Sixteen hour shifts and six day work weeks are the province of the young, upwardly mobile chef. There seems little time to balance work with life outside of the restaurant.
Remarkably Melt (440 Bergen Street, Brooklyn NY 718.230.5925) executive chef Patrik Landberg manages both. On a sunny spring afternoon, the kind that promises heat but delivers a breezy chill instead, Landberg met with me at the stylish neighborhood restaurant with big ambition, owned by Muguette (pronounced “Mu-Get”) Siem A Sjoe.
Landberg is amazingly fresh for a new father who works the long hard hours required of the executive chef of a small promising neighborhood restaurant. He is easy-going, open and pleasant. The word authentic seems an apt adjective to describe Landberg.
A native of Sweden, he went to culinary school at age 15, studied his craft for two years, learning French technique. The cuisine at Melt is best described as eclectic modern America, infused with hints of his own Swedish heritage.
Originally, Melt was a bar and the kitchen later was added to reinvent the space. The small restaurant, about 60 seats, has an even smaller kitchen. Landberg and the two chefs on his team work in a row and in synchronized, economical movements, a must in a kitchen where an open dishwasher blocks passage. It boggles the mind to see the amount and quality of food that is turned out of this tiny space.
The focus at Melt is seasonal, inventive and fresh daily. Landberg is often at the local produce markets in the morning before coming to work in his kitchen.
"It's very important to follow the seasons. The vegetable is going to taste so much better in season," he said, noting the challenges of balancing a menu that supports sustainability and yet also offers customers the items they desire. "You have to do what you have to do for business. Brunch requires berries."
Melt's menu contains mainstays like Aged Boucheron Goat Cheese Salad, Yellowfin Tuna Tartar, and Kobe Beef Burger, but Landberg likes to rotate items off the menu as the seasons change. Weather affects the palate and is one of the things the executive chef follows when thinking about what to create for his menu.
"Weather can change everything. In the spring, it's tricky," he said.
Melt is gaining a bit of a reputation for its tasting menu as well. The five-course tasting menu is $25 (and additional $20 for paired wine tastings) and is served the first Tuesday of each month. Landberg and his team of chefs create a menu based on the best of the market for that day.
A recent tasting menu featured a lobster theme with a Lobster Broth and Buckwheat Noodle consomme reminiscent of Thai lemongrass fragrant Tom Yum Goong, but not as pungent; Boston Bib Lettuce Wrap, a lobster tail, pickled carrot and cilantro wrapped in Bibb lettuce leaves; Surf and Turf Kobe Beef Slider served with Chipotle sauce and crispy fries; and Lobster Ravioli with a Sweet Onion Fondue and Buerre Blanc.
Executive chef at Melt since 2007, he arrived in the US in 2000 with the intention of staying only a summer and has been here since. Landberg has cooked at the now closed Meet in the Meatpacking District, Ulrika's (also shuttered) and The Roger Smith Hotel, where he followed Ulrika Bengtsson, who took over as Food & Beverage Manager after closing her eponymous Scandanavian restaurant.
Landberg understands the balance between satisfying his own creative impulses and imagination and satisfying the customer. He is not a slave to his ego. He wants to make the customer happy.
"We're in the service industry," said Landsberg, noting reasonable requests are always honored. "This is what I created. I'm here to please you. Why shouldn't I make you happy?