René Redzepi, Chef at Noma, on Being No. 1

"Our restaurant is known for doing a Nordic cuisine, a cuisine where we involve our natural products, our culinary heritage," he said. "And we've stopped looking at our own products as something that's doesn't belong in the culinary top. But I think in order to do that, it's been such a big advantage for me that I have a little outside upbringing, because if you are 100 percent native, I think sometimes you, things you grow up with, they're just things you grow up with, you can never put them in another context.

"Therefore I think it's been to a big advantage that I grew up outside. Flat bread to a Scandinavian is a flat bread; something you have in your home and that's it. You never do anything gastronomical with it and serve it as a restaurant.

"But, in fact, you can, of course, it's just on how you see it and if you try to open the next door on flat bread and not enter the same one again and again."

No. 1 Chef René Redzepi: Between Two Worlds

Redzepi's earliest food memories go back childhood days in Macedonia, living and cooking with his father's family.

"I've grown up partially in Macedonia. My father's Muslim, my mother's Danish," said Redzepi. "So I've had a very different upbringing from most people in Denmark, because where we used to be in Macedonia, life was very different from Denmark. For instance, there were no refrigerators; there was only two cars in the city. And the whole family lived together in a house and everything was revolving around the meal.

"The whole day was planned around the meal. People were farmers, and if you had to have a chicken, you slaughtered the chicken. If you wanted to have a glass of milk you had to milk the cow. I never tasted Coca-Cola until I was 10 years old. If we wanted the drinks, my auntie, she took the old rose leaves and put sugar water over them to infuse, and so on and so on."

For Redzepi, Macedonia was a place that valued the kind of nature-based cooking that informs the Noma philosophy. People ate what was on hand.

"One of my first food memories is watermelon, for sure," he said. "Because my family -- they don't do that now, they have cafes in Macedonia, but ... back then they were farmers, and they lived on red peppers and watermelon. And still today, watermelon is something I love eating.

"And if it's not that, there's also, the [food memory] that's very close is roasted chestnuts. In the season, freshly roasted chestnuts in the fire with cold milk on [it] as breakfast -- that's also a very, very big childhood memory. And then berries of all sorts, but that's a Scandinavian meal."

Despite the Macedonian influence, Redzepi said he identifies most with his mother's native country.

"I consider myself a Dane," he said. "I have a Danish wife, my child is Danish and I am the Dane ... with the not-so-Danish name, and some other ways of looking at things [that] perhaps a normal Dane wouldn't."

Given his Muslim background, we asked the chef about pork.

"I'm not a Muslim," he said. "... I've always been told by my father, even though he's a practicing Muslim, that we had to do what came naturally to us. And it's impossible to escape pork in Denmark. I mean there's 5 million people in Denmark and there's 46 million pigs."

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