This is the first in a two-part interview with chef Rene Redzepi. You can find the second here.
On a drizzly, cold grey day in Copenhagen after a hectic lunch service and the clamor of the staff lunch had died down Rene Redzepi the acclaimed Danish chef of Noma sat down for an interesting conversation His two Michelin starred restaurant that shot four times to the top spot on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list before moving into the third place this past June is on every food enthusiasts bucket list. Redzepi is probably the most recognized name in the restaurant business, as the crusader of Nordic cuisine, a topic unheard of until he appeared on the gastronomic horizon. Extremely intelligent, articulate, and honest, there is a charisma about him that draws others into his world; a unique environment created by this young chef: part researcher, part explorer, part dreamer, and despite his renown still a regular guy.
In an age when chefs of insignificant stature surround themselves with entourages consisting of publicists, assistants, managers and hangers on it is refreshing and reassuring to observe that this chef’s opinions and dreams stem from his own intellect and are for real. Redzepi is constantly redefining himself and his trade, while opening new windows into the industry and energizing his peers as well as new and old generation chefs. The MAD Symposium created by him draws a select group of cooks, producers, food journalists , historians, scientists and others connected to the food world from all over the globe to the red circus tent pitched on Refshaleoen in Copenhagen every year. The Nordic Food Lab a self-governed nonprofit research operation that Redzepi helped create and was once housed on a barge moored by the restaurant and now in residence at Copenhagen University, expands the sphere of his influence worldwide. Recently his MAD nonprofit organization has partnered with Yale University in projects which will address environmental and political issues connected to the food industry.
This year MAD took a gap since the Noma team accompanied their chef to Tokyo to set up Noma Japan (5,400 miles from Copenhagen) for ten weeks, and the next territory they have set their culinary sights on is Sydney, Australia. Just like the Japan venture, Noma Australia was sold out within minutes of the ten week schedule being released and these overseas projects have propelled other chefs onto the road with their own teams in emulation of Redzepi. It's not just Noma style plating or dishes that appear all over the world since hordes of stagiares who spent just a hot minute in the Noma kitchen are now capitalizing on the connection in other kitchens and even reality TV shows. Just about everything that Redzepi initiates instantly becomes de rigueur in the industry and the benchmark by which others measure their culinary contributions.
A few months ago the announcement pertaining to the closing of Noma in 2016 not only sent die-hard fans scrambling for elusive reservations at the restaurant, but probably also set in motion plans for similar restaurants within urban farms in other cities around the world. Just a few days ago, 108, a new casual restaurant by members of the Noma team scheduled to open next year was announced. This more laid-back version of Noma will take up residence in the present Noma kitchen for a thirteen week tenure, while the rest of the team is in Australia, before moving to its permanent home.
When he travels to congresses or food events like Gelinaz, Redzepi a veritable food diplomat is surrounded by throngs of adoring fans drawn by his multi-faceted persona and now famous face, especially after making the cover of Time magazine not just once but twice. He has authored two books: the first the “NOMA” cookbook, and the second more of a journal titled "A Work In Progress” that he actually started maintaining after bringing Noma to the number one position in 2010, a mere seven years after opening. Once Noma found its niche it has since became the beacon of foraging, local and seasonal, and the new format of Noma will take it to yet another level. Dining at Noma is an experience, and I always leave wondering in which part of the world I will see a copycat version of a Noma dish next or first.