Swedish Chef With Japanese Flair

The executive chef of New York's Riingo restaurant, which features Japanese and American favorites, is Swedish.

On Saturday, Johan Svensson accepts the Chef on a Shoestring challenge of preparing a delicious meal for four for a mere $40.

The menu includes Vegetable Tempura with a Chili Dipping Sauce, Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Braised Fennel, and Chocolate Pancakes with Orange Mousse.

How does a Swedish-born youngster go on to head the kitchen of a fine New York City eatery specializing in Japanese and American delights?

Svensson was born on the small Swedish island of Torsö where, as a boy, he barely passed home economics, only to pursue a culinary degree at the Culinary Institute of Gothenburg.

He worked his way through several positions in the restaurant industry in his homeland as a dishwasher, waiter, and substitute chef before becoming executive sous chef at a ski resort in Northeast Sweden.

In 1997, Svensson contacted Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit, asking the internationally renowned chef if he could apprentice during a three-week stage in his award-winning kitchen. Svensson was inspired by his mentor's dedication to flavor and innovative methods, and returned to Sweden, eager to use the knowledge he gained at Aquavit.

He only had a few months to use these skills before Samuelsson called to ask Svensson to join Aquavit on a permanent basis. Svensson made a tour of several stations in the Aquavit kitchen, fortifying and finessing his skills in garde manger, grilling, pastry, and expediting.

After a year, Svensson left to work as a line cook at Bond Street New York, which led to a position at Nobu of London, where he had the opportunity to build the global sensibilities of his culinary style. He returned stateside to work as a sous chef at Bond Street, and later became the opening sous chef of Thom in Manhattan.

Svensson then worked as executive sous chef at Town before reuniting with Samuelsson to collaborate on the American portion of Riingo's menu.


Tempura: A Japanese specialty of batter-dipped, deep-fried pieces of fish or vegetables. Lighter and crispier than traditional American fried food.

Sambal oelek: A simple, spicy chili paste. There is no garlic or other spices included which allows you to add heat to a dish without altering other delicate flavors. This is a common table condiment in Asia and China.

Thai chili: This is a small chili with a fiery punch that doesn't dissipate with cooking. It ranges in color from green to red when fully ripe.

Lemongrass: One of the most important herbs in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. It's a long, thin stalk with gray-green coloring with a sour-lemon flavor.


Vegetable tempura
Seves 4

1 piece bok choy
1 large carrot
1 medium zucchini
1 egg
2 cups tempura flour
2 cups water
Ice cubes

1. Cut vegetables into finger-size pieces, the carrot pieces need to be a little bit thinner (because carrots take longer to cook).
2. Mix tempura flour, with egg and water, add a small amount of ice.
3. Heat up the frying oil. To check temperature drip a little bit of batter into the oil, if the batter sinks and then slowly float up and gets a nice golden brown crispy texture, it's ready to go.
4. Dip vegetable pieces in tempura mixture then place in oil. Vegetables are done when they are a golden brown color and have a crispy texture; will cook about 2 to 3 minutes, carrots may take a little longer than other vegetables.
5. Remove vegetables from oil with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to cool.

Tofu chili dipping sauce for tempura

1/2 lb soft tofu
1/2 table spoon sambal oelek
1 quart canola oil
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper to taste

Put tofu, egg yolk and sambal oalek in a blender. Start blender and slowly add oil in a steady stream. If you find the sauce too thick, add some water. Salt and pepper to taste.

Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Braised Fennel
Serves 4

1 1/4 lbs mahi mahi fillet
3 bulbs fennel
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 small pieces ginger, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
1 T olive oil

1. Juice one fennel bulb by either a) placing in a juicer, or b) placing in blender, then straining blender contents; discarding solids.
2. Cut each of the other two fennel bulbs into six pieces.
3. Lightly saute garlic and ginger in olive oil, until translucent.
4. Add the cut fennel, white wine, and the fennel juice. Cook fennel until soft.
5. Season fennel with salt and pepper.
6. As fennel cooks, season the fish and place on grill (or grill pan). Cook about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
7. Right before you remove fish from grill, brush on orange glaze. Serve fish with braised fennel.

Spicy Orange Glaze for Mahi-Mahi

1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 thai chili, deseeded
1 2-inch piece ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1 piece lemongrass, crushed and cut

1. Place sugar in a dry, hot pan, stirring until sugar is caramelized a golden brown.
2. Add juice, thaichili, ginger, garlic and the lemongrass. Cook until reduced to half.
3. Strain and chill until used to glaze the grilled mahi-mahi.

Chocolate Pancake Layered with Orange Mousse

1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2tsp salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk (save the egg white for the mousse)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp baking powder

1. Sieve all the dry ingredients together.
2. Mix dry ingredients with all the wet ingredients and let pancake batter sit to rest for 20 minutes.
3. Ladle pancake batter onto hot griddle, just as you would regular pancakes. Pancakes should have about a 3-inch diameter. Cook 2 to 3 minutes per side. Makes 12-15 pancakes.

Orange Mousse

1/2 C frozen orange concentrate
3 egg whites
7/8 C sugar
1 pint heavy cream

1. In a double boiler whisk together egg whites and sugar, until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot.
2. Using a mixer, beat egg mixture until soft peaks form (this is now considered a meringue).
3. Whip the heavy cream.
4. Fold the concentrated orange into the meringue, and then fold in whipped heavy cream.
5. Top a pancake with mousse, and repeat layers twice more so that each serving includes three pancakes.