Smorgas Chef’s Morten Sohlberg, left, and a farmhand feeding a boar on Sohlberg’s farm Upstate.
BY KHIARA ORTIZ | Smorgas Chef, a Scandinavian restaurant tucked away in the West Village, recently joined the sustainable farming movement. Besides Blue Hill, a restaurant that runs on fresh produce and meats from its farm in Massachusetts, Smorgas is the only other large-scale establishment in Manhattan supporting itself from its own farm — in this case, located on 150 acres in Blenheim, N.Y.
“We eventually want to have everything made from our farm — even the ketchup,” said Morten Sohlberg, C.E.O. and president of Smorgas Chef. “We’re buying the seed and making the salad.”
Since the Nordic kitchen announced its switch to a more organic approach for its cuisine about two years ago, business has increased 25 percent. A monthly output of 400 pounds of produce is distributed among Sohlberg’s four restaurants. A 3,000-square-foot, hydroponic greenhouse that he and some farmhands built is solar powered and grows a variety of vegetables, ranging from tomatoes and cucumbers to nine varieties of lettuce.
“We want to eliminate processed foods altogether to the extent that is possible,” he said. “We’re trying to bring the small farm back.”
Before opening his first Smorgas Chef in 2003, Sohlberg operated the world’s largest school of visual design. He and his wife, Min Ye, had no experience with farms or the restaurant industry. But with the help of a hired consultant and whatever they could learn from a three-day workshop on hydroponic agriculture in South Dakota, the couple embarked on their mission to bring back the family farm, albeit for the purpose of supporting their restaurants.
“The meats are hardier, the pigs have hair, the animals are healthier and there are fewer infections,” said Sohlberg of their farm and its benefits. “We focus on things we want to serve our guests.” By raising their own livestock, the Sohlbergs can use more of the animal, or as Sohlberg put it, use it “from head to tail.”
According to the Smorgas Chef C.E.O., there are many cases of both small and large food producers committing fraud by falsely claiming their food is organic or pasture-raised. Restaurants become the victims of this fraud — though not Smorgas Chef, obviously.
“They have the lobbying power to define and dilute what sustainable farming means,” he said of huge meat and poultry factories. “So a lot of the time, it can be inaccurate.”
For now, Smorgas Chef will keep welcoming its weekly import of fresh meats, produce and other ingredients, and the couple plans to continue advancing their farming techniques.