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NOMA - Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine - Rene Redzepi Talk

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - The Stage

I first heard of Rene Redzepi and his restaurant Noma early last year, as the gentleman who had won MasterChef in 2009 had undertaken one of his final challenges at Noma in Denmark.

At the time, I thought Redzepi seemed a breath of fresh air, simply because he seemed kind and understated, yet at the same time joyful about food (and his looked incredible).

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Foraged Foods 4

What was even more incredible was that Noma uses only food from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, and employs a network of foragers to achieve as comprehensive a culinary canvas as possible.

Right then, I decided that at the earliest opportunity I would save some pennies and visit Denmark to see for myself.

NOMA Newspaper

And then Redzepi's Noma was awarded first place in the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards this year, toppling Ferran Adria's El Bulli, and I wistfully thought, "Oh, I'm never going to get to eat there now - it'll be booked up for ever".

But both Noma and Rene Redzepi became a little bit more accessible, when on Friday he appeared in London as part of his tour for his first English language book "NOMA - Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine".

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - The Room

A thousand of us gathered in Freemasons' Hall to listen to the Great Dane speak, like vacant youths to a Justin Bieber concert.

He'd brought some of his team with him including Ben Greeno to help him demo some of Noma's latest dishes, as well as his best regular - a guy called Ali who'd been there 14 times in the past year.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Foraged Foods Table

In front of the stage was a table of 41 types of locally foraged food that had been gathered by Miles Irving, which we pored over.

Sealed Noma goody bags were handed out to each of us, and biodynamic carrots from Denmark were passed around for us to munch making us giddy with excitement.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - So close yet so far
So near yet so far

Then Redzepi began to speak and we all fell silent.

That first impression I had of Redzepi being a breath of fresh air was compounded when, rather than coming on like a superstar to a fanfare (which some chefs are wont to do), he mentioned that the last time he had been here Noma had been voted Best Restaurant and then self-deprecatingly read out a complaint letter from one of his diners. Listen to the AudioBoo below.


He then took us through the creative process which drives Noma - a sense of wonder and a willingness to think outside accepted conventions.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Foraged Foods 2

For instance, in the dish Asparagus and Spruce, Redzepi noticed that spruce trees grew right next to a field of asparagus so he wondered whether they'd be equally companionable on a plate.

This led him to tie asparagus spears to small spruce branches and to grill them so the spruce scent infused the asparagus and it turned out to be a happy combination.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Apple DishNoma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Pear Dish

Necessity also drove Redzepi to be imaginative - in Vintage Carrot and Camomile, when fresh produce was scarce, he and his team discovered that ancient, frankly manky-looking carrots could be braised in goat's butter to become almost meatily delicious.

His Sh*tty Potatoes (sic) were a similar innovation springing from a lack of decent produce - tiny, stunted potatoes which could be cooked for mere seconds so they retained their bite and then cooked with cream and a form of milk yuba to become nutty and seductive.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - The Full Spread

Then Redzepi prepared several of these dishes for us to see - giving commentary as the beautiful plates took shape before us. There wasn't a dish which didn't sound, smell and look mind-bogglingly good.

And just as we were beginning to get hungry and lustful, they began to pass round pickled rose petals for us to try (beautiful) and Redzepi asked us to open up our Noma goody bags and to try the treats inside.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Noma Goody Bag and Contents

I'd had hogweed before at The Wild Garlic, so recognised its warm, peppery savouriness. The Douglas Fir was resiny as expected, but also surprisingly similar to kaffir lime leaf - astringent and citrussy.

The melilot was bitter and aniseedy, the sea buckthorn sweet and sour. My favourite was probably the sea purslane which was a little like bladderwrack - succulent, moist and briny.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Sea BuckthornNoma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Hogweed Seeds

Redzepi's enthusiasm was infectious - as he talked us through the different herbs and leaves, you could understand his sheer delight when, for example, he discovered a type of grass near his restaurant which tasted just like coriander, or that the service berry tastes just like tamarind - thus ensuring he could stick to his policy of local foods only whilst expanding the food he could create.

At the end of the talk, Redzepi was led off to do a book-signing for his multitude of avid fans - I on the other hand made a beeline for the stage to try to get a taste of the dishes that he'd made. Alas, the throngs were too great, though I did manage to get hold of one dried scallop sliver which was intensely umami.

Noma - Rene Redzepi Talk - Dried Scallop

The book itself looks brilliant and is definitely on my Christmas wishlist. Whether or not I'd recreate any of the dishes, I cannot say, but I think it's worth buying for a piece of genuine, innocent genius.

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine
by Rene Redzepi
RRP £35


Niamh said…
I really enjoyed it too! It was so tortuous though at times, I really want to eat there.

I am fairly certain that Ali is blogger Food Snob :)

Nice post!
Mat Follas said…
the complaint letter was interesting ... I get ones in similar vein ... and ones hugely praiseworthy too ... its a challenge not to try to please everyone ... I had a look at Noma's tripadviser recently when I'd had a negative posting and saw far worse comments than any we ever get ...

if the feedback is constructive (even if negative) then its always worth listening to but I'm never sure what the writer is trying to achieve when a letter is uniformly negative
Nick Baines said…
I would have loved to have made this, sounds brilliant.

"A thousand of us gathered in Freemasons' Hall to listen to the Great Dane speak..." - this made me smile.

Lovely write up MiMi and cool to have the added dimension of audio too.
meemalee said…
@Niamh - I heard someone say that one day of phonecall bookings could fill Noma for 15 years! As for Food Snob - have we unmasked him??

@Mat Follas - If you please most of the people most of the time, you're doing a great job. At the end of the talk, he read out a complimentary letter - it all balances out.

@Nick Baines - Oh it was. I almost didn't go myself but so glad I did. I may have audio but no pictures of Redzepi sadly - he was too far away :(
PDH said…
He always confuses me, every time I've seen him on the TV he seems like a parody of himself... That might just be me though.
Lovely writeup. You captured the evening really well. I made my friends try various bits of the goody bag throughout the weekend. Their reactions were half the fun :-)

Keith And Lolli said…
Great write up and good photos too. Not able to listen to the audio as I’m at work at the moment but will check out at home. Just skipping through the comments – 15 years worth of reservations? Are you kidding me!? I might have to get the book and make it myself then!! How hard can it be? ;) It’ll gimme something to blog about anyway *haha* I know how obsessive us foodies can get over things like this but sometimes you have to sit back and just say to yourself “it’s JUST FOOD”. Nah, makes no difference, I still REALLY want to go :P
meemalee said…
@Pavel - You're thinking of Crumpleface Goalie. Although my OH thinks that Rene Redzepi would be the perfect name for a clown.

@Wen - Nice to meet you albeit briefly! I shared with the husband :)

@Keith and Lolli - Thank you! I saw another review which described it as the greatest cookbook you'll never cook from ...

I know people that have been. And I hate them all :P
Mat Follas said…
I've been ... it was brilliant !
meemalee said…
@Mat Follas - Oh, shush, Follas, or I'll change "gentleman" in that first sentence to "pickle-hating weirdo".

Those pickled rose petals were lush.
Miss Whiplash said…
I pre-ordered the book on Amazon and then forgot about it - it was awesome surprise when it actually arrived - it's REALLY beautiful (if not so much full of recipes that normal people could actually cook).
I'm very jealous of your talk.
Su-Lin said…
Ack, it must be near impossible to get a booking now. I went to Copenhagen in 2006, I think, and looked up where to eat. Even back then it was considered the best place in the city but it already had two stars and was too expensive for a poor student like me. Boo hoo hoo!

Fantastic post! (wipes away tears)
The Grubworm said…
This sounds like an interesting, intriguing talk. My boss recently came back from Noma and every time he tried to describe the dishes he ended up laughing and almost giving up, just shaking his head and saying how tasty they were. Sign of a great cook.

Now I, also, really want to go.

And I had no idea douglas fir was edible.
meemalee said…
@Miss Whiplash - What a nice surprise! I only flicked through the book, but the snowman dessert had me smiling!

@Su-Lin - I keep checking but it's booked up till the end of time :(

@The Grubworm - Get in line, son :)