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Book Review of NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine

I must admit, it greatly pains me that this is simply a review for the NOMA cookbook, not the restaurant itself. However, if you deem yourself a loyal reader, your loyalty may someday pay off. Your dreams of reading a NOMA restaurant review, authored eloquently by myself, may come to fruition – that is, if I ever get a full time job aside from teaching students Biblical exegesis and writing for a university blog. Perhaps one day, my dreams of eating at NOMA will come to fruition as well, and perhaps my fantasy will continue to transform from only metaphysical, transcendent spiritual musings to cold, hard reality, and that aforementioned full-time job I seek will manifest in employment at NOMA.

But until then, let’s keep it simple, shall we?

I must begin by stating that the word ‘cookbook’ is grotesquely insufficient when ascribed to this…. this, whatever it is, this ingenius and mindblowingly incredible publication of Chef Rene Redzepi’s paramount creations. Indeed, it is a book, but only Jesus or Redzepi himself are capable of recreating the recipes within (and Jesus only because he can perform miracles supernaturally, with the Creator God on his side; Redzepi has to do it on his own).

The book opens with a scrumptious essay from artist Olaffur Eliasson. I posted the closing paragraph to his essay, and you are invited and encouraged to read it by clicking on this word here. This essay establishes the concept behind the book, the idea of time and place in the cultural and sociological context of Danish cuisine. Redzepi attempts to preserve the suchness of his ingredients, and even replicates their appearance in nature with his own brilliant gastronomic adaptation. One such dish is entitled “Blueberries surrounded by their natural habitat” or something of the like; another is the vegetable field made of carrot and other root vegetable tops planted in dirt of hazelnut ashes and some sort of dehydrated mead and flour concoction. Essentially, Redzepi wants his beautiful dishes to represent that time and place within the very specific cultural context from which his cuisine and recipes are bourne.

Next, after Olaffur’s eloquent introduction, you will find a story on the origins of NOMA as well as all the journal entries kept by Redzepi during his pilgrimage across the nordic countries in search of the perfect ingredients. Next the reader will feast their opticals on a vast array of beautifully photographed dishes, ingredients, and farmers who supply ingredients to NOMA. This section encompasses about a third of the book. Each page displays a new and different ingredient or artfully plated dish. This layout has its benefits and drawbacks. First, its nice to have an entire page dedicated to the beautiful plates of food. However, if one desires to know what is in the dish, or even what it is entitled, one must flip to the back of the book in a section entitled “The Weather Recipes” and read about it there. Each dish has a corresponding page. I found myself flipping back and forth for a few hours, looking at the edible art and then attempting to understand the incredibly out of reach techniques and ingredients that Redzepi uses for each dish.

Most of the ingredients are impossible to obtain unless you live in Denmark, and even then, it takes a culinary superpower like Rene to find the correct ones. Additionally, one must have a large sum of cash he or she is willing to spend on incredibly high-tech kitchen appliances, such as a thermomixer and pacojet ice cream machine.

Nonetheless, I learned a thing or two about cuisine, and a thing or two about how little I know about cuisine. This book redefined ‘recipes’ for me and definitely displays an entire world of food that no one can touch and that no one has done in the past. Also, the idea of a concept driven restaurante, and microscopically, concept driven dishes, is so new to cuisine that all others in the genre are deemed ‘postmodern.’ I know many restaurants on Pellegrino’s Top 50 list are indeed driven by concept, but NOMA’s is nothing like the others.

I think Rene Redzepi might be a little crazy. But crazy in a good way, crazy in a way that drives him to invent and develop new techniques and flavours that existed all along but no one knew or cared enough to extract them. After all, the fine line between genius and insanity is determined by one’s level of success. And Rene Redzepi is indeed a genius. NOMA has won the award for best restaurant in the world, three years in a row.

Go to the library and pick up this book. If you have 40 dollars laying around, buy it. It is worth the investment for any foodie and aspiring gastronomician. It may inspire you to go to culinary school, and one day, after years of experience (and working in Adria’s kitchen), you can open a restaurant in the genre of NOMA yourself. And I’ll write a review of your cookbook telling the world how truly great you really are.

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Food is just so commonplace. Everyone eats, everyone has an opinion about food. But taste is not exclusively a matter of individual perception, and food is never ‘just food.’ Whether we like it or not, what we eat affects how the world looks. And that affects the way we understand it. When we look at a plate of food, we should see the greater ecosystem too. If we find out where the food comes from and where it goes to, maybe this knowledge can be made into a kind of flavour-enhancer. It matters whether the potatoes came from New Zealand or from the Lammefjord area of Denmark, and I can see great potential in not dividing knowledge and flavour (just as in art, we should not separate form and content.) They can be part of one and the same food experience. In the same way , cooking and eating and taste are assocaited with many other things. Food can be political. Food can be about responsibility, sustainability, geography and culture.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Rene Redzepi’s NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine (review soon to come). As I read the introduction by artist Olafur Eliasson, I was amazed when I discovered that his essay, and particularly this quote (if not the entire message of the ‘cookbook’), essentially summed up the concept of my blog. I’m glad we agree, Olafur and Rene.

A Word from Olafur Eliasson

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