This year, a tiny, 12-table restaurant in Copenhagen was voted the world's best restaurant. The next day, Noma got 100,000 online requests for reservations. What makes it so great? Chef Rene Redzepi, 32, will only use food that is native to the Nordic region. That means no tomatoes, no olive oil -- instead, he employs a wide array of local and wild food he often forages himself.
The chef has just published a cookbook whose value, above all, is not necessarily instructive, but visual. "Use it as an inspiration," Redzepi tells NPR's Melissa Block. "Look at the beautiful pictures; see how food comes together." Although the recipes are nearly impossible to re-create, the imagery alone will transport you to the salty shores of Scandinavia.
"We have a region that's very big -- 25 million people in that region. Which means we have a nature and a product diversity ... that needs to be used again."
The recipe "Blueberries Surrounded by their Natural Environment" is one way to use that product diversity. Blueberries are abundant in Scandanavia. "My last meal on Earth," says Redzepi, "I would love it to be a bowl of blueberries with cold cream." He thought about what could grow with blueberries on a forest floor and spruced it up -- literally -- with meringues and spruce. The simple-looking dish has more than 30 ingredients and more than a dozen steps.
Block, who considers herself an adventurous home chef, was daunted by some of the recipes. They include such instructions as "submerge in liquid nitrogen" and "load a spray paint gun" in the "Snowman" recipe -- undoubtedly some of the more esoteric directions this food season. But Redzepi wants the book to be an inspiration more than a how-to manual.
"Look in the book and see the amount of vegetables," he says. "Use that as an inspiration: Eat more vegetables." As a forager, he also wants readers to use their own environments for inspiration. "Take your family out. Take a trip to the forest and experience the greatness of getting on your knees and picking your own food and going home ... and eating it."
What would your last meal on Earth be? What is the best meal you've ever had? Submit your photos to our Flickr group pool.
Read the incredibly complex "Snowman" recipe:
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
This year, a 12-table restaurant in Copenhagen called Noma was voted the world's best restaurant, heady times for 32-year-old chef Rene Redzepi.
The next day, Noma got 100,000 online requests for reservations. Rene Redzepi will only use food that is native to the Nordic region, for example, no tomatoes, no olive oil, but an emphatic yes to an astounding range of local, wild and foraged food.
BLOCK: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine," which inspired me to go on a hunt for Nordic produce at a local Whole Foods here in Washington.
Michael Mazio(ph), you're the guy. You're the guy in the produce department. Here's what I'm looking for, cloudberries.
MICHAEL MAZIO: Cloudberries, that's a really tough one to get.
BLOCK: So no cloudberries. Sea lettuce.
MAZIO: Sea lettuce. Again, that's not something that we currently carry in stock.
BLOCK: Yeah, we're out of luck on the sea lettuce. Okay, jack by the hedge.
MAZIO: Jack by the hedge, tell me.
BLOCK: A kind of shrub.
MAZIO: No, don't have that, either.
BLOCK: Last chance here, bulrushes. Got any bulrushes?
MAZIO: No, I don't have any of that, either.
BLOCK: Clean out of bulrushes.
MAZIO: Clean out of bulrushes today.
BLOCK: But even if you can't re-create Rene Redzepi's recipes, it's fun to think about a new definition of Nordic food, way beyond the IKEA cafeteria.
RENE REDZEPI: It's very true. IKEA is in fact the biggest exponent of something Nordic and gastronomical, which is meatballs and then very sweet lingonberries.
And that's a shame. It's a big shame, in fact, because we have a region that's very big, 25 million people in this region, which means that we have a nature and a product diversity in that nature that's so big that needs to be used again and be showcased on the restaurants and in people's homes. We're now starting to redefine ourselves in a gastronomical sense.
BLOCK: Well, let's talk about one of the recipes or one of the pictures. I don't know if I even want to talk about the recipe because it's not going to be anything that anybody could make at home, necessarily. But it's a beautiful image of blueberries, and you call it blueberries surrounded by their natural environment. And why don't you describe what's in this picture.
REDZEPI: It sounds complicated, but the idea in itself was so simple. We were out looking for berries. It was the season of berries. And, you know, they grow in abundance in the north.
And blueberry is one of my favorites. I love them. They're so juicy and has exactly right amount of sweetness to acidity. It's just - oh, I love it. My last meal on Earth, I would love it to be a bowl of blueberries with cold cream.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: And then we thought to ourselves, well, what are we going to put with this blueberry? And we simply just looked around it. What grew around it other than other berries? And we found wood sorrel. We found heather. We found wild thyme. And that became the base and the essence of the dish.
So you took the blueberries, you made a meringue of thyme, and we also picked spruce, in fact, and we kind of just made that into different textures and tastes and granites and meringues and raw blueberries so that in each and every bite, you have a little bit of the blueberry and what it lives next to and close by so that it feels like you're actually taking a trip in a forest and eating the berry right there in nature.
BLOCK: You do use ingredients that I would never dream could actually be turned into food. I mean, your recipes call for woodchips and for burnt hay and, well, any number of other things. But those in particular just make me wonder how that can possibly be edible.
REDZEPI: In itself, of course, they're not edible. As a spice - I mean, in the book, I hope that people will see this as an inspiration. Looking at hay is not just something animals eat, it's actually a spice if you look at it in the right way.
And there's a lesson to be learned in all this, I think, that we have narrowed ourselves in using the same and the same and the same ingredients, only.
The variety is so small, you know. At restaurants, the same thing are cooked as what you can buy in the supermarkets. The diversity is not that big anymore. So, we challenge ourselves to try to see, well, what do we eat from our woods or from our trees? What about the leaves when they shoot in spring? What about the bark? What about the woodchips? Can they be infused in oils, in vinegars? Can we boil stocks of them?
And once you try exploring the full length of all there is, a whole new world opens that you didn't think was possible before.
BLOCK: Now, I'm a pretty adventurous cook. So I was looking at the recipe for the snowman, which is quite lovely. It's a little snowman on a plate. It's surrounded by a little bed of snow. And I have to say, I was a little daunted by the instructions, which tell me one step is to submerge it in liquid nitrogen.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: And another says load a spray paint gun with the yogurt (unintelligible).
BLOCK: And I'm thinking, you know, life is a little short for that for me.
REDZEPI: Well, of course there's - you will see dishes in there I would say impossible even you as an ambitious home cook to attack. But use it as an inspiration. Look at the beautiful pictures. See how food comes together in a region where food usually is not very present and in a region that is not known for great food.
You know, this dish came out of yet again another winter, as it was snowing outside. We told ourselves, why don't we just build a snowman around this berry?
But it's of course very, very difficult to do it to the end result as a normal human being.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: Well, for those of us normal human beings who are trying to - who may not make your recipes but maybe want to be inspired by your example, what do you think is doable at home? What would you want the average home cook to take away from what you do?
REDZEPI: Well, I think, first of all, look in the book and see the amount of vegetables there is in the book, for instance. Use that as an inspiration, eat more vegetables. I think that is something that is just very easy to kind of take.
When it comes to certain dishes, I think there are several dishes that people can actually cook. The tartar is a good example. It's not that difficult to cook. Of course, you will have to go out and source wood sorrel, which...
BLOCK: A minor detail.
REDZEPI: A minor detail, but take your family out. Take a trip to the forest and experience the greatness of getting on your knees and picking your own food and going home and putting it on your food and eating it. There's just something unique about it. You get reconnected somehow with nature.
BLOCK: I'm thinking that when you are walking around, you are probably always dropping to your knees and finding something and munching on it just to see what it tastes like.
REDZEPI: Of course. Even here in New York City, things are coming out of the cracks here and there to be eaten. And, I mean, when I fly over, like I did Seattle, and you see all these great forests, I just see food everywhere, and I want to go into it and eat it, you know. I think this book is also about showing people how to be open.
BLOCK: Rene Redzepi, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much.
REDZEPI: Thank you.
BLOCK: And how do you say bon appetit in Danish?
REDZEPI: (Foreign language spoken)
BLOCK: And at out website, npr.org, you can see incredible photos from Rene Redzepi's book, "Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine." And if you want some kitchen adventure, we have a recipe for that snowman we were talking about and a video, too.
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LOUISE KELLY: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.