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Danish chef forages for fresh ingredients

Most restaurants don’t forage for wild ingredients like cloudberries, axelberry and spruce shoots or wood mushrooms to include in their dishes.

Most restaurants don’t forage for wild ingredients like cloudberries, axelberry and spruce shoots or wood mushrooms to include in their dishes.

But the staff of Noma of Copenhagen, Denmark, does. The establishment was first on this year's S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

The owner/chef Rene Redzepi isn’t above crawling through the forest and fields to gather wild herbs and seasonal plants to create amazing fare for his unique restaurant which has garnered acclaim internationally.

The 32-year-old Redzepi will be in Toronto on Saturday, Oct. 9 promoting his cookbook “Noma: Time and Place In Nordic Cuisine” (Phaidon Press).

He will meet with chefs, food writers and others at the Isabel Bader Theatre at 12:30 p.m. Alison Fryer, manager of Toronto’s Cookbook Store, will interview him at the event.

Coming from a northern country, Redzepi says he understands how very difficult it is to eat locally in the winter.

“There are not enough fresh ingredients to cook with in the winter and it is so much easier for a chef to call a supplier to ship in things from afar,” he said in a phone interview from California while on the book tour this week.

But he believes his success in offering his patrons ingredients he and his staff have pickled, dried, cured or smoked in the summer months can be duplicated in any cold climate.

“It is simply a matter of committing and having the right amount of patience and knowledge so that you know where to look and talk to the right people,” Redzepi said.

The whole wild food trend has spread throughout Scandinavia, he said.

“As a chef, I had to do something unusual to learn about it,” he adds. “I had to read books on culture, history and by doing that I started to gain knowledge which resulted in forming a network of experts, including foragers.”

Redzepi said that in the winter months the restaurant’s emphasis on foraging and seasonality is extremely challenging.

“We can find almost nothing,” he said. “And yet, as spring approaches in the woods around Copenhagen and even in the town gardens, wood sorrel, garden sorrel, chickweed and nettles are appearing. You just have to know where to look.”

Redzepi believes that we must remove ourselves from relying on imported food.

“Locally grown produce like garlic should be more expensive and this is something people are going to have to get used to,” he said. “These are healthy ingredients and good for your body and grown seasonally by local people who are passionate about what they do.”

Redzepi said that many people living in Denmark — as in Canada —still rely on imported foods, “but I think things are changing.

“I believe chefs will be the showcase of what people should eat. And it is important that chefs take the responsibility in their job, especially the influential ones.”

His book includes a look behind the scenes at Noma and features over 90 original recipes, pull-out maps of the Nordic region, original writings and 200 colour images by photographer Ditte Isager.

The foreword is by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. There are excerpts from Redzepi’s diary from the period leading up to the opening of the restaurant in 2003.

It is here he describes his “first voyage of discovery in search of new produce” when he tasted crowberries, raw horse mussel, reindeer and roseroot for the first time.

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On The Net:www.phaidon.com

 
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