René Redzepi is the chef and owner of the acclaimed restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. Their menus are heavy on the use of local, seasonal, forest ingredients as well as fermentation to make things like pine cones edible.
For a conversation with him based on an exchange of musical pieces, I chose “Water Cadenza” from Tan Dun’s “Water Passion” as amusing-buche, followed by the first movement of “Cantus arcticus” by Einozhani Rautwara. did. Redzepi chose Philip Glass’s “Flow” from “Glassworks”. Here are edited excerpts of the discussion.
I wanted to choose pieces that speak to your sense of adventure when it comes to using ingredients that people have not previously considered edible.
There’s something so intuitive and simple about “Water Cadenza” that I really enjoyed. I thought this was something we could actually hear in the Test Kitchen. I came to work and put it on my headphones, and it was really upbeat – a positive, energetic song.
What makes me think of you, in these sounds of slaps and water, is also the quality of synesthesia, to engage the many senses. When I ate at Noma, the first course was broth with a straw hidden inside a pot of live herbs. In order to drink it, I had to bury my face in a living plant and had an enveloped sense of smell and the leaves on my face were tickling.
It’s a way to shrug off people and say: Stop everything else, stay here. This is the natural world right now as we see it; Please take it in. Some come here and are already used to being curious. But other people? It is the same with music. People eat and hear the same seven or eight things throughout their lives.
The second piece I’ve chosen for you is the introduction to “Cantus arcticus” by Rautvara, a Finnish musician who died in 2016. It involves field recordings from a swamp near the Arctic Circle so that the bird song would mingle with the orchestra. I thought wild and cultured sounds had a resemblance to your cooking, sounds that were “got” and composed sounds from the woods.
At first, I liked the piece. I thought it was incredibly dramatic, like I was waking up in the woods somewhere.
A lot of things I enjoy in Arts & Design & Crafts are when those two fuse: something raw and wild with something ultrarefined and very polished. When they both can meet I usually think this is the future of our society. Becoming a little more wild and listening to the forest a little more so that we can get more used to it.
The other thing is that it is very local. Bird song links it to a specific place and a specific season. And it made me want to ask you about the seasons. Music is the art of change over time, and I think you’re arguing to back food in that context.
As you said, it can also connect to diversity. We need to make better use of it. type of food. Listening to diversity. And not everything is the same all the time. It’s incredibly boring and it makes us lazy.
My childhood was partly in Denmark and partly in Yugoslavia. When we decided that Denmark would be our permanent home, I was very rootless for many years. As soon as I entered cooking, I found myself doing something I loved. I immediately fell in love with the taste. But I still wasn’t 100 percent sure if I really belonged here. I didn’t feel a sense of belonging anywhere.
When Noma opened in 2003, no one put a choice. I mean, they did it out of desperation, but not for the taste or any perfect texture. And we found ourselves on the shore and in the woods. And then I felt a sense of belonging, my feet deep in some rotten seaweed or my hands deep in the bed of the ramp. And I want to give this to someone who is rootless: go out and learn the seasons. See what’s edible. See what changes from week to week. See how an ingredient isn’t what you think it is. It can be as many as five separate ingredients as it grows from a short shoot to a berry.
I think another part of this is fermentation, which is another way of working time on ingredients. It has its own logic and detail that you can’t rush.
It is an antidote to a world where everything is so fast; on demand; Electricity speed. There are actually things you have to wait for and then some magic happens, I love that. The happiest people I know are those who live in nature all the time: foresters, bakers, fermentation experts. Sometimes I envy that focus. My job is to be at the center of everything that is going on.
Speaking of a lot of things going on, let’s talk about the Philip Glass piece you’ve chosen, “Flow.”
The first time I heard it I thought maybe it was technical, and then I thought: no, it’s something completely different. I got into the rhythm and the way it just keeps building and building. Many of our employees hear this. There’s something about the energy in that hive of sounds that resonates with us when we’re about to get too busy.
Listening, I was also picturing a really busy kitchen. This is a demonstration of how much richness you can achieve by changing just one variable, because the harmonic progression is the same over and over again. So no surprise there. But constantly wonders how he changes the texture. He plays with these simple materials, but they are quite strange together: flute, French horn, and synthesizer and saxophone. So you have airy, mellow and flamboyant and – I don’t know what I would call a synthesizer. bright?
People get concentrated after listening to this song. If you play it out loud, no matter what’s happening, you’ll think: I need to focus. Glass is now on the playlists of a lot of cooks. There’s something about his music that really works in the kitchen.
It doesn’t impose a story on you the way Rush probably does. Glass is very abstract. And for me, it’s fermentation: I see things fizzing and bubbling.
Maybe we should play it in our fermentation room. Do you know Mort Garson’s “Plantasia”? This is an electronic album that was for Plants. And we play it with our plants in our greenhouses. I know there are weird farmers who play music for their animals.
When you said “Plantasia” I thought it might be the growling sound of plants. John Cage wrote an excerpt for Amplified Cactus. And you can laugh at it or roll your eyes, but ultimately it comes down to what you’re doing – expanding people’s awareness of what’s audible and what’s edible.
I think our senses are the greatest gift we have, and we make poor use of them. We don’t eat well, we don’t hear well, we don’t see well. And our senses can be like ninjas.