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Noma Chef Rene Redzepi Speaks On His 'Work In Progress'

By Paul Leddy in Food on Nov 19, 2013 5:30PM

11_18_13_redzepi.jpg The nasty weather on Sunday couldn't deter a group of chefs and food lovers from coming out to Balena restaurant to listen to Chef René Redzepi of Copenhagen's Noma restaurant speak.

Noma is known worldwide as one of the top restaurants in the world and is currently ranked No. 2 on the Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants after holding the top spot for three years. Its cuisine focuses on Scandinavia and uses only ingredients found in those regions. In addition to presenting ingredients in their natural state, Redzepi manipulates and extracts new flavors by drying and fermenting them.

Despite being recognized as one of the best chefs in the world, Redzepi began to feel burned out by the end of 2010. He knew he didn't want the many accolades to dictate the direction of his restaurant and he also wanted to find a way to keep moving forward creativity. He started to write a journal in 2011 to overcome those hurdles and help him to look inward at his process.

The journal is part of a newly released three-book set from Phaidon Press called René Redzepi: A Work in Progress. The set also includes a book of candid photographs and a book of new recipes from the restaurant.

In a discussion moderated by Tasting Table’s Heather Sperling, Redzepi read several passages from the journal and answered questions from Sperling and the audience. There were a variety of topics covered like having fun in the kitchen (really, it can happen) to what his last meal would be (“a bushel of berries with a gallon of cream”). Some of the other items discussed:

On “Trash" Cooking:

We came about it during a very tough winter. We were running out of ingredients to cook with because we hadn’t put enough into storage. When you are suddenly there and you are looking at your larder and there is nothing, you have to look at new ways (of procuring food items). What do we throw away in the bin? What is trash? Is it trash because we don’t value it enough? That is the meaning of trash cooking. Once we stopped seeing the value of ingredients as a pricing issue, we realized that all the ingredients have the same cooking value. It is only up to the cook to really mess it up.

On the ingredient that has been the most difficult to work with:

Blood is a very difficult ingredient to work with. It tastes delicious once it is cooked with grains and condiments. We did this one failed dish, it was raw oysters with a blood vinaigrette. (This elicited a few groans from the crowd.) Imagine eating a bowlful of solid nosebleed…horrible.

On how his custom of cooks from his kitchen coming out to greet customers came about:

In the late 80’s, the war was about to break out in Yugoslavia (his family lived in Macedonia). My brother and I were awakened in the night by my father and uncle. They carried us to the car and we had to leave straight away. I was so dazed and the only thing I remember was looking back and seeing my whole family waving. That became the greeting at Noma. It is impactful. That is very important.