More Snails, Anyone?
In between watching BBC world news the other day, I caught part of the program Hardtalk. A very young chef was being featured. My interest was piqued when I heard that he had won the Best Restaurant in the World in the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. He was only 34 years of age and so imagine the immensity of this achievement! His name was Rene Redzepi, and the name of his restaurant was NOMA in Copenhagen. The name Noma is a fusion of the words Nordic and food.
He relates how he was asked to leave school in disgrace when he was only fifteen. He had no idea what path he would follow. His partner in crime who had also been expelled along with him was going to join a restaurant school, so he decided to join too. That move made him grow up fast. When he was sixteen, he got a big break to join a local Michelin rated restaurant, Pierre Andre. His first dish on the menu was a caramelized piece of pineapple, served with ice cream. He rubbed saffron and spices on the pine, roasted it and topped it with a caramel butter sauce. Talking of his childhood, he says he can never remember buying ingredients for food from a shop since he and his twin brother always went foraging in the forests and fields and they cooked what they found. His mother was a cleaner, his father was at different times a bus driver, a taxi driver, a deliverer of fish and a greengrocer. His father was the good cook in the family who would produce unusual dishes from fresh gathered ingredients. Whenever they went to a party, his mother would take along a salad made by his father that was supposed to be the best that anyone tasted. So he grew up in an inventive environment, and maybe inherited his father’s imagination and talent to successfully experiment with food.
And experiment he does! Here are examples of three of his recipes. The first is beets and blackberry. Here, baby beets are added to butter, vinegar, salt and plenty of fresh herbs. A sauce is made out of the blackberries with honey, shallots, coriander herbs and seeds, salt and honey. This is topped with an olive oil and coriander leaf garnish. Unusual, isn’t it? The second is oysters cooked with cabbage and celery in an emulsion of tea, butter and water, topped with cobnuts, vinegar and salt. The third is cauliflower cooked with spruce and juniper branches, (removed once it is done) salt and apple cider vinegar. Then a sauce is made out of yogurt whey, apple cider vinegar and salt, and some of the juices from the cooked cauliflower. Fresh cream is added to grated horseradish and this is served on the side with the cauliflower. This gives us an insight to how original his dishes are. His new cookbook has been described as “the most important of the year.” A journalist who was reviewing his restaurant describes how she was given a live prawn in a glass jar full of ice. A sea urchin followed in a sea of milk garnished with cucumber and dill. A waiter took pity when he saw the look on her face and said,” Don’t worry, lots of people don’t eat these!”
He sometimes serves his live produce with ingredients that they feed on, for example, a wild boar would be served up with corn and berries. He makes his own fruit wines and vinegars, preferring to use these over commercial ones. He uses fresh fruit juices, his own manufactured beer and also fresh vegetables, herbs, spices and wild plants. The restaurant does it own pickling, salting, drying and grilling of ingredients. Greens are featured very prominently and in unusually larger quantities in his dishes. Simple, fresh and healthy! I see him as a sort of modern caveman. His restaurant has no fancy trimmings or any signs of luxury. There are just solid wooden tables. This is a very rare individual who is not interested in making money. Apparently he isn’t, so that’s a good thing! He feels really bad to charge people large amounts. But tell me, where else would you be able to order deep fried moss, carrots in malt ‘soil’ or the really striking presentation of blue nasturtium flowers with snail shaped snail mousse nestling amongst their petals? He argues why can’t we eat a plate of ants or insects if we can eat shrimp? Sorry, but I’m not THAT adventurous!
- Honky Tonk Woman.