René Redzepi, the young chef who elevated Noma in Copenhagen to its standing as best restaurant in the world in the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants rankings, has pioneered a cuisine dubbed "New Nordic."
While it may be impolite to wonder aloud about "Old Nordic," the new cuisine is built on local ingredients like sweet green strawberries, musk ox and flowers harvested from the seashore, which tell a Danish tale of "time and place," according to Redzepi.
Noma's win, based on voting by more than 800 food critics, chefs and restaurateurs, resonated far beyond the Danish capital. In part that's owing to the youth of its chef and co-founder, who was born during the second Anker Jørgensen administration (a.k.a. the Carter years). But the main driver of excitement about Redzepi and his restaurant is the sense that they really do represent a new direction in eating well.
"I think that in our part of the world, Scandinavia, we are one of the pioneers of showing that gastronomy can be something -- high gastronomy can be something very present and doesn't have to involve, you know, what is perceived as the normal luxury items that belong in a restaurant," said Redzepi. "You can actually, I mean a carrot has the same value as caviar if you know how to cook it and if you deal with it properly."
If comparing root vegetables and sturgeon roe seems willfully provocative, for Redzepi it is not emptily so. Since opening Noma in 2003, the chef has worked culinary miracles while adhering to a stringent locavore ethos. Nothing goes on a plate at Noma, which is set in an old 18th-century shipping warehouse in the Copenhagen harbor, unless it comes from the Nordic region. In wintertime, that means carrots.
But it also means wood sorrel, garden sorrel, chickweed and nettles growing in the woods around Copenhagen and even in town gardens, Redzepi says in his new cookbook, "NOMA: Time & Place in Nordic Cuisine."
"You just have to know where to look," he says.
With warmer weather, the cuisine turns to "bulrushes; axelberry shoots and wild ground juniper; raw Scandinavian shrimp... pickled quail's eggs; ... oyster mushrooms foraged from nearby woodlands," according to the cookbook.
The ingredients could come from one of the fables of Denmark's best-known writer, Hans Christian Andersen. Part of Noma's magic is to make the fabulous real.
Prior to opening Noma, Redzepi apprenticed in two of the world's most renowned kitchens, Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Ferran Adria's El Bulli. (El Bulli held the top spot in the S.Pellegrino best restaurant rankings for four straight years before Noma grabbed the title.) Redzepi grew up between Copenhagen, his mother's native city, and Macedonia, his father's native country. Now 32, Redzepi lives in Copenhagen with his wife and daughter.
The chef spoke with "Nightline" recently about his cooking philosophy, his evolution as a chef and the advantage he sees at being an outsider.
Redzepi credits his Macedonian roots for giving him a fresh perspective on what was possible with Nordic cuisine.