It's the same size as a meatball but it's made with oatmeal, cocoa and butter, then rolled in things like coconut, nuts or sprinkles. It's sweet, chocolatey and delicious!

Swedish Chocolate Balls

18. What's your favorite item from The Swedish Bistro Food Truck? And what makes it your favorite?

Andre: I love the Bistro Burger. I never knew I liked beet slaw and pickled cucumbers until I ate the Bistro Burger.

Karin: I like everything on the menu but if I would have to say one dish it would be the Swedish Meatballs.

19. Are you going to find a single, set location or is your goal to move around?

We're looking to find a few places that we can rotate among during the week. We are currently on Main & Forsyth downtown on Mondays, Adamec Harley Davidson on Baymeadows Rd on Wednesdays and Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute on San Marco Blvd. on Thursdays.  Then, on the weekends we'll attend local festivals and things like that. We'll also offer catering and special events at night.

20. Anything else?

There aren't a lot of Swedish restaurants in the US as a whole and many people are not familiar with Swedish food. But Sweden is rated as one of the top culinary countries in the world. When Zagat recently named their top 10 restaurants in the world, two were from Sweden. A lot of chefs know that but it's less well known amongst the general US population. So, I think we'll have something that's very unique and a really great experience for people who love good food.

Connect with Swedish Food Truck Bistro on Facebook

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