2011 International Chef of the Year: René Redzepi

Looking across the world's culinary landscape, one chef in Copenhagen stands higher above the rest this year
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A year after wrestling the top spot on the World's Best Restaurant List from elBulli, chef René Redzepi's Noma secured the number one spot on the World's Best Restaurant List for a second time. Redzepi has brought international attention and acclaim to Scandinavian cuisine and made Copenhagen a must for any serious gourmand. Daily foraging for mushrooms and other wild foods, along with the day’s catch from local waters and hearty meats from the region, provides inspiration for the seven-course tasting menu served to all diners. (To secure a reservation, you'll need to book three months ahead.) But Redzepi's influence extends far from his home country: The cuisine at Noma has already sent ripples out across the world's culinary landscape.

For these reasons, we're pleased to announce that chef René Redzepi was singled out by The Daily Meal's editors and illustrious panel of judges as 2011's International Chef of the Year. (The panel and our editorial staff voted anonymously, and the percentages of votes for each chef were tallied in order to determine the chef of the year in two categories, American and international, the former being won by Grant Achatz.)

We reached out to the chefs to discover where they, and along with them the state of food, may be heading. In this interview, René Redzepi discusses refurbishing Noma; its homemade wine, beer, and schnapps program; weather as narrative; how to become a stagiare at Noma; and how the philosophy of his cuisine can be applied to other countries outside Scandinavia.

 

Do you think that the philosophy of your cuisine can be applied to countries outside Scandinavia?

To an extent, Noma’s cuisine is a cuisine of wherever you are. It’s the pursuit of our culture, its people, the history, nature in a delicious mouthful that looks towards the future.

 

People have described your cuisine as a new way of looking at food in which direction do you see food heading in the next 10 years?

I am sorry, but I would hate to answer this as I don’t even know where my own cooking will be in two years’ time.

 

As your global popularity expands, you must be increasingly flooded with requests to work at Noma or even just to stage briefly — what qualities do you look for in accepting stagiares?

We receive a truly humbling number of job applications. More than 50 a week, in fact. We don’t necessarily look for the most impressive resume as, most of time, it’s better to have someone who has cooked three-four years at a more modest restaurant rather than a chef who has hopped from one great kitchen to the other, only spending a year or less in each. We look for people possessing patience, dedication, and are eager to, as we say in Danish, "search with their hands."

 

You've said in the past that you close down for the summer to work on the menu and do renovations. Closing down for a period of time is a something that Ferran did at elbulli as well. How vital is this time for what you do and how you innovate?

We close only for a short period. Three weeks. I wish we could afford to be closed longer as these moments of reflection are really special and it’s mind-boggling to see what comes out of these few weeks of recuperation. The rest of the year, our innovations are driven by intuition with the main narrative being the weather.

 

What plans for the restaurant either physically or on the menu are you looking forward to working on this summer?

We have just completed a rather large refurbishment above the restaurant, where we have put together our offices and test kitchen into one, open plan work area. In the near future, it’s about organizing this and seeing how this positively effects our team.

 

Would you do another restaurant? Or is this enough? 

Right now I feel that I have more than enough, but who knows what the future will bring. However, I don’t see anything in my crystal ball just yet.

 

You've worked at el bulli and credited some of your background to your experience there, what do you think of Ferrran's new project?

I have yet to understand fully what the project is, except for the creation of some sort of center for food innovation. However, I am looking forward to following his progress.

 

Is there a chef that challenges you? One who inspires you to better, greater things?

There are too many to mention. But if I were to mention just a few from America, these would include Daniel Patterson, David Chang, David Kinch, Dan Barber, Thomas Keller, and Wylie Dufresne.

 

Is it true that somebody is actually producing wine for you in Denmark?

Yes, we actually have our own little vineyard. It’s actually our first ever sommelier who produces the wine — with great success. In addition to wine, we brew two beers, and distill four varieties of schnapps.

 

Who would your choice for chef of the year be?

There are so many people who could receive such praise. If I focus on younger, less known chefs, I would like to highlight Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne, and the up-and-coming Blaine Wetzel at Willow’s Inn on Lummi Island.

 

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