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

"So I went there and I booked a table two weeks in advance and I did -- that was to be world-famous El Bulli restaurant. I ate there and there was also a big, clear mark in what has defined me. Because I was completely blown away back then, I remember. Here was something I hadn't seen before. A chef that did his own thing. I was expecting to go to Spain to get French food. Not something so personal and something Spanish. It was a big inspiration. I applied for a job immediately, got a contract and I worked there the season after."

While El Bulli is known for scientific cuisine that draws heavily on obscure preparation techniques and the application of chemistry to foodstuffs, Noma takes the opposite tack, which Redzepi describes as a "nature" approach. He discussed the difference.

"Science is good. Science is progress in a way," he said. "Machinery -- there's nothing wrong with machinery. ... There's a big difference for me between machinery and chemistry, and even some chemistry is natural. I'm not opposed to it. It's not something that's a big part of our cuisine [at Noma], honestly it's not. For me, El Bulli was not a uniquely gastronomical restaurant, it was about freedom. It was about seeing a place where, going to a place where everything is completely different from what you had in upbringing.

"All the books you could read at that point was only about French cuisine. You have seen 120,000 ways of doing a foie gras terrine. With 120,000 different types of fruits accompanying with it. And the brioche and so on and so on. It's amazing, I love it, I love to eat it, but it's also good to see something different. And for me it triggered something in me. A sense of freedom, a sense of 'Well, what am I going to do with my life.' Before that, I was going to go back to Copenhagen at one point and do my version of French cuisine."

Time and Place

Instead of doing French haute cuisine, Redzepi was able to strike out in his own direction. He ended up being a trailblazer. The result was New Nordic cuisine. But what is it? Even its inventor acknowledges the elusiveness of a definition.

"It's always difficult to define things and also our cuisine, because it is so new," Redzepi said. "Perhaps in 10 years we can look back and then it's easier to come up with some definition. ... I would say that ours [is a] cuisine that is packed with nature. It's a cuisine that uses nature, not only people growing nature, but also the wildlife.

"We have a region that's very big. It's quite a huge landmass, and we [are] only 25 million people. Which means there is a lot of untouched and unspoiled nature to be found. And once you start searching that, and reading books and finding out how people dealt with nature before when they had to do it in order to survive, then you have a whole new product range and a whole new way of cooking. ...

"You can only allow yourself to do so much to any given product you know, that you picked yourself or perhaps [you] know the people growing it. How much will you manipulate it? You want the link from its natural environment to be clear onto the plate. So I would say that's the biggest discovery we've had. That there's a lot of wild fruits involved in a kitchen and of course, the main focus area of a kitchen is that we always have to show people, our guests, a sense of time and place, which is something we remind ourselves constantly.

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