Culinary Inventor: René Redzepi

Noma's Locally Minded, World Renowned Danish Chef Straight Talks to Delicious Days

René Redzepi has been voted the best chef in the world, but the path that led him to this lofty title was chosen on a whim. At the age of 15, unsure of what direction to take with his studies, Redzepi simply followed a friend to restaurant trade school. A passion—and talent—was discovered: the young chef went on to train under Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, and in 2003 opened his restaurant Noma on the banks of the New Harbour in Copenhagen. On behalf of NOWNESS, food journalists Oliver Seidel and Nicole Stich, authors of the wildly popular blog Delicious Days, traveled to Copenhagen and spoke with the young Danish chef.

How is it possible to maintain such a high standard, once you have accomplished everything as a chef?

What does it mean to have accomplished something? Does it mean you have finished your work, because a magazine or an institution says that you have arrived at absolute perfection? I don’t feel that whatsoever. We may have been voted the so-called best restaurant in the world, but for me our work is not done. We have not yet finished our journey discovering the product range and all the people that grow great things; this is a process that continues for years.

How would you describe new Nordic cuisine (the term often given to the style of food at Noma)?

First of all I hate the term, I hate that it got invented, I hate the way that the whole industry is the first to embrace it and kind of ridicule it. What we do is a regional European cuisine––that’s it. Our main mission at the restaurant, and what I tell the staff when they leave here, is to give your guests a sense of time and place.

What is your favorite way to research dishes?

Books, but not so much cookbooks—more cultural books. Books are one of the most underestimated items in the past decade. Obviously you can find very good information and articles on the internet, but books give you a much better understanding.

What are the consequences of becoming number one on the S.Pellegrino list? Did you experience a change in guests?

No. Rather, more happy guests. Everybody said, “Now you’re only going to get the people with the private jets," but this hasn’t happened. I would say that there are more enthusiastic, open-minded guests. We can put anything we want on the menu; people are here to try, not to feel full. And that’s a gift. It’s so fantastic that we have reached that stage.

With the industry constantly seeking new trends, what’s next? Increased focus on the local/sustainability trend?

I think it will go deeper into that and focus on more specific subjects. Vegetarian cuisine will grow a lot, from a hippie style, bad cuisine, with tofu burgers and incense, meat dishes without meat, to just cooking vegetable dishes. People are going to open up to the diversity of vegetables, the diversity of flavor.

How do you keep your energy levels so high?

In restaurants like this, where people come for the innovation, for the creativity, it’s so hard, it really is. People are making shit money, they work all the time, but there is a sense of achievement, of pushing boundaries and of shaping things. The whole sensation of giving to people is quite unique and deeply satisfying.

Is the recipe development process purely methodical?

It can be many ways. One of our techniques is: if you find an ingredient you want to combine with a given dish, start by looking at what’s in its natural environment. We have a strawberry dessert. As everybody knows, where strawberries grow you need hay because of the water, so if it rains, the soil doesn’t ricochet back up and it also keeps the weeds down. But one of the few weeds that grow through is chamomile. So we made a dish of chamomile, hay and strawberries. 

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