At this year's World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards in May, Danish restaurant Noma was again placed at number one. This is the third year the Copenhagen-based restaurant, located in an old shipping warehouse, has won the accolade.
The top restaurant in the list has always led culinary trends. Before Noma it was Spanish wonder El Bulli, which headed the list's inaugural year, 2002, and then again from 2006 until 2009. The restaurant closed in 2010, the year Noma took over.
Helmed by Ferran Adria, El Bulli was defined by avant-garde cuisine that pushed the envelope on a technical level, popularising techniques such as spherification and emulsification under high pressures to create espumas or foams. Noma is now doing the same for ecological awareness.
Many have heard of Noma's chef and co-owner Rene Redzepi. His partner in the restaurant is Claus Meyer, who was at the centre of the formalisation of a manifesto for the New Nordic Kitchen in 2004, which was adopted by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the official body of co-operation of the Nordic countries, as a framework with which the region's food culture should move forward.
Drawn up by 12 chefs, the manifesto consists of 10 aims, and together they express the goal of eating and cooking in a manner that is sustainable and preserves cultural authenticity. In practice, this includes featuring produce that is highly seasonal, and locally produced or found, as well as promoting the producers and foragers of this produce. At Noma, this is expressed through ingredients such as 'vintage' carrots, which have been kept in the soil during the region's harsh and normally carrot-less winters, powder made of juniper berries, which are native to the region, and seaweed foraged from the shores. This philosophy is not unique to Noma; it has been taken on board by a generation of chefs driving what is better known as New Nordic cuisine.
One of these chefs is Rasmus Kofoed, chef-owner of Geranium in Copenhagen, who won the gold medal at Bocuse d'Or, the highly respected international chef's competition. This makes the city home to the world's top restaurant as well as the top chef.
Kofoed was invited to cook at the InterContinental Hua Hin, Thailand, last month, at a charity dinner in aid of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's foundation. Combining the techniques that helped win him gold, with signature dishes from Geranium, as well as the philosophy of eating locally, Kofoed created an eight-course menu, which included veal with the 'aroma of hay' (a plate of smoking hay was placed in the centre of the table), and a translucent white broth made by boiling Danish cheese in water.
While he is not one of the dozen chefs behind the manifesto, Kofoed says 'it's not pure luck' that the number one chef and restaurant are both in Copenhagen. 'We have the talent and people who are dedicated to the history and future of Danish food,' he says. That rings true of chefs in the surrounding countries, too - Kofoed's fellow medal winners at Bocuse d'Or 2011 are from Norway and Sweden respectively.
While this Nordic style of food, with its clean, light palate of pickled vegetables and foraged seaweed, is sweeping the globe, the idea is not to simply replicate northern tastes worldwide. As Kofoed says, 'Not only am I filling the stomachs of the diners, I want to fill their minds and hearts, bringing different ingredients in to tell a story.'
That story is told by the passing of seasons and an awareness of the changes in nature as a result, wherever one may be.
This is a concept that is not only on menus, but also in discussion brought about by the MAD Symposium, a two-day event held in Copenhagen earlier this week. This is just the second year that chefs, food academics, farmers and foragers have come together from around the globe to discuss changes in the food industry and culture, but already it has become something of a pilgrimage. Not surprisingly, Rene Redzepi is the organiser of the event.
At its inaugural conference last year, speakers at MAD, which means food in Danish, included chefs such as David Chang, Inaki Aizpitarte and Michel Bras, as well as food thinkers such as Hans Herren, the 1995 recipient of the World Food Prize, and farmers and foragers such as Miles Irving, author of The Forager Handbook, who are at the forefront of eating sustainably. From their angles of expertise, they addressed the topic of vegetation, covering everything from single ingredients to food politics. This year, the overarching theme was appetite, with the goal of understanding our cravings, so that chefs can satisfy our taste buds and stomachs within the wider context of the natural landscape. The speakers included pre-eminent chefs such as Ferran Adria, Rasmus Kofoed and Enrique Olvera, chef at Pujol in Mexico (number 36 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards).
Are these theories a passing trend, or will they shape the future of food? Just as elements of El Bulli's science have been incorporated into Noma's kitchen, and eateries across the globe, some new Nordic ideals will surely find their place on menus.
KOFOED'S TOP 3 COPENHAGEN SPOTS
Manfreds & Vin
'A casual place with a focus on natural wines'
J?gersborggade 40, Copenhagen,
+45 3696 6609
'A fish restaurant in a [former] meatpacking district'
Fl?sketorvet 100, Copenhagen,
+45 3215 5656
'They make porridge with all sorts of grains. I grew up on porridge'
J?gersborggade 50 tv, Copenhagen
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