Hailing from a “very little working class Danish family” with a Danish mother and Albanian father, Rene Redzepi’s penchant for foraging stems from a childhood spent gathering food on his home farm.
“I grew up partially in Macedonia, until the war broke out in Yugoslavia,” he recalls on the phone to me from the kitchen of his award-winning Copenhagen restaurant, Noma.
“It was very different to ordinary Scandinavia – you only had electricity for a few hours a day. If you wanted milk, you milked a cow and meals were cooked each day on wood-fire.
At the world-renowned Noma, guests can expect to be blown away by no more than a small plate of onions and fermented pears.
“It’s how I grew up – it was the way you ate in Macedonia,” explains Redzepi.
“When you’re on a farm, you can’t have a chicken every week or there will be none left. I grew up on lentils and tomatoes. I think vegetables offer a diversity of flavour unparalleled by anything in the animal kingdom.”
Widely responsible for bringing Scandinavian and Nordic cuisines to the international stage in a market saturated with French and Spanish fine dining eateries, Noma was named the world’s best restaurant three consecutive years in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and came in at number two this year. The unflinchingly cool Redzepi maintains that the ingredient to his phenomenal success is a happy team environment, despite the hot and at times chaotic conditions of a restaurant kitchen.
“It would never work if it’s not fun and the team isn’t in love with their daily work. Then people leave and then you’re just sort of stuck. So if you have an environment which is fun, people stay longer, and the more successful you become.”
A childhood spent hunting and gathering food in his native Macedonia would see Redzepi pioneer a global foraging phenomenon, with most of the ingredients on Noma’s menu picked from nearby forests and shores, including 15-20 berry varieties at any one time. Others, like the vintage carrot, are dug up for use after being buried for years.
“If I were to rename Noma today, it would be called The Weather Restaurant – not only because of the menu, but also mentally. We have so much green now, as opposed to a dark winter’s day when there are not many ingredients to play with. The weather plays a huge role in my menu.
Such a simple ingredient index demands prodigious creativity flexed almost everyday. It was an exploration of this ingenuity that inspired his upcoming book, A Work in Progress: Notes on Food, Cooking and Creativity.
“I wrote this journal to get back on track creatively and finding the joy again. And I found out that what really messes with my mind, is when the creativity doesn’t work. So I tried to write a journal to analyse it a little bit: what are the key moments that determine success.
“I found it extraordinarily valuable to come home and write. If I’m ever again in doubt of a bigger question in my professional life again, I know that keeping a journal will really help.”
A Work in Progress, published by Phaidon, is out November,RRP $75.00. For more information on Good Food Month presented by Citi, go here.