Interview: René Redzepi

Tonight SBS premieres noma australia, documenting René Redzepi’s journey of relocating noma, one of the world’s best restaurants, from Copenhagen to Sydney. The series uncovers how the Australian landscape informed menu ideas, especially foraged native ingredients. I got in touch with René to find out more about his experiences with the celebrated pop-up, how indigenous produce influenced his approach, his future plans, and more.

A lot of people struggle with identifying Australian cuisine. Do you think using indigenous produce at noma australia has helped define it?

Not to define it, no, but to me personally it would be my starting point if I were to have a restaurant in Australia permanently. I would need to meet the people who know about the seasons, what grows, what comes out of the red clay soil… That would be my seed of inspiration. And I think you can build something quite extraordinary from that.

What was your favorite native Australian ingredient to work with?

There were many incredible ingredients to work with. One of my favorites, which I wish I had back in Copenhagen, is the finger lime. For me, it is comparable to the yuzu fruit in terms of its versatility.

You really went above and beyond with using foraged ingredients at noma. I went mushroom foraging once – it was so satisfying, but very time-consuming so I haven’t gone again. Do you hope foraging will filter into home cooking in the future?

Foraging is important not just in culinary terms, but in connecting us with nature, and understanding the landscape and seasonal flows. In the future I think everyone should be a ”forager” in some sense. Our foraging initiative VILD MAD is starting to take this on in Denmark, teaching young Danish schoolchildren but with programs also available to the general public.

At MAD SYD you joked about the prevalence of avocado smash (I laughed), but underlying this was a more serious point about how there’s a lack of seasonality in dishes nowadays. What do you think is a better alternative toast topper than avocado?

It was of course a cheap joke! I need to say that avocadoes are also popular are on toast here in Denmark, we just use rye bread. But it is true though that we tend to have the same foods over and over and over again with little variation throughout the year. I wouldn’t begin to speculate on what that means for health benefits as I have no clue, but from a chef perspective I find that this approach gives you less of a life. And having a bit more seasonal diversity on your plate will help you to understand them, to relax and push you into a community where you can end up feeling part of something.

David Chang said Australian cuisine is Asian food, and Rebecca Huntley backed this up, mentioning that Australia is in Asia. Do you agree with them?

I certainly agree that on a broad level the best food in Australia comes from people incorporating Asian techniques or from full-on Asian restaurants.

You’ve mentioned in the past that you like Nordic/Japanese cafe Edition a lot. How does Scandinavian food complement Asian flavours? 

I think that in Scandinavia there’s a big tradition of fermentations. It was one of the only ways that food was spiced besides smoked foods. So I think there is a communality there.

With the rise of the home cook, what are your thoughts on the supposed death of fine dining?

I don’t believe in the death of fine dining one bit. I think that fine dining just needs to adapt and change. Fine dining used to be for the bourgeouis, a small elite, the restaurants were most of the time only set up for them. Very posh places with waiters in tuxedos, silverware, candelabras, and so on. Today you have a generation of diners who are much younger—from all walks of life. It’s one of the few analogue experiences for a younger person of digital generation to experience or collect. Nobody goes to the record store anymore for three hours flicking through vinyl, reading the label, watching the design… you’re reading the menu today. And the restaurants from fine dining need to adapt to a more fresh, democratized group of diners.

From Noma Denmark to Noma Japan and Noma Australia… What’s next?

It’s hard to say, especially as our kids (we brought a dozen total to Australia) are getting older, so you can’t just take them out of school. There’s a big chance that Australia was our last, but I wouldn’t rule it out for sometime in the future.

noma australia starts Thursday May 19 at 7.30pm on SBS.

This interview was originally published on the AU review. 

Headline image supplied.

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