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COPENHAGEN — “People aren’t proud enough of their own products and culinary traditions,” says Rene Redzepi, the chef at Noma who garnered his first Michelin star in March. Redzepi, 27, is speaking of the concept behind his one-year-old eatery, which he describes as part of a larger mission to energize and redefine Scandinavian cuisine.
Located in a waterfront hangar here, the stylish restaurant has exposed ceilings, wood floors and fur throws and uses ingredients exclusively from Nordic countries. That translates into a menu that includes lobster and horse mussels from the Faeroe Islands, musk ox and curds from Iceland, pine sprouts from Sweden and Danish-grown pears.
“Sometimes it would be easier for me to order exotic fruit from Thailand,” says Redzepi, who runs Noma with his partner Claus Meyer. “For me to get a box of raspberries from northern Denmark can take a whole day. We have to drive up, talk to the farmer, inspect the berries, the whole deal.”
Redzepi graduated from culinary school in Copenhagen where, “I learned to cook in the continental French tradition,” he says.
His first job, at the age of 20, was with the Pourcel brothers at their celebrated Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, France. He then headed to Spain’s El Bulli — often called the best restaurant in the world — where he trained with chef Ferran Adria. His culinary boot camp culminated with a stint at French Laundry in California.
“I’d worked all around the world, and suddenly I wanted to cook Nordic,” he explains of his return home after his global tour. “Though the three experiences were very different, they all had a link in that they were extremely localized. I wanted to find a way to develop a regional cuisine here.”
He began his quest for local fare by driving around Scandinavia looking for producers. Six months later, he had completed his roster.
“I got to know the countryside pretty well,” he laughs. “In Iceland I found this 1,000-year-old recipe for fromage blanc that the Vikings used to make. That was pretty wild.”
This story first appeared in the April 26, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Beyond the odd historic dish, the items Redzepi uncovered demonstrate the complexity of the regional produce. “People think that you can’t grow anything in Scandinavia. But that’s not true,” he says. “It takes longer to grow it because it’s cold. But the environment here makes the produce firmer, juicier and sweeter. The tastes are more developed.”
Dishes on the menu for spring include fjord shrimps with birch tree blooms and pine sprouts, and pork terrine with langoustine and woodruff (a wild herb) emulsion. “We’re also coming into asparagus season,” he says. “It only lasts one month here, but when we have them they are beautiful.”
Redzepi believes Nordic cuisine is defined by its floral, clean and natural flavors and thus approaches it with a light hand. “What I’m trying to do is play with nature, not against it.”