Masterchef S03 ep2 : Rene Redzepi, Restaurant NORMA, [Copenhagen]
Interview with Rene Redzepi
Noma is best known for its fanatical approach to foraging but there is much more to this ground-breaking restaurant than the mere picking of Mother Nature's pocket. It's the entire package, from its ingredient ingenuity to flawless execution, that makes it a beacon of excellence and which leads to an emotive, intense, liberating way of eating, unlike any other. Many have copied chef Rene Redzepi's approach, most have failed. For the best in class, Noma really is the number one place to go.
First of all I am a child of two different cultures, my mother is Danish , my father is Macedonian, my
mother is Christian my father is Muslim. When I grew up, 5 – 6 months of the year all through my
childhood I was there. You live in a small village, life is different. When you were supposed to have
chicken, you bought a chicken that had just had its head chopped off. You wanted eggs, you collected
the eggs. If you wanted butter, you had to wait for the aunt to milk the cow – I was watching it .
Ever since I started I have always known that this was the field, the trade I would always be in, but
what really made it for me was that on the second day of school where we were asked to choose a
recipe and then we had to cook it, and we would be judged on appearance and taste. This was the first
time, in my short young life that I had to ask myself "what is that I really like?", why did I choose this
particular recipe how should I dress it, why, why, why? There were all these whys and that is the
beginning of it, and now I am 32 [years old] almost so 17 years has passed.
For me food is something that is alive, and it changes all the time. It is always new and you cook
something and it gets eaten and then you just have to cook it again and that happens say 70 times or
how many dishes people eat a day! It is an always challenging never ending story.
I have never had that revealing experience where I see what I am doing as art. I really haven’t. Since
my first experience about this small competition, ever since then I have felt this connection to this
trade, to cooking food and to being in touch with nature and talking to my producers and living in the
seasons and waking up in the morning and feeling how today is 2 degrees warmer. Perhaps tomorrow
we will have the first sea urchin come in or the first wild plant the first wild garlic . It has been one long
journey that is still not finished you know.
Because I have this completely different background, I am not completely Danish. It is much easier for
people from the outside to come in and see some qualities that local people don’t see because they
are restricted by their own ideas and their own way of thinking. Just by that I have an advantage and
then there are my travels. I have travelled throughout the world and have worked at some of the great
places, and with me, I took from those places, a sense of freedom.
The tradition we have of cuisine in Denmark doesn’t match with the cuisine we do today because the
traditional cuisine was very heavy, cooked for hours, involved humungous amounts of fat, butter
cream…. Back I mean 100 years, 200 years, 1000 years ago, people were hunter-gatherers. They lived
to survive. You had to have a rich diet in order to survive these extreme cold winters. Winters as such,
don’t exist anymore. This past January we had an average of 8degrees in Copenhagen, so cuisine also
changes. Today for me, when I look at the cuisine that we do, I try to think of what it is .. I first of all
look at the nature, I see a vast big region where there are only 25 million people living in this region so
the starting point of our cuisine is how do you transform this purity this neutrality onto a plate?
It seems in many ways we have gone back to square one. The world has been open this last 20 years
and you have just taken from here and from there and from everywhere and something got lost in
between. Now people are searching back and trying to define themselves again. And for me
personally, to setting up some boundaries is what made this cuisine you know because I told myself ;
“to here and no further!” I will use these products when there is nothing. When the product range is
the smallest and most boring, I still have to use it. I just have to think myself out of it. And this is what
we have been doing for 5 ½ years and I would say especially in the last year and a half, we have found
a format where I think that something new is coming out and we found a way of working that no
longer feels like holding you but something that sets you free in a way.
On one hand you want to serve long menus and people should eat for hours but on the other hand
the majority of people don’t want that anymore. They are sick and tired of it, sitting down. What I
think what people are most tired of, is this pretentious feeling of the so-called great restaurants. The
time is running out for those type of restaurants… Of course there should always be a couple of them
in Paris because there are the people for it, but great cuisine doesn’t necessarily have to be served in a
palace environment with 20 chefs.
This is something that you see in the whole society. We have had 10 years of extreme innovation –
avant, avant, avant you know… a new way to jell the jell, and then a new way to jell the jell that was
jelled. Before that, I think it was a very luxurious kitchen, you know a truffle in puff pastry, a piece of
sole covered in caviar and now it seems that we are going into a more natural state. People want food.
The menu, the dishes are set up in Noma the way I like to eat. I like to eat a lot of vegetables, I like to
eat fish, shell fish, I want to eat light, I want to feel comfortable afterwards. The flavor that goes
throughout all the dishes is kind of a lush juiciness in your mouth – that is what I think I would like to
have present in all dishes.
If you take a ripe peach and you bite into it and I has the perfect acidity, sweetness and juiciness you
know. Imagine if you ate a piece of turbot and that happens. The crunch. The texture. Except that it is
just turbot with vegetables – it melts in your mouth. It has the right amount of juiciness …… and then
to explain how the dishes comes through I would say it is much more [Alain] Passard [L'Arpege Paris]
than [Pierre] Gagniere [Gagniere, Paris] for sure. The first inspiration is, without sounding like a tape
recorder or a record, it is what is in season, what your farmer tells you what is great right now, and
this will be great in two weeks, that is how I plan the menus . You get a given product that you
headline in a menu in a dish, then you try to surround it with ideas or concepts or ways of thinking or
a light way of cooking. One of the ideas that we used a lot in our restaurant is that you take a given
product, it could be a piece of hare for instance and you surround it with what is in its natural
surroundings – snails, mushrooms, birch sap, wild plants and then you make a dish of that or another
inspiration can be a colour. We can take a stand point where we say we have a red lobster, what shall
we serve with it?
Inspirational wise, some people I have never met or ever worked at but followed throughout my
career is Michel Bras. He has such a personal signature on what he does there are no doubts or
questions when you see some of his stuff, his food, that this is the man. And I must include Passard.
He has been to the restaurant twice so I have met him there, but I have never been to his restaurant
except for that I have talked to him and I have followed him, and I quite like him. Also I like Thomas
Keller a lot and also a guy like Feran Andria, even though compared to the people I have just
mentioned he seems the most "out there"… Feran Andria and the restaurant El Buli stands for the
ultimate in freedom; go for what you believe in and never look back. It is just extreme and in many
ways for me , being there for a season is one of the major reasons why five years later Noma gets
opened with the idea that it had because five years ago opening a restaurant focusing on Nordic food
in Denmark everybody thought was a joke you know. They told me why do you want to ruin your
career? You have just spent several years working abroad learning all these things. Why don’t you just
take a little of every place and just mix it up and you know you will have a success.
I worked with Sommers I worked at El Buli and my first experience abroad was at Montpellier at the
Pousel brothers Le Jar????and those are the three places that stood out. The last place I worked at was
at the French Laundry and that was in 2000
When I talk to my colleagues that I meet here from all over the world, I can understand and see that
the fight that we have going on in Scandinavia is a big and long one: about Cuisine, and the products
and so on and so on. You know it is difficult.
The most funny thing that has ever happened to me in my professional career, and when I have a bad
day I think about this, it was one particular email that was sent around to a lot of chefs where it said
“Hey do you hear that Renee is going to open a Nordic restaurant? He decided to name it the Seal
Fucker". And then everyone emailed ha ha! It just showed that people had no confidence in the idea,
people did not believe in it whatsoever – this was supposed to be the 24 hour fly – and that is funny.
Now 5 years later, that is funny.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Rene Redzepi, Restaurant NORMA, [Copenhagen]