Rene Redzepi, Nordic food's champion

Tue Apr 27, 2010 4:04pm EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

COPENHAGEN (Reuters Life!) - Chef Rene Redzepi, whose Danish restaurant Noma has just won one of the industry's highest accolades, launched his culinary career with a plate of chicken and cashews but has gone on to persuade the world to take Nordic cuisine seriously.

He cooks with only Scandinavian ingredients -- no foie gras, olive oil or mangoes -- and only those he considers sustainable, so traditional staples like cod and eel are also off the menu.

But the tight frame Noma set for itself pushed Redzepi and his team toward the creativity that has made them famous and on Monday won them the top spot on the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list, pushing Spain's elBulli off its perch.

"We were patient and kept working, and didn't just fall in the easy traps, and said this is our range, this is how we work, we can't step out of it, because we need to develop a new type of flavor for our region," Redzepi told Reuters in an interview in Copenhagen late last year.

Summers spent in his father's native Macedonia, eating with friends and relatives, gave him a taste for local, seasonal food. It also, he said, helped him see more in traditional Scandinavian cuisine than many of his countrymen.

"Danish people for the most part thought it was a joke," he said of the decision to open a restaurant dedicated to Nordic food, housed in a converted waterfront warehouse.

"When it comes to food we seem to think that everything south of the border is better than what we have ourselves, and I always used to say it is not better but different."

The commitment to local food has shaped the restaurant's menu beyond the ingredient list. The long, harsh Scandinavian winters means there is a lot of smoking and pickling.   Continued...

<p>Chef Rene Redzepi (L) speaks to a cook as he poses in the kitchen of his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen in this December 12, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Christian Charisius</p>