Emma Bengtsson grew up in Falkenberg, a small fishing village with just under 30,000 residents located on Sweden’s west coast about 5 hours from the country’s capital city of Stockholm. Growing up, she experienced her mother’s homemade dishes nightly and, on the weekends and holidays, would visit her grandmother a couple hours away where the family was fed a lot and then some.
Inspired by her grandmother as a result of those visits, Emma started backing simple things like cookies and brownies when she was five. By the time she turned 13, she was taking cooking classes in addition to gymnastics, horseback riding, and visiting shooting ranges with her father.
Over the course of the next three years she learned everything from how to cook pastry dish to savory main course to hotel management and even bartending. During her third and final year of school, at just 17 years old, she landed a six month internship at the only two Michelin starred restaurant in Sweden at the time, Edsbacka Krog. It was during her internship in 1999 that she fell in love with restaurant kitchens and decided to give up her plans to join the military.
After graduating culinary school in 2000, Emma continued to work as the pastry chef at Edsbacka Krog all the way up until 2003.
In August 2010 at 29 years old, Emma moved to New York City after successfully applying for a one year work visa. Not knowing the layout of Manhattan, she wound up commuting to and from New Jersey into the city for the first two weeks until finding her bearings.
Two years later in the fall of 2012, Aquavit was awarded a Michelin star for the first time.
Six months after that in the spring of 2013, Jernmark resigned to move back to Sweden. Swahn offered Emma his position and she agreed under the pretense that it was until the restaurant recruited a new executive chef. That October, Aquavit was awarded a second Michelin star, making Bengtsson the first Swedish chef to be awarded two Michelin stars, which her and the restaurant have retained every year since, and the 2nd female chef in the U.S. to achieve the feat.
In 2016 in partnership with Swahn, Bengtsson opened a 2nd, and much larger Aquavit, in London. Over double the size of the original, the dishes were less complicated and a bit simpler than the New York City kitchens creations in order to manage the sheer size of the dining room.
Two years later at the beginning of 2018, Bengsston received her first of three consecutive James Beard Award best chef New York City and State semifinalist nominations. Later that same year at the Best Chef Awards in Milan, Bengtsson was named the year’s best Lady Chef. While an honor, the misnomer of lady chef is seen by Bengtsson and most other women executive chefs as degrading due to it highlighting the differences in gender rather than the differences in their skillset.
In July 2019, Aquavit was closed for four months so a series of renovations and updates could be completed including the installation of a new casual lounger area and a fully exposed glassed in kitchen.
At the beginning of August 2021 it was announced the Bengtsson would be one of ten chefs cooking the all plant based menu for guests at the annual Met Gala on September 13th, 2021.
Awards & Press
- Michelin 2 Stars