When a restaurant is unexpectedly named the best in the world, it’s no surprise to see a cookbook from that restaurant soon hit bookshelves.
But NOMA ($49.95, Phaidon), the coffee-table paean to chef Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen Denmark, restaurant, is no rush job thrown together after the regionally sourced restaurant toppled better-known names off the “world’s best” list this year. The hefty book had been in the work for years, Redzepi said at a Seattle appearance last week. In fact, it had taken 18 months just to shoot the full-page photographs that dominate the book: bold close-ups of ingredients like flowering wood sorrel and hay ash, plated dishes such as “Milk Skin and Salsify, Rapeseed, and Truffle Puree." As NOMA’s cuisine is entirely seasonal, it took a year just to work through the menu, with some catch-up for dishes that hadn’t worked the first time around. The photos were also entirely shot on film, Redzepi said, to provide a texture and warmth he couldn’t get from digital images.
The award wasn’t entirely unconnected from the book, he said. The book helped to open up North America to him. Kim Ricketts, who organized Redzepi’s visit as part of her “Cooks and Books” event series in Seattle, said publisher Phaidon had been excited about the book for some time. But Redzepi “was only on my radar a little bit” at first, she said. Then, “like when you learn a new word, you keep on hearing it everywhere.”
"The rest of the world was ahead of us in clamoring about him [and] NOMA – he had 1,200 people come hear him at the Opera House in Sydney!” Ricketts said.
A limited North American tour was added to the book’s schedule after Redzepi “achieved the unthinkable” with that No. 1 spot. Then, an exhaustive New York Times article by former restaurant critic Frank Bruni brought NOMA closer to becoming a household – at least, in houses of gastronomy – name.
It’s hard to call the lovely book a cookbook, even though it’s packed with recipes. Few readers would have access to the ingredients that make NOMA's cuisine so unique – bulrushes, sea buckthorn, rowan shoots, reindeer – even assuming they were equipped with the required Thermomix blender, Pacojet freezer, immersion circulator, and other specialized kitchen tools.
Still, the recipes, essays, and photographs make for an involving window into a restaurant most of us will never see. It’s lucky that the vagaries of a “Top 50” list opened its pages up to us.
The strange thing, as Redzepi pointed out to the Seattle group, is that NOMA was no stranger to that best-of list. It had previously ranked No. 3 in the world. Should two last steps have made so much of a difference?
Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.