World’s best chef inspires passion for food design in Cape Town!

Two-star Michelin noma restaurant in Copenhagen has been named the top in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards for two years running. Its founder and chef René Redzepi paid a literal flying visit to Cape Town last week, addressing the Design Indaba conference. It appears that he spent little time in Cape Town and did not connect with local chefs. Delegates that were lucky enough to hear his address were impressed with his passion for food design. ‘Design and food go hand in hand’, he said.

Chef René believes that the food should be served by the chefs who created it, making this the focus of noma, and the interior design is of lesser importance, being simple, reflecting the ‘essential simplicity’ and ‘purity’ of the ‘Nordic gourmet cuisine’ which they serve. His 20-course Tasting Menu costs R2000 a head, and one can expect to eat celeriac and unripe sloe berry, white currant and douglas-fir; dried scallops and beech nuts, biodynamic grains and watercress; pickled vegetables and bone marrow; wild duck and beets, beech and malt; and pike perch and cabbages with gooseberry juice.

Chefs are not as important as the farmers who supply the ‘freshly foraged ingredients’, allowing the kitchen team to create original dishes, he said. His stage prop for the talk was a dead duck, and he asked what ‘was the last image flying through its head’. A chef’s challenge is to create food for now, ‘projecting time on a plate‘. His challenge is to create new flavours, a team effort incorporating the food growers, those that cook the food, and those that present it on the plate.

Last year Chef René organised a MAD Food Camp, and the only South African to attend was Cape Town blogger and urban farmer Matt Allison.  He shared his experience with the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club. Through the Food Camp, noma demonstrated its international leadership in food usage in restaurants, and highlighted to the chefs attending that the more one understands about the history of food and its culture, as well as of the latest food science, the better one will cook.  These views were not only shared with the 250 food lovers selected by Chef René to attend the Food Camp, but with his 25000 Twitter followers too.  Chef René is an active Tweeter, sharing many photographs of his beautifully presented dishes.  He did not Tweet about Cape Town or its restaurants and chefs, only writing about his presentation: “I spoke to a crowd of 3000+ people for the first time today. Thank you South Africans for taking my virginity gently”.

The noma website confirms that this restaurant has left behind foie gras, olive oil, black olives, and sundried tomatoes, focusing instead on the ‘revival of Nordic cuisine’, representing fine produce and the food heritage of the Scandinavian countries, with seasonal and regional foods. So, for example, they have sourced skyr curd and halibut from Iceland; as well as musk ox, berries and water from Greenland.  Not only expensive ingredients are sourced, but also ‘disregarded, modest ingredients such as grains and pulses’, served in unusual form.  Chef René and his team use the base of their culinary heritage to create something brand new.  They experiment with interesting uses of milk and cream, and forage herbs and berries that others wouldn’t bother with, and which are not commercially available.  They salt, smoke, pickle, dry, and grill all their own foods, make their own vinegars, and even an Eaux de Vie, a brandy made from fermented fruit juice.  State-of-the-art kitchen appliances and techniques are used. Instead of cooking with wine, noma uses beers and ales, fruit juices, and fruit vinegars to create freshness and flavour in its dishes. ‘Greens take up more room on the plate than is common at gourmet restaurants’.   Interesting is that noma’s 40-page wine list is classic in predominantly featuring wines from France, Germany and Italy. No South African or New World wines are listed.

Chef René said in an interview that it would be time for him to get out of the restaurant if he could not ‘reboot’, or see things with a new light, or with a breathe of fresh air. He is filled with inspiration, and focused in developing ‘the flavour’. His life ambition is not to make profit, but to keep searching, learning, and teaching.

Ferran Adriá, the owner of the previous top World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards El Bulli, which closed down in July last year, addressed the Design Indaba conference in 2009, at the height of his Modernist Cuisine culinary reign.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter:@WhaleCottage

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