Ladies and gentlemen and gastronomes of all ages! In the first floor dining room we present an extravaganza never before seen in the hallowed halls of the Nation's Capital! In the basement kitchen, flown in for your gustatory pleasure, sensational with salmon, amazing with anchovies, hefting herrings from halfway around the world, Per Nillson and Bernard Stumpfel! Stuffing your stomachs with the Supersonic Smorgasbord!
Traveling medicine shows we know from history. Traveling circuses thrilled our childhoods. But no less in Washington than in Jakarta, a traveling smorgasbord is a new one on us.
Smorgasbord-starved Washington got its first taste in December of the flying smorgasbord, when Swedish food mogul Tore Wretman sent his touring chefs to the Sheraton Carlton to prepare six days' worth for the hotel dining room. It is Wretman who is credited for Stockholm's most famous modern-day smorgasbord -- in the Operakallaren Restaurant -- and now he has gone on to promote smorgasbords and Swedish food around the world.
For years his A.B. Smorgasbord company has been flying smorgasbord fixings to Bangkok, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia, England, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, adjusting where necessary to strictures against pork or liquor and airlifting in everything from fresh Baltic herrings to cloudberries. His chefs, hired part-time from a pool of about 10, travel in pairs for a week here and a week there, and he has contracted with 15 or so food suppliers to make available the salmon (gravlax, smoked and chimney-smoked), frozen shrimp, flat smoked eels, cod roe, fresh herring fillets, lingonberries, cheeses and reindeer, without which a smorgasbord is just another buffet.
Only last fall, though, did Wretman form an American subsidiary -- Smorgasbord, Inc. -- and bring his traveling show to the United States, starting at the Sheraton Ritz in Minneapolis in September, creating a dinner in November for the Swedish king and queen at the Pierre in New York and a Christmas luncheon at the Waldorf for 800, then premiering Washington's first fullfledged Swedish smorgasbord just before Christmas. Even before the show packed up, other Washington hoteliers were talking with Wretman about a return engagement.
The show goes on the road with Styrofoam-insulated Cooltainers that can keep food frozen as long as four days, no matter what the temperature outside. Each holds either 2,000 or 5,000 pounds; for the Washington displays about 1,500 pounds of food were airlifted here, including $3,500 worth of salmon.
Washingtonians showed up in gale force -- 400 the first day, even in a snowstorm -- with Swedes heading for the herring, Americans for the salmon and cold meats.
This city turned out to be hardship duty for the two young chefs, Per Nillson from Stockholm and Bernard Stumpfel from Austria. The Sheraton Carlton was welcoming a brand new food and beverage manager the day they started to work, and while in some hotels the entire staff pitches in for the buffet, in Washington the two chefs worked most of the week nearly alone, from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., claimed Wretman. In addition, with no slicer available to them, they were obliged to slice 1,200 potatoes by hand for the Jansson's Temptation, a casserole consisting of primarily potatoes, seasoned with anchovies and onions. The chefs chosen for these jobs are young, not just for the stamina the production requires, but also because their world travels may not take them back to Sweden more than every six months.
Even their clogs operated quietly in the Sheraton Carlton's basement kitchen as Nillson and Stumpfel silently decorated salmon platters and sliced eggs into fluted halves. Wearing one gold earring and a long sweep of mustache, Stumpfel explained that with their having worked 80 hours in their first five days, they had seen only 10 minutes' worth of Washington -- during a midnight walk around the block. In stockholm 10 or more cooks would be doing the jobs of the two of them. The hardest part, he said, is making all the little things -- the meatballs, the cabbage rolls -- and slicing the salmon.
Decorative details, time-consuming as they may be, are crucial to a smorgasbord. "There are no showpieces," said Stumpfel. "The food speaks for itself." Foods are decorated with foods, with carved green pepers and fluted mushrooms, the sliced meats and fish fluffed upon the platter and flanked by clumps of curly lettuce or bouquets of dill. Platters are meant to look three dimensional: "It's fluffed up so it's not flat," demonstrated Stumpfel.
Nillson, tall and blond and clearly Nordic, boasted that Swedish salmon is much better than what they could obtain here: "It's more moist, more fat." According to Wretman, even the gravlax is better, because some American kitchens soak it in oil before serving it, and present it with the wrong sauce. But good herrings, Nillson said, could be purchased locally. And it is the herrings that are "the most important. That's what we are supposed to start with." The smorgasbord they were preparing, for instance, had nine different kinds of herring, though for a home smorgasbord two or three would be sufficient as long as one of them was pickled herring. Whether an extravaganza or a home buffet, it also must have meatballs and Jansson's Temptation, warned Nillson.
In Sweden, said Nillson, one is likely to eat smorgasbord once a month, usually on Sunday afternoon. Even there, he admitted, "There are not so many restaurants left that make smorgasbord." Especially a grand smorgasbord, which might contain a hundred different dishes.
Smorgasbord expertise doesn't stop with the making of it; equally important is the way it is eaten. Stumpfel shuddered as he recalled Americans eating a smorgasbord by piling too much on their plates. "They are mixing desserts with herring and hot food and cold food . . . It's really a pity." The worst, said Wretman, is what happened in Minneapolis, where people put vanilla sauce on the herring. Since then, the company has begun handing out sheets to diners outlining how to eat a smorgasbord.
Nillson described the process: "Start with herring and a piece of hot potato and a piece of cheese." Then go on to fish dishes -- smoked salmon with a wedge of lemon, smoked eel, gravlax with mustard sauce, chimney-smoked salmon with dill mayonnaise. ("Americans are very suspicious of eel but then they like it," chimed in Stumpfel.) Change plates with each course, and go on to cold meats: rolled veal brest, veal aspic, cured ham; salads and egg dishes. On a clean plate, next take on the hot dishes: meatballs, Jansson's Temptation, lamb with dill sauce, cabbage rolls, roast meats, cooked vegetables. The breads accompanying the smorgasbord are dark and dense rye breads and crisp, hard crackers. While aquavit is often recommended to quaff with the herring, Nillson thinks otherwise: "Personally I think beer is the best." Most of the foods on a smorgasbord are salty, smoky or pickled, so the choice of beverage is vital; Nillson would vote against wine. And for dessert he would limit himself to fruit salad; "It lightens up, so to speak." But he has found that Americans like to try Swedish apple cake, cheesecake with lingonberries and King Oscar Cake.
The recipes are all Wretman's, and made available to the hotel if it wishes, as some hotels want their staffs to learn how to prepare the dishes on their own. Essentially the hotel is buying the food and preparation, then selling it on the menu. "It is not a cheap event for the hotel," said Wretman, but the package is flexible -- less fish roe if budgets are tight. "The food cost is between $7 and $10 depending on how exclusive they want to be . . . Then they pay chefs a per diem and put them up," said Wretman. In Washington the Sheraton Carlton priced the smorgasbord at $16.50. "I'm trying to convince the hotels to sell it for over $20," added Wretman. He's been talking to hotels in Philadelphia, Toronto, Detroit, Denver and in Los Angeles for the Olympics, New Orleans for the World's Fair. Wretman sees the United States as an endless buffet of possibilities, particularly since the timing is just right: "The sushi and gravlax craze are going to work in our favor."
Here are Smorgasbord, Inc.'s recipes we have tested for a home version of a smorgasbord ROKT LAXPASTEJ (Pate of Smoked Salmon) (8 to 10 appetizer servings)
This is a delicious use for leftover bits of smoked salmon or, if you can cadge them from your fish market or delicatessen, the cheaper end cuts. The mixture must be kept well chilled during the entire mixing time. 3/4 pound smoked salmon, end cuts 1 egg plus 1 egg white 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 cup whipping cream 1/4 teaspoon butter for mold
Blend the salmon to a fine paste in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or pass through the fine blade of a meat grinder. Chill well. Return ground salmon to food processor and with the motor running slowly add eggs, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. If mixture is not still very cold, chill again. Slowly add the well-chilled cream, combining well.
Butter a small decorative mold, about four-cup capacity, and pour in the salmon mixture. Cover with aluminum foil, set in a pan of hot water and bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Let pate cool, then refrigerate overnight. Unmold, slice and serve. INLAGD SILL (Pickled Herring) (4 to 6 servings) 2 1/4 cups water 1 cup white vinegar, 5 percent 1/2 cup beet juice 2/3 cup sugar 4 bay leaves 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, crushed 25 pieces whole allspice, coarsely crushed 2 whole cloves 4 salt herring fillets, about 3 ounces each, skinned and desalted by soaking in several changes of water for 6 hours 3 sprigs dill 1/4 small onion, sliced 1 small carrot, julienned 1/2 stalk celery, diced
Bring the water, vinegar, beet juice, sugar, bay leaves, pepper, allspice and cloves to a boil and let cool. Diagonally cut herring fillets into one-inch pieces, keeping the original shape of the herring fillets. Pour the marinade over the cut herring fillets and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Garnish with dill, onion, carrots and celery.
NOTE: If ordinary salt herring is not available, this dish can be made with matjes herring. SILLSALLAD (Old-Fashioned Herring Salad) (6 servings) 2 salt herring fillets, desalted by soaking in several changes of water for 6 hours, and finely diced 1-pound jar pickled beets, drained and diced fine 1 small potato, boiled and diced fine 1 small apple, peeled, cored and diced fine 3 small sweet pickled gherkins, diced fine 1 small onion, chopped 3 ounces cooked corned beef, diced fine 3 ounces roast veal, diced fine (substitute beef) 1 hard-cooked egg, sliced Dressing: 1/2 teaspoon Swedish or other sweet mustard 1/2 teaspoon dijon-style mustard 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon white vinegar 2 tablespoons oil 2 tablespoons whipping cream
Mix together the herirng, beets, potatoes, apples, pickles, onions, corned beef and veal. Combine dressing ingredients and pour over the herring. Mix well.Pack the salad into a four-cup mold and refrigerate overnight. Unmold the salad and garnish with the egg slices. KOTTBULLAR (Swedish Meatballs) (Makes 36 meatballs) 2 Cups bread dried crumbs 1 1/2 cups light cream 3 tablespoons butter 1 medium onion, finely chopped 1 pound lean beef, finely ground twice 1 pound pork, finely ground twice 2 eggs 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/2 teaspoon allspice
Soak bread crumbs in the cream. In a small skillet melt one tablespoon butter and saute onions until golden brown. Combine ground meats with onion, bread crumbs and eggs. Season with salt, pepper and allspice. Work the mixture well into a soft paste. Shape into small balls, about the size of a walnut. In a large skillet melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and saute meatballs over medium heat, shaking the pan often to turn the meatballs, until they are cooked through. Keep warm in a chafing dish for serving.