A plateful of milk skin with grass, flowers and herbs. Something most of you would go a long way to avoid. Especially at £27.50. But this was not any milk skin, it was René Redzepi milk skin. Redzepi is the genius who has wrested Nordic cuisine away from the Mediterranean influences of El Bulli and Pizza Express to reclaim the soul of Kierkegaard. He understands that a potato cannot be separated from the soil in which it is grown; that is why at Noma the chips are covered in dirt and served in a jus de earthworm.
The reviews were polite but not much more when Noma first opened for business in Copenhagen in 2003 and Redzepi realised he had to rethink his gastronomic concept. The only way to return to the purest essence of boiled cabbage was by going on a Nordic tour to source some of the most inedible foods imaginable. Within a matter of years Noma had been voted the best restaurant in the world. Here are some excerpts from Rene’s diary of that momentous journey.
Mandag Kristan greets us at Torshaven airport in the Faroe Islands with some sea-buckthorn berries. Wow! They are utterly disgusting. We must use them. They will go well with raw puffin and turnips.
Lordag Edda takes us to Iceland’s lava landscape to steam vegetables in the hot springs. The sulphurous smell is overpowering, but I think I will be able to replicate it in the Noma kitchens.
Tirsdag Vigdis serves fresh whale. The meat has a strong taste of iron, but I can reduce that by taking out the harpoon.
Onsdag Sverrir takes us out among the Greenland ice floes. The scallops caught at 35 metres are not good. I suggest we try somewhere deeper. We send a diver down to the seabed at 1,200 metres. He dies of the bends on the way up, but it is worth it. The flavour is exquisite. I place an order for several tonnes a year; Sverrir places an order for several hundred divers.
Bouillon of Steamed Birchwood, Chanterelles and Fresh Hazelnut Chop down one 12 metre birch tree and soak in an ice bath to lock in the flavours. Then boil for seven days until it is soggy. Macerate the remaining branches and boil for a further 10 days. Force the pulp through a fine sieve, then reduce the liquid until just 50ml remain. Add some chanterelles and garnish with a hazelnut.
Reindeer with Celeriac and Wild Herb Gel Shoot reindeer in back yard. Slice 200g of meat from the shoulder and the loin and preserve the hide. Vacuum-pack the shoulder and cook for three hours at 84C. Poke it and cook for a further three hours at 87C. Blend the loin with celeriac very quickly (no longer than 3.7 seconds) then put in thermomixer and add to the shoulder and poach for 14 minutes at 68C. Boil up the reindeer hooves and wild herbs into a glue and stick the hide back on.
Sea Urchins and Frozen Milk, Cucumber and Dill Remove sea urchins from hyperbaric chamber and get junior member of staff to cut off spines so you don’t spike yourself. Poach the spines for seven hours in a water bath at 37C then throw away. Rinse the orange urchin tongues before adding seven grains of Norwegian sand. Incinerate the cucumber until carbonised then crush into a powder. Separate the cream from the milk for 11 minutes before mixing them back together and freezing with liquid nitrogen. Mix everything together and blow-torch.
Snails and Moss: Feed 32 snails on beetroot until they turn red. Boil them alive, making sure none escape. Scrape some moss from the side of a fjord and blanch until colourless. Then reform snails and moss into the Danish flag.
Blueberries surrounded by their Natural Environment: Remove several large blueberry bushes from the garden, taking care to preserve as much of the root ball as possible. Reattach any blueberries that fell off while you were moving the plant with maltodextrin and xanthum gum. Bring Arctic foxes into kitchen and palpate their bladders until they have urinated on the blueberries. Repot the bushes in Greenland tundra and serve with vanilla Häagen-Dazs ice-cream.