A Nordic cuisine becomes haute cuisine · 2016-05-11 · 1@ |SUMMER 2016 Scandinavian PreSS Scandinavian PreSS | SUMMER 2016 1# Nordic cuisine becomes haute cuisine Nordic cuisine - [PDF Document] (2024)

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Nordic cuisine becomes haute cuisineNordic cuisine becomes haute cuisineBy John BechtelFreelance food and travel writer

t 38 years of age, René Redzepi is the leading influence in global gastronomy and the culinary arts. He is also an accidental chef. When he was finishing ninth grade, his homeroom teacher informed him there was no point in continuing in an academic curriculum and encouraged him to switch to a vocational school and begin an apprenticeship in the trades. He chose culinary school for the same reason many teenagers join the army or go in a particular direction that changes their life forever—a close friend was going to culinary school, so he would, too.

His Macedonian father was the cook at home, and he remembered his father’s spicy chicken, which began by going out back and fetching a live chicken. René and his friend cooked a chicken, and instead of pouring the sauce over the chicken, put it in a separate container between the chicken and the rice. Arranged just so, they won first place in presentation, and second in flavor.

René’s Danish mother cleaned for a living in Copenhagen, and his father was a Macedonian-Albanian Muslim taxi driver. When they went to stay in Macedonia four months every summer, there were eight of them in one room.

After dinner, they carried the table out and slept on the floor. The mode of transportation was horseback or on foot, and there was no refrigerator.

So, how is it that this autodidact is written about in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker magazine, featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain, and his 44-seat restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, with a staff of 70 from about 20 countries (it changes with turnover), has a backlog of 1,000 reservation requests every Saturday night, and gets eight applications a day from chefs and others who want to intern in his restaurant? (Continued on page 14)


Noma’s innovative owner and chef René Redzpeti. Chef René, second from right, inspects serving presentation. Noma’s talented staff prepares exotic Nordic cuisine.



: W






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(Continued from page 12)

Culinary uniformityFresh out of culinary school,

René began a peripatetic round of restaurants where he interned and learned from those more experienced, the highlight of these being his time with Ferran Adria, who was making magic in his Catalonian restaurant, “elBulli’. To hear René tell the story, he ate a meal at elBulli and went directly to Adria and asked permission to work there. Adria agreed and René stayed there for a season, before moving on to Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” in Napa Valley. He was impressed with Keller’s emphasis on local sourcing of ingredients. With the Keller indoctrination behind him, René was distressed at his next port of call back in Copenhagen, where he was cooking what was being billed as “Scandinavian French”, when in fact, they were merely using some local ingredients and following a French recipe. His years of apprenticeship had freed him from all restraints; culinary excellence did not require foie gras or French truffles. Excellence was entirely his to create.

René reasoned, just because you’re using local produce doesn’t make the end result local cuisine. What part of the meal was Scandinavian, and what part was French? Then he went deeper still, as in, what distinguishes the cuisine of a region? So young René was looking for culinary identity. What is Nordic food? Indeed, what is food? If Nordic cuisine could be pinned down, what would it look like on a plate? The deeper he went into it, the more complex the answers became. He discovered there is huge uniformity in the cuisine of modern restaurants. How far back in history does one have to go before your cuisine can be called “authentic?” Few in the world of cooking realize how thoroughly we are defined by our labels.

Time and placeWhen the call came from an investor

to open his own restaurant, it was named Noma, an acronym for Nordisk Mad, or Nordic Food. However, even before it had its name, the three

partners went on a 17-day tour of the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. They were looking for inspiration and suppliers for what was to become the first fine-dining restaurant with a North Atlantic menu. René wanted his customers to know they were eating something that was distinctly and clearly from a Nordic region, and even further, he wanted them to know from their plate what season of the year it was. This was the first of his two major discoveries at Noma.

At the time, the reputation of Danish cuisine was at an all-time low, and everyone looked to the south and the Mediterranean for good food. Pasta had just replaced the potato as the favorite menu item in Denmark. In fact, Danish cuisine was considered an oxymoron.

When Noma opened in November, 2003, it had a total staff of nine or ten, and at a busy lunch they might have served ten guests. There were three waiters and one stagiaire (apprentice) in the front of the house, and three chefs and two apprentices in the kitchen, laboring over four gas burners.

The Holy Grail for Redzepi was to identify and harvest the resources indigenous to the colder northern climes from Finland to Greenland.

Individual tastes vary and are usually affected by associations with events and feelings. René wanted his guests to reimagine the food products

of the north as a common culture of a people who had been primarily hard working farmers and fishermen—a people who stoically accepted their fate and their fare as the only one possible to them: rye grains, smoked fish, fermentation and pickling, and salt. His goal was to take the old and imbue it through experimentation and the application of modern science, with new flavors to surprise and delight his customers.

Noma’s menu could not merely be about food on a plate. With every menu item, there was a primary ingredient, and everything else that was put on that plate had to contribute a supporting role related to the main event. Every accessory had to contribute to the story, and had to be true to the time and the place of that story. If the main actor of the food event was wild boar, what was added to the plate had to be about what the boar lived on or among, in this case corn and berries.

Within five years, a research foundation was formed, called the Nordic Food Lab, which was located on a houseboat across the quay from the Noma. An American chef with a degree in English literature was hired to preside over a test kitchen.

René was on a mission and his kitchen was “an open frame of mind and a passion for learning”. He was to lead the path away from Danish

traditional cuisine, which at the time was gravy, potatoes and nondescript burgers.

As with any artist, he wanted to create a landscape, a link between the land and the people, between nature and food, between time and place; and their canvas was the plate.

They learned to do this in two ways. First, by physically exploring the wild landscape within a radius of about 60 miles from the restaurant, connecting themselves to the seasons and the soil.

As with much of the Noma story, even the food became, in many ways, an extension, or outgrowth of the mindset of its chef/owner. Apparently lacking the gigantic ego of many world famous chefs, René is more likely to be found wearing jeans and worn sneakers and riding his bike than to be dressed conspicuously in owner finery. When it comes to food, he combines scientific inquiry and childlike playfulness and innocent joy in the discovery of new palettes of flavors, looking for new ways to combine tastes, and always seeking to shorten the time between soil and the plate.

ForagingForaging is an old word that

has received cult status within the culinary world. It is an outgrowth of sustainability; that restaurants should

(Continued on page 16)

Fried reindeer moss salad is authentic Nordic cuisine on Noma’s menu.

Exotic pickled and smoked quail eggs nest atop a bowl of hay.

Noma’s roast duck presented to diners on a bed of hay.

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(Continued from page 15)

locally source their ingredients, support and buy from the farming community, and provide fresher food products for their patrons.

Foraging is something our ancient forebear hunters and gatherers did, as they followed the food source. Without any means of preserving food, they had no choice but to stay close to their food. Anyone knows that the best-tasting corn was harvested this morning.

But how many of us know what food supplies lie naturally and easily within our grasp in the communities where we live? How many food sources exist that are virtually unknown to us, but that grow right under our noses?

René decided to find these things out for himself. He says foraging is treasure hunting, and when he began foraging in Denmark, he bought and read botanical guide books, of which his favorite was a Swedish Army survival book teaching soldiers how to survive in the wild. By doing this, he says he is so connected to the sea and soil he now experiences the world through food.

So important is foraging to his vision of a Nordic cuisine, René insists that new recruits get broken in at the seashore or in the forest, down on their knees, with their hands in the dirt. He says that’s when the transformation begins.

René loves mushrooms. There are two hundred edible varieties in Denmark. He harvests cabbages sprouting from rotten seaweed, and this phenomenon alerted him to the variety of nutrition available through nature’s processes of decay. There are always half a dozen or more foraged foods on a Noma daily menu. All of these have to be gathered before the onset of winter, and they will typically have over a ton of such foods in storage by late fall. While many restaurants pay lip service to sustainability and local sourcing, they are often known to cheat when they come up short. Industry insiders say “not so,” with René.

The fermentation labThe second major discovery that

contributed to Noma’s success was its fermentation lab and experimental

kitchen wherein the Noma team fashions the building blocks of their cuisine. It is here that they explore the creativity/scientific divide. They brainstorm huge new lists of possible vinegar flavors. This is an experimental kitchen—there can be no fears of failure. Noma uses the shotgun approach to ideas. They receive 20-to-30 ideas for new flavors of vinegar every day. Most of them fail the first test of deliciousness. Those that pass the first test are then subjected to a second round of scrutiny for their desirability and refinement. Most of their new creations sprout from the creative intuition of experienced chefs for new tastes, who spend their entire lives cultivating this skill. This, with scientific knowledge and accurate measurement, makes for successful new combinations.

The concept of terroir applied to both food and beverage

The style of Noma cuisine is elegant and light, with clean, fresh, and stringent flavors. Wines go best with Noma cuisine, and wines from cooler appellations are preferred for their high acidity, great minerality, and an elegant structure. French wines that meet these specifications are from Champagne, Loire, Savoie, Jura, Beaujolais and Burgundy. Also a few from Rhone and Alsace. They also stock a few wines from Germany, Austria, and Northern Italy. No wines are served from warmer climates, including Australia and Chile. No over-extracted wines or wines characterized by new oak. As the sommelier from a competing restaurant said “In the long run, elegance will defeat power.”

A few beers are available, including a couple of Noma’s own creation. They do not serve Nordic beers just because they are Nordic. In general beer is considered too clumsy a beverage to accompany their cuisine.

Simple wines, organically produced, and with a minimum of manipulation, on the vine, in the lab, or in the cask are preferred. This permits the wine to express its natural inherent potential.

The basic idea behind both the food and beverages served at Noma is that they seek the shortest possible distance between nature and the guest, between the origin of the food and the plate, between the vine and the glass. This brings about the undisturbed, the clean,

and the unique. As one guest observed, tongue in cheek: “At Noma you get lumpy wine.”

Terroir is the ultimate standard of quality at Noma; that there can be no disconnect between a product and the soil it came from. Both a tree and a mushroom belong to an ecosystem; and climate, growing season, quality of

soil, and moisture all impact the taste experience at the table. At Noma you enter and participate in the ecosystem experience.

What is food?When René and his partners visited Greenland, they noticed the reindeer apparently eating snow. They weren’t. They were eating moss beneath the snow. And yes, it is edible. Noma deep-fries it, like potato chips, and it has a mushroomy taste. Moss growing from the ground up has the taste and texture of noodles.

Noma serves many exotic dishes, including a hay parfait; a long infusion of cream and toasted hay, into which yarrow, nasturtium, camomile jelly, egg, and sorrel and camomile juice are then blended.

Nordic bugsYour chef at Noma may sprinkle your sorbet with live ants. Snacks composed of crushed black wood ants taste lemony, and may be served with pickled rose hips and fermented cricket, and all of this is part of a strategy to figure out what is food, and what isn’t. René isn’t trying to shock his guests, but simply to teach that nutrition can come in surprising packages.

Other Noma surprisesThe restaurant emphasizes simplicity and lack of pretension. The entire staff greets you at the door, not by a butler-esque caricature in formal attire. The chefs themselves come to

the table to serve, because it breaks down the barrier between the customer and the kitchen. Sometimes patrons are instructed in cooking their own meals at the table. Hay, shells, rocks, twigs, pine and juniper all become kitchen tools. Guests are invited, indeed, often compelled, to eat some dishes with their fingers. And instead of the carefully sculpted and sharply delineated combinations on the usual plate of fine dining, the presentations at Noma often resemble bedhead disarray, just as it would appear in nature.

English has become a common culinary language, and although the staff comes from almost two dozen different countries, English is the language spoken at the table. There are no table cloths, and the overall effect of the impressive oak everywhere in evidence is rugged, not rustic.

The price too can be a surprise. It falls into the category of “if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it”. For some, it is the outstanding culinary event of a lifetime, and there are others who fly into Copenhagen in their private jets for lunch or dinner at Noma. With wine accompaniment, the price is about $450 US per person. There are smaller tables, and there are shared tables for four-to-16 persons.

The smaller tables must be reserved three months in advance.

The last surprise is that the restaurant will be closing at the end of this year, so make your reservations quickly if you want to be one of the last patrons of Noma. If you cannot work that into your pre-Christmas schedule, you will want to know that René Redzepi has not quit or fallen on hard times. He intends to reopen in 2017 in a new location, which will include an entire urban farm where he will grow most of his raw materials to be served in a new restaurant and a larger R&D (Research and Development) facility.

Virtually all who have experienced Noma firsthand give it very high grades for originality, organization, education, and relentless focus on quality of ingredients and service.

Using local ingredients—even in the dead of winter—is one of the hallmarks of Nordic cuisine.

Bone marrow and edible flowers are popular items on the Noma menu.Another exotic offering: shrimp with crushed black ants.

A Nordic cuisine becomes haute cuisine · 2016-05-11 · 1@ |SUMMER 2016 Scandinavian PreSS Scandinavian PreSS | SUMMER 2016 1# Nordic cuisine becomes haute cuisine Nordic cuisine - [PDF Document] (2024)


What 3 things can describe Nordic cuisine? ›

– The rich flavours, the freshness, and the simplicity of our dishes, made from the best organic ingredients. Nordic dishes are generally not too complicated and most people love them because the individual flavours and ingredients can be recognised and enjoyed for what they are.

What country is Nordic cuisine? ›

While Scandinavian cuisine varies across countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, there are some common ingredients and spices that are frequently used: Fish and Seafood: Given the proximity to the sea, fish and seafood play a significant role in Scandinavian cuisine.

What country is known for haute cuisine? ›

Early history

Trained kitchen staff was essential to the birth of haute cuisine in France, which was organized at the turn of the 20th century by August Escoffier into the brigade de cuisine.

What is Scandinavian cuisine and what is it known for? ›

Generally, though, this is a hearty cuisine based on fresh, local ingredients. While Scandinavian cuisine comes with plenty of traditional dishes that immediately spring to mind—gravlax, cinnamon buns, waffles, reindeer, and aquavit—there's a sophisticated food movement now in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

What is the new Nordic cuisine? ›

New Nordic Food is food produced with care and with a focus on taste and diversity, forgotten varieties and breeds, old processing methods and new ideas in the kitchen.

What is Norway's most famous food? ›

In fact, reindeer is among the dishes regularly referenced as one of Norway's local delicacies. Lamb is also frequently included in Norwegian cuisine. Fårikal, a dish made up of boiled mutton and cabbage served with boiled potatoes, is very popular in the country and has been voted the national dish twice.

What are the 4 Nordic countries? ›

The Nordic Region consists of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, as well as the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Åland. You can find useful information about the Nordic Region and each of its countries here.

Are eggs part of Nordic diet? ›

Lean meats, such as skinless poultry, and eggs are acceptable in moderation, although most Nordic Diet proteins are derived from fish and plant alternatives, such as legumes, nuts, and seeds.

What is Nordic famous for? ›

The Nordic countries are famous for their folk culture, including expressions such as music and dance, crafts, farming, folk architecture, costumes, fairytales, folklore and festivals.

Which country has the most underrated cuisine? ›

Sri Lanka, Colombia, Philippines: The most underrated countries for food.

What country has the best cuisine? ›

  • Italy. #1 in Has great food. #15 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Spain. #2 in Has great food. #17 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Mexico. #3 in Has great food. #33 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • France. #4 in Has great food. ...
  • Greece. #5 in Has great food. ...
  • Thailand. #6 in Has great food. ...
  • Turkey. #7 in Has great food. ...
  • Portugal. #8 in Has great food.

Why is Scandinavian food so good? ›

Nordic food is very much about simplicity, where the main ingredients (the type of fish or meat) flavour the dish. "Because the food is very pure, the quality of the ingredients need to be of a good standard. It's never cheap to eat well, but because the dishes are simple it's not expensive.

What is the most popular food in Scandinavia? ›

Meatballs. Thanks to a certain Swedish furniture company meatballs (köttbullar) are perhaps the best known of any individual Scandinavian dish. They are traditionally made with a combination of ground beef and pork, alongside spices including nutmeg and cardamom.

How would you describe Nordic style? ›

Scandinavian style embraces simple white walls, large mirrors and cozy textiles that give off a relaxing and inviting vibe. For a Scandinavian-style interior, “hygge” is the word — layered fabrics, glass furniture, clean lines and textures create the perfect cozy Scandinavian look.

What defines Nordic features? ›

adjective. of, relating to, or characteristic of a Germanic people of northern European origin, exemplified by the Scandinavians. having or suggesting the physical characteristics associated with these people, typically tall stature, blond hair, blue eyes, and elongated head.

What is the description of Nordic countries? ›

The Nordic countries are just to the west of Russia, and they rest over much of central Europe, north of countries such as Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states. The Nordic countries are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. They are located in north-central Europe.

What is Nordic culture known for? ›

The Nordic countries are famous for their folk culture, including expressions such as music and dance, crafts, farming, folk architecture, costumes, fairytales, folklore and festivals. The Nordic countries were forerunners in creation of open-air museums to commemorate the rural cultural expressions.

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