I went to Copenhagen for lunch at Noma, just voted the best restaurant in the world, and discovered a new kind of Nordic cuisineby Wendell Steavenson / August 25, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
After my lunch at Noma, feeling happy, full and slightly awestruck, I found the chef, Rene Redzepi, sitting on the deck of his houseboat-experimental kitchen overlooking Copenhagen harbour. The sea was pewter, the sky sifted thunderheads incipient with rain. Diminutive, young, a little weary, he pushed a flop of dark hair out of his eyes, shook my hand and politely asked how my lunch had been.
“It was amazing.” I told him, “It was like going for a walk along the Danish coast, coming across a dappled glade, a rock pool, a patch of pine forest, a stony cove—and eating it.”
Together with his business partner Claus Meyer, Redzepi has forged a new concept of Nordic cuisine. Their restaurant, Noma, has just been voted the best in the world at the San Pellegrino awards. Redzepi, who is only 32, told me he never wanted a “white tablecloth” kind of establishment. When Meyer showed him the space, in an old salt warehouse on the abandoned wharves of the neighbourhood of Christianshavn, he fell in love with the wood beams and the Baltic view. Before opening in 2004, they embarked on a grand tour in search of ideas: Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Sweden, Lapland. Only Scandinavian produce is used in the restaurant: no tomatoes, no olive oil, no far-travelled tuna, and no luxuries like foie gras or caviar. The limitations of the thin northern terroir have led to a deeper understanding of ingredients and their possibilities.
I asked Redzepi when he first felt a new dish had come together. “When we did the tartar,” he said. I’d had the beef tartar as part of the 12-course tasting menu. It came on a slate slab, sliced into soft fragments between a hache and carpaccio, with a thatch of tucked-in sorrel leaves. Told to eat with our fingers, we pulled at it like delicate Vikings, swabbing the meat through swathes of tarragon smoosh. “When the first customer got it you could see it changed the way people experienced the dish,” he recalled.