The Inspiring New Cookbook From the 'World's Best Chef'


Courtesy of Phaidon Press

A few years ago, all the chefs I talked to were hunting down René Redzepi's book. That's how I first heard about the young Danish chef rebelling against the Eurocentric culinary scene in Copenhagen, getting back to his Nordic roots.

Some of them likened Redzepi to a young Michel Bras, a reclusive French chef with an almost spiritual connection to his regional ingredients. These chefs hadn't visited Redzepi's restaurant. They hadn't met him or seen him on TV. Sometimes, they didn't know the guy's name, only the name of his restaurant, Noma, which had opened back in 2003. But they were fascinated by Nordisk Mad, which was, and still is, damn near impossible to find in English (it's out of print, unfortunately).


Courtesy of Phaidon Press

Redzepi was already a star within the industry, respected among chefs for doing his own thing, when this year, his restaurant climbed to the number one spot in Restaurant Magazine's annual 50-best list (which Spain's elBulli had previously topped for four straight years).

So, the second book has benefitted from really good timing. In early October, Phaidon will release NOMA: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine. Simply, it's a gorgeous cookbook, well worth its price tag of $49.95—a dense journal of the restaurant's culture, philosophy, and food with beautiful photography and design.

Though the book is set in a cold place, with tales of freezing journeys into the Scandinavian underbelly to root around for edibles, the book's warmth is palpable—with one exception. The story of Noma, written by journalist Rune Skyum-Nielsen, is in dry and at times awkwardly clinical prose. The language seems unreasonably formal for a restaurant that deviates in so many ways from traditional, formal fine dining. (At Noma, the cooks who prepare the dishes serve them to guests, tables are free of tablecloths, Icelandic sheepskins cover the backs of diners' seats, and the knives at a table are often mismatched).

But Redzepi's story is tucked in this chapter. And it's good.

René Redzepi grew up bilingual, with a Macedonian father who worked as a taxi driver, a Danish mother who worked as a housekeeper, and a twin brother who was generally better at stuff than he was. Because they weren't well-off, the frozen food aisles of the 1980s were off-limits to the family, who ate simply cooked foods, killing their own chickens for dinner and milking cows to make butter at home.


Courtesy of Phaidon Press

At 15, following a friend, not knowing what else to do with himself, Redzepi went to a year-long restaurant school, apprenticing after graduation at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen called Pierre André, Le Jardin des Sens in France, elBulli in Spain, and The French Laundry. By the time he was 25, Claus Meyer approached him to open Noma in a converted warehouse at the end of a dock in Copenhagen.

The goal: build a great restaurant that celebrates Danish cuisine. Step one: Figure out Danish cuisine.

Danish fine dining existed. It just wasn't very Danish. So much so that Redzepi's unnamed peers mocked the idea, apparently nicknaming the restaurant "Whale Penis" and "Seal Fucker" (one imagines there's no worse insult for a Nordic bully to dish out on the playground). Traditional local ingredients were considered of much lower quality than say, imported French ones. Not by everyone, though—Meyer had been championing Danish cooking culture for 15 years with books and a long running cooking show.

The story of the restaurant has a happy ending, of course, and it's followed by pages from Redzepi's journal, the one he kept leading up to the opening of the restaurant as he traveled for inspiration and ingredient-sourcing. Here, he documents the train rides and the snacks, the experimental tastings of wild roots and berries, and the meetings along the way with fellow chefs, cookery teachers, and guides. Bonus: You'll probably learn the days of the week in Danish by reading this section.

NEXT: The book's remaining contents, and what really makes it good

Presented by

Tejal Rao

Tejal Rao is a writer and translator from Northwest London, living in
Brooklyn. She is a restaurant critic for the Village Voice. Follow her on Twitter or learn more at

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