Nordic Food Revolution
Time: 9.30 am – 11.00 am
Location: The Grainstore Ballymaloe
How on earth can, Noma, a restaurant that has had live ants and fermented grasshoppers on the menu be considered the best restaurant in the world, a restaurant that hasn’t yet garnered a third Michelin star? Probably the best answer is that Noma is at the forefront of a revolution and the rest of the world is only just catching up, including the good people at Michelin. The revolution? That would be the Nordic Revolution, one of the most significant developments in world food culture of the last number of decades.
For the last two years, Noma, in Copenhagen has been awarded the accolade of ‘Best Restaurant in the World’, (the previous two incumbents have been Ferran Adria’s El Bulli and before that Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck) yet Noma chef Rene Redzipi refuses to use any produce not available from his immediate locality. Mentioning those ants and grasshoppers, though true, may have been a bit of a cheap shot to grab your attention—a Redzipi menu, after all, is the stuff of culinary dreaming. But his ethos also means no olive oil or no basil, for example; how does a chef live without those two staples.
Or how about Faviken, in a remote hunting lodge, 600 miles north of Stockholm where a chef will come out of the kitchen, into the dining room and saw a huge bone in half right before you, scooping out the marrow for your delectation? Is there some confusion, a mixup of the different stages of the food chain in the transition from farm to fork?
Just what is going on in the Nordic countries? Why are they consistently being voted amongst the best restaurants in the world even as they tear up the rule book entirely to replace it with their own esoteric philosophy? Why are so many other chefs around the world emulating this philosophy? What are the lessons for the future of Irish restaurants or do they have anything to teach us at all? Is this yet more ‘foodie’ nonsense, another soon-to-be disposed of culinary trend?
Actually, the Nordic Food Revolution is rooted in some of the very deepest thinking that is taking place around the world about food, the human race and their future together. Neither is it a case of the usual culinary crew all lining up to ape the latest star chef; the leading lights of the Nordic Food Revolution are simply the outermost reflection of a gathering global groundswell. (Mind you, if the Slow Food Movement made violins, they’d surely ask Rene Redzipi to be principal soloist for a season or two!) And not only are Irish chefs very keen to learn more, some of them are already buying into it wholesale, including Enda McEvoy of Aniar in Galway, one of Ireland’s latest Michelin Starred chefs and Mickael Viljanen of much raved about Dublin restaurant, The Greenhouse, who have obviously been sucking up some of that influence.
Many of us may never make it to Noma or those other stellar outposts of this Nordic Revolution but a couple of hours spent with Claus Meyer and Ben Reade in conversation with John McKenna should give you food for thought for years to come.
Claus Meyer co-owns the gourmet restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, which holds three Michelin stars and was announced in Restaurant Magazine in 2010 and 2011 as the world’s best restaurant.
Ben Reade, on completion of a Ballymaloe 12 week course was, within a couple of months, appointed Head Chef of Iglu, a Gastropub in Edinburgh. He then worked in London with William Drabble at Aubergine before moving to Hugh Fernley Whittingstall at River Cottage in Devon.
John McKenna was born in Belfast, and educated there and in Dublin where he originally practised as a barrister. In 1989 he took a sabbatical from the Law Library and set off with his wife, Sally, in a beat-up Renault 4 they had bought for £100. Six months research visiting Irish artisans and cooks produced the first Irish Food Guide, which was published in November 1989. Since then, McKenna has written bi-annual editions of the Irish Food Guide, along with annual editions of The 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland and The 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland. He has also written two editions of How To Run A Restaurant, along with How To Succeed in Hospitality.