It all started on a napkin in South Africa.
In 1996, after a number of fantastic years at Operakällaren under Werner Vögeli, one of Europe’s most well-known chefs at the time, I was asked to start working as the Swedish representative chef at the Swedish Foreign Ministry. This gave me a great opportunity to further perfect my skills when arranging larger events.
I cooked for the Swedish Royal family, the Prime Minister and the Government offices and arranged special dinners for Heads of State, leading business people and other dignitaries from other countries in Sweden.
In 1998 I was recommended to travel to The Cellars Hohenort in South Africa to work together with Jean-Christophe Novelli, a French/British multi awarded Michelin-star chef who introduced modern cooking as we know it to the world. Naturally I jumped at the chance. A famous place where the elite chefs worked. Perfect, now let’s go to work I thought.
I remember my first day very clearly, this was clearly not going to be a vacation. I was given my chef’s jacket and apron to take care of as if they were my only possessions and also received a work schedule. Great to find out straight away how my first week was going to be I thought. In the schedule the following times were written: Monday-Saturday 9am to 11pm with lunch between 3pm and 5pm. Okay, tough first week, but I’d have to give it everything now and focus. When Wednesday came I asked the Head Chef a little carefully when I could have next week’s schedule. It’s nice to know to be able to plan ahead. The answer was immediate: “You already have your fucking schedule”. OK, I thought, now I’m in with the big guns.
After 100 days I started to wilt a bit I can tell you, and quite a few thoughts went through my head. If I were to continue at this pace then I’d be dead by 40! This didn’t work at all. I spent a lot of time pondering it and realised I still wanted to stay in the kitchen to work with what I loved and was good at. The only question was “how”?
During this time the trend of building open kitchens, where the guests could watch the chefs at work, was on the up. There was a great curiosity to know what happened behind the doors in the restaurant. And one night at The Cellars Hohenort, with full seating, the head waiter came in to the kitchen and asked the head chef, Novelli, to go out in the dining room and present the menu for some well-known guest.
Novelli became furious and more or less told the headwaiter to go to hell, because he was so stressed. I declared that I could go out and present. The head chef exclaimed “Then off you go and do that you stupid moron!”.
I went out in the dining room and sat down with the guests to share with them the secrets of their experience. A lady asked me, as a kind of joke, if she could have the recipe – which I gave her, written on a napkin. Weeks passed and I got more and more enquiries from curious guests who wanted me to come out to the dining room; which I gladly did. I noticed that the guests liked to meet the chef, share knowledge and ask all sorts of questions about the recipes and learn the art behind cooking a great sauce.
This was the birth of AVEQIA as an idea: a new kind of restaurant where the guests could cook their food together with the chefs. Social and friendly at the same time as questions like “what happens behind the scenes?” could be answered. Fun cooking and guest contact in the same concept. We had to call it something… and we now call it “active cooking”. Today, active cooking, or interactive cooking has gone from being AVEQIA’s unique business concept, to a niche category with several competitors at different levels and a concept that is becoming well-established in the Swedish market.
The name AVEQIA is inspired by the Romans who were real gourmands; they had for example nine different expressions of “sweet”. In Latin AVE means welcome. Q stands for Quorum which was the venue for the Senate and the minimum number of participants to be effective. I stands for Inspiration which means inspiration. A stands for Accubo which basically means: to the table!
Now that AVEQIA is taking its next step out into the bigger world the vision is to continue to develop, run and refine the category of active cooking, based on the values that have so far driven the concept. For this reason, unlike our competitors, we are going to develop this category by focusing on the power of gastronomy as a connector between people rather than through the food only. That the food is top quality; that our chefs have experience from Michelin star-restaurants; that we were the ones who created the category – they are all factors that allow us the credibility to take it further and enable people to connect powerfully through gastronomy.
Welcome to AVEQIA!
David Berggren, Founder and CEO