One might think that the inspiration for the latest wave of local, seasonal cuisine in the U.S. would be found nearby, but some chefs are actually finding it in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“We have kind of a nose-to-tail philosophy with our vegetables,” said Jordan Kahn, of Red Medicine in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Kahn is one of many chefs who have been influenced by the rustic-yet-refined aesthetic, the modern sensibility, and conservationist approach that define New Nordic cuisine.
At the heart of this culinary artistic school of thought is Noma, the restaurant in Copenhagen whose co-owner, Claus Meyer, worked with other Scandinavian chefs in 2004 to promote a “Manifesto of the New Nordic Kitchen.” That document advocates seasonal cooking with a focus on products that thrive in the Nordic countries (the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, plus Iceland, Finland and surrounding islands and territories), while also keeping in mind health and animal welfare.
Tone down the focus on Nordic ingredients and you have the outline for the approach many independent chefs are taking with their food these days. Aspects of it include less formal dining spaces (earthenware instead of China, wood and stone instead of white tablecloths), ancient techniques such as charring and fermenting, new culinary approaches that make use of the science education chefs got during the Molecular Gastronomy movement, and a desire to coax flavor out of every bit of an ingredient — like Kahn’s nose-to-tail approach to vegetables.
It’s no coincidence that Noma’s gospel is spreading. The restaurant tops many lists of the best restaurants in the world and has replaced elBulli, Ferran Adrià’s avant-garde restaurant and laboratory which closed last year, as the most desirable stop for aspiring chefs to rub shoulders with their peers and exchange ideas with the world’s brightest culinary minds.
Noma has made that process easy. Executive chef René Redzepi runs an English-language kitchen and takes on as many stagiaires, or unpaid interns, as he can handle.
“It was amazing. It was definitely a learning experience. Every time you turned the corner, there was so much happening in the kitchen,” said Scott Winegard, culinary director of Matthew Kenney’s culinary school and M.A.K.E restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., who worked in Noma’s kitchen with about 20 other stagiaires from October through December of 2011. “I was really excited about finding this restaurant that had this philosophy about [being] really positive about vegetables. … I think everyone that leaves there definitely brings a lot with them and it sticks with them for a long time, probably forever.”