Danish superstar restaurant Noma recently lost its ranking as the best restaurant in the world to the Spanish El Celler de Can Roca. We can’t help but think that René Redzepi, being a true Dane (despite his decidedly un-Danish name) is secretly relieved to be number two. After all, he lives in a country where a large sign in Rådhuspladsen proudly declares Carlsberg to be “Probably the best beer in town.”
As Americans who are used to hyperbole in the opposite direction, it is sometimes hard to understand the Danish love of modesty. Much has been made of its origins in the fictitious Janteloven of 1933, in which Aksel Sandemose observed that Danes don’t like to believe that one individual is better than another. Or as the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Danes puts it: “ anyone who sets himself above the rest of the group will be knocked off his perch.”
But one could hardly accuse René Redzepi of holding himself above others, even during the three years that Noma has held its place as the best in the world. He has shared his insights with an international array of apprentices and other chefs. And one floor above Noma is the state-of-the-art Nordic Food Lab. This non-profit, self-governed organization was established in 2008 by Redzepi and the legendary Claus Meyer. Its purpose is “to explore the building blocks of Nordic cuisine through traditional and modern gastronomies, and to share these results with chefs, academics, industry, and the public.”
Even in its comfortable #2 spot, Noma is far from resting on its laurels. As the award site for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 states, “Three-time number one Noma continues to take an innovative and inventive approach to both its cooking and its strictly local sourcing and foraging. Chef-patron René Redzepi’s food can at times be shocking – visceral even – but it strives to reflect the Danish landscape and culture. Through its menu of numerous small appetizers and courses to its stunning array of ‘treats’ that round off the meal, there’s always at least one dish that makes you feel glad to be alive.”
PS As part of our research to write “Eat Smart in Denmark” (to be published in 2014), we need a few volunteers in the US or Canada to test our translation of La Glace’s famous recipe for Othello Cake. Interested? Please e-mail us at email@example.com. Tusind tak!