In the last couple of years, the Nordic culinary movement has taken risen like a quiet, slow-building storm. A key factor in the success is their focus on foraging, a love for local produce and a fresh look at old school dishes. Read on to know more!
As Indians, we are not really known for our subtlety of flavours, we eat big – from spices to ingredients and even portions. However, there are places in the world where people are trying to minimise and bring out the natural flavours of fresh produce. And Copenhagen, the stylish Danish capital, is leading the way in this North European culinary revolution. Not surprising, considering it’s home to the two Michelin-starred, almost iconic – Noma founded by Claus Meyer in partnership with head chef Rene Redzepi.
In the last couple of years, the Nordic culinary movement has taken risen like a quiet, slow-building storm. A key factor in the success is their focus on foraging, a love for local produce and a fresh look at old school dishes. ‘Vegetables in Soil’ is one of the most illustrative and notorious example of Redzepi’s agrarian-focussed philosophy in which locally sourced baby carrots, radishes, leeks and celeriac are served on a bed of “soil” – a combination of malt flour, hazelnut flour, melted butter and beer.
THE NEW NORDIC DIET
Sweet, fat and salt – these are the tastes embedded in the Nordic food palate. Complete with its own policy calling for purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics, Nordic food focusses on seasonal Scandinavian ingredients like potatoes, fish, pine oil, berries, lesser known herbs and even moss. These are prepared using traditional methods such as smoking, fermenting, pickling and curing. Some of the highly recommended signature Nordic dishes worldwide include René Redzepi’s ‘Hen and the Egg’ where eggs are cooked in thyme butter, wild ramsons and spinach leaves and crumbled potato, and Michelin-rated Postress’ Chef Samuli Wirgentius’ Charcoal-grilled fillet of lamb served with grilled cabbage, broccoli and oysters.
Arne Astrup, the Head of Department at Copenhagen University, spoke to us exclusively and added, “The New Nordic Diet (NND) that is becoming widely popular across the world is an attempt to develop a new cuisine which revitalises Nordic regional traditions. It also involves making healthy choices not only the most rational, but also the most feasible and affordable. The diet is based on regional foods that bridges gastronomy, health, and sustainability and thus contains more of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain, fish and shellfish, and wild game”.
INDIA’S NORDIC CONNECTION
The man behind Mumbai’s Salt Water Café and Delhi’s brief-lived progressive eatery – Smoke House Room, Executive Chef Gresham Fernandes has had the privilege to work at Noma for three months as part of a special program. He tells us, “Noma has, in a way, enabled other restaurants to step forward and offer local dishes that would once have been shirked as distastefully exotic. Since the north European region has harsh winters, the flora and fauna is different from us, and so they keep experimenting with ingredients that have never been used or may even be unheard of by us. We cannot do a Nordic dish here in India because of the lack of ingredients, but we can definitely imitate by using our own local produce”.
“Nordic food is an everyday cuisine that originated in the northern hemisphere to promote eating both locally and seasonally. It’s about tradition and promotes eating from your “backyard” in a new and modern context, but it’s also about great food cooked in the kitchen and eaten together at the table. In a way, imbibing their common practices will help showcase our local produce and promote our famers as well”, says Chef Manish Mehrotra from New Delhi’s award-winning Indian Accent.
The star chef knows what he’s talking about. In 2013, Chef Manish and Chef Samuli Wirgentius from Helsinki’s Michelin-starred Postres had come together in the first VEEN Connect – an epicurean initiative that brings together some of the world’s most loved chefs and sommeliers. As part of a culinary exchange, they crafted a fascinating soiree using signature dishes of Nordic flavours, which Chef Mehrotra took to Helsinki and Chef Samuli brought to to Delhi. “This is a come back to being open to ingredients that are easily available in our country along with cooking techniques that we have relied upon for centuries. Even one of my creations – the khandvi ravioli with mixed cheese mash and khakhra crisp is inspired by Noma”, adds Manish.
Winner of the Masterchef International Cuisine Award 2009, Chef Vaibhav Bhargava from Olive Bar & Kitchen and Guppy by Ai, who attended the summer training workshop at Noma in 2012 recounts his time there and shares, “It was a great learning experience. At Noma, chefs use the freshest ingredients, which are locally produced. They also have a testing menu for diners apart from the regular one where they keep experimenting with new produce and develop new items for the coming year. In both my kitchens, I’m trying to focus on seasonal and local produce as well and am working on creating a menu that is equally superlative”.
From what we see and hear, Nordic cuisine has been created as a showcase of regional flavours and seasonality that respect North European food traditions by using modern technology. In a way, it is trying to form a natural order wherein by combining modern knowledge and presentation with age-old techniques, any country or region can establish its own unique food culture.
Note: The article first appeared on What’s Hot/TimesCity