…because some thoughts are worth remembering
If you are a foodie, or enjoy watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel-food shows, or if you are a fan of Scandinavia, you’ve probably heard of Noma, a two Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark. Its fearless leader René Redzepi came up with a concept to modernize Nordic cuisine, using local ingredients. There are many blog posts about the dining experience at Noma, because it is an experience, starting from trying to book a table to the actual consumption of food that yes, did include ants.
Here are the obligatory photos:
Numerous starters are presented to you quickly, almost rushed. The ingredients, their combination, their preparation, the manner it is presented and served, how we are asked to eat, are all innovative. Reindeer moss… is that a thing? Yes. Elderflower blossoms… do you eat that? Yes. But waiter, there are ants on my carpaccio. Yes. It was full of citrus punch.
Oh, and the desserts and the juice pairing (for those who prefer for a non-alcoholic option), included pork crackling dipped in chocolate topped with berries.
But this blog is not about Noma’s food, which has been a result of experimentation by chefs behind the scenes to forage different types of vegetation, try out different preparation. They harvest locally foraged ingredients and ferment them so the restaurant will have plenty of locally sourced ingredients to serve during Denmark’s long winters.
This post is about a realization I had about creativity and innovation that happens when you impose strict restrictions and live by them. If importing lamb from New Zealand is outside the boundaries of Noma’s dogma, then you research what similar flavor and texture profiles will work. You break it down to a point where the essence of what you wanted to offer the diners is so clear in your mind that the original ingredient may no longer be needed, and it can end up being a completely different preparation.
Another realization I had was that when food preparation/ingredient constraints are imposed as dogma, you don’t get the best tasting food or experience. Don’t get me wrong, Noma’s Best Restaurant awards are well-deserved. But that’s the thing about dogma. When you are tied down to it, you can’t optimize for other factors. That’s the price of innovation. That’s the sacrifice Noma had to make for its creations.
Who reaps the benefits? The chefs trained/worked at Noma who started their own restaurants, like BROR and Kødbyens Fiskebar, are successful, popular and delicious while being creative. The chefs were able to take the techniques and the meticulous way and care you take to source ingredients and put their own flair and without the rigid constraint to be strictly Nordic or use local ingredients (though the majority of their ingredients are). They have the leeway to experiment and execute beyond Noma’s dogma.
Was Noma the best restaurant I’ve been to? The most delicious food I’ve had? Not necessarily, but that’s not the point. Am I glad I dined at Noma? Absolutely.
But if you were looking for a blog about how the waiters were attentive, how interesting the food was, and what it took to make a reservation there, let your search engine do the walking. Go ahead… this is not the blog you were looking for.