Speaking to a crowd of foodies at the Isabel Bader Theatre at the University of Toronto as part of a Q&A with the store’s Alison Fryer, Redezpi provided an overview of his philosophical views about food and what he is trying to accomplish at Noma, recently voted the number 1 restaurant at San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2010.
Born in 1977, the 32-year-old Redzepi opened the 40-seat restaurant in Copenhagen in 2003. By 2006 it had received its first Michelin star, followed by a two-star rating in 2007. The young chef, who began cooking at the age of 15, found critical acclaim by promoting indigenous food from Denmark in a simplified and unstructured manner. “I started this journey of self discovery in the Faroe Islands,” recounted Redzepi, pointing to products he found there such as seal, whale and sea urchins. “I didn’t even know they existed,” he remembers. “I was used to cooking with a few ingredients but suddenly you step into nature and find out we have 59 edible berries, 150 types of horseradish, 1,000 types of mushrooms.”
His love affair with nature continues daily. For example, he told the crowd he infuses tree bark into stocks, and uses items like birch sap in the restaurant’s own crafted beers. “We consider ourselves as a restaurant that has a pact with nature,” he said. “This is where we source our ingredients, and it’s become our inspiration. In order for us to shape cuisine, we need to explore the diversity,” he told the crowd of food enthusiasts.
Redzepi is a big believer in stripping the food experience of all pretension. “I was getting very tired of the act of dining,” he told the crowd. “You enter a restaurant and it becomes theatre — the waiters act in a certain way, and the diners are expected to be formal and very correct. The food is highlighted on a table with gold and silverware. It [feels] like that’s what you [are] supposed to be impressed by. By stripping it [down] you get to the raw [essence] and you focus on the food. You fill the customer with the knowledge of the ingredients.”
Ultimately, says Redzepi, “We’re trying to shape a cuisine. There’s more meaning to it than making a profit.”
Redzepi’s international book tour included stops in Sydney, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.