A Nordic feast of spring in 'Noma'
Chef René Redzepi strives to revive and reinvent the distinctive tastes of Nordic cuisine through his restaurant 'Noma' and cookbook of the same name.
The last of the snow from the winter is finally melting in the woods near my house, north of Boston. Spring is in the air, and when I walk my dog on a nearby country road that runs between two lakes, I can see all manner of fresh life peeking up from the ground.Skip to next paragraph
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If I knew what to look for, I would certainly see the tender beginnings of numerous edible species of plants. After reading "Noma" by René Redzepi I am convinced I am missing a harvest feast of fresh, local flavors at my feet.
Redzepi is a legend in the international food world, currently serving as head chef of Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant he co-founded in 2003 at the age of 25. Noma, with its austere decor and stylized dishes, strives to revive and reinvent Nordic cuisine with "a certain purity, an essential simplicity" with the region's distinctive flavors. The restaurant is so in demand that it takes reservations four months in advance only and has earned such accolades as being named one of S. Pellegrino's “The World's 50 Best Restaurants" in 2010, among others.
This time of year finds Redzepi and his kitchen staff out in the parks and woods in and around Copenhagen, foraging for wild mushrooms, berries, shoots, and other delicacies of the season. At Noma they are rendered into fantastically named dishes such as “Bouillon of Steamed Birchwood, Chanterelles and Fresh Hazelnut” or “Musk Ox, Fresh Young Garlic, Milk Skin and Carmelized Garlic.”
The restaurant – and now its cookbook – has inspired something of a movement among other Nordic chefs to connect to the living heart of the region’s land- and sea-scapes through an intimate attention to the seasons.
"Noma," the cookbook, features nearly 100 recipes, many of which are likely to be well beyond the abilities of the average home cook to prepare, much less to even find the rare ingredients. There is even a note in the back of the book alerting readers to the challenges posited by Noma's technique, equipment, and experience. But in a way, that is almost beside the point.
This cookbook is a feast for the eyes, an adventure book even, that transports readers to another time and place. Inside its front cover is a foldout, hand-drawn map of the Nordic region. It traces Redzepi’s 2003 voyage to the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland in search of ingredient suppliers and Scandinavian furnishings for his restaurant, such as simple wooden chairs with seats of leather, draped with sheepskins.
At its core, "Noma" is a celebration of the relationships between a difficult, beautiful land and the people who have survived and thrived there. In extracts from a diary kept during his 2003 trip, as well as in individual paeans to some of his most important suppliers, Redzepi meditates at length on the critical importance of time and space; “time” being the nuances of seasonal changes in the availability of ingredients, and “space” being the specific microclimates, soil conditions, and other factors that contribute to things being exactly and spectacularly what they are. The other factor he emphasizes is commitment to excellence – a key “ingredient” he identifies in all of his suppliers, who are dedicated farmers, foragers, and fishermen.
Ultimately, this beautiful book will call a reader to become aware of one's own environment, to learn as much as possible about the landscape and native plants, as well as the history and culture of the food that springs up beneath our soles.