René Redzepi Talks Life-Changing Roast Chicken, Making Denmark a 'Spicy' Nation

While we’ve been recapping the science and food lectures that have been taking place at Harvard, it’s not the only Ivy League school spotlighting the best and brightest in haute cuisine. We enlisted Jordan Zimmerman, editor of The Yale Epicurean, to report back on Rene Redzepi’s lecture at Yale.

Earlier this week, Yale welcomed world-renowned chef René Redzepi, who helms San Pelligrino’s current world number-one restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. The Nordic toque visited New Haven to give a lecture titled “Love Stories,” as well as tour the Yale Farm, an arm of the Yale Sustainable Food Project.

If you missed out, don’t worry — we were on hand to take notes and see Redzepi in action on the farm. For the visual of the event highlights, click through the slide show above; below, our breakdown of “Love Stories:”

Enjoying your food is a good thing, people!
Redzepi is largely seen as the first person to question the lack of pleasure surrounding food in Denmark. He said that opening Noma was an attempt to rid Denmark of what he called a bad case of “Babette’s Feast Syndrome;” he wanted to find a way to make food a part of the country’s culture. “Good food can happen anywhere,” Redzepi said. “It’s a matter of finding idiosyncrasies and expanding them.”

One dish can change everything.
Redzepi grew up in Macedonia from 1977 to 1991. During those years, he said he would often eat on a hard dirt floor, forming a circle with the other members of his family. His part-Muslim upbringing meant that meat in his diet was rare — slaughtering a chicken meant less eggs; a cow, less milk. Then in ninth grade, Redzepi joined a culinary academy solely because his best friend Michael had done the same. The first big exam centered upon creating his idea of the “perfect dish,” which Redzepi naturally defined as an elusive meat dish: succulent roast chicken. After a week of impassioned study, trial and error, he triumphed in creating the ultimate roast chicken–a dish that he said defined his life passion.

If you see rotting seaweed, give it a try.
In one of his first few adventures to Denmark’s coastline, Redzepi stumbled upon the root called Seaside Arrowgrass, which to him looked “somewhat safe enough” to eat. “I don’t know, I didn’t choke when I chewed it …” he said. To his surprise, the root, a type of soggy seaweed, tasted exactly like coriander. “It was the moment when we [at Noma] truly started delving into wild nature,” he said. Redzepi has since become a hallmark for those interested in foraging for undiscovered local flavors, and unlikely local ingredients. “It took [Denmark] many years to realize we could be a ‘spicy’ nation,” he said.

Call a bad carrot “vintage,” and save your bottom line.
Last year’s winter was a particularly harsh one for Denmark. Blanketed in foot upon foot of snow, with the ocean frozen hundreds of meters out, every piece of vegetation that the restaurant staff could forage was “a little piece of gold,” Redzepi said. After calling upon a local farmer and begging him for absolutely any morsel he had, Redzepi opened a farm crate to a very, very old carrot — as in, so old and bendy it could form a circle without snapping. The kitchen was desperate for food, however, and Redzepi took a chance. He browned the carrot slowly and caramelized its skin, resulting in an unappealing, purple-centered rod that proved surprisingly decadent as a result of its two-hour preparation. The dish was the first of many that helped both the restaurant and beleaguered local farmers survive that harsh winter. Now, the farmer who provided the initial carrot intentionally raises various breeds of “vintage carrots.”

Chefs aren’t the center of the universe. Really.
“In many ways, we are celebrated too much,” Redzepi said, referencing today’s fervor over big-name celebrity chefs. Noma employs a 70-person team, each of whom works 85+-hour weeks for a restaurant of just 40 covers a night. To Redzepi, the team at Noma is a family, and their passion and relationships surrounding food are the most important element, not celebrity. —Jordan Zimmerman

Chowder contributor Jordan Zimmerman can be reached at Jordan.Zimmerman@Yale.edu.

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