donderdag 16 december 2010

United foragers against olive (oil)


"Øllebrød" and frothed milk

A while ago I caught the finalists of Masterchef professional 2010, a BBC cooking competition, visiting Copenhagen's Noma. And so I learned about the best restaurant in the world of 2010 as voted by the chefs themselves. It is not easy to miss that Noma is something special: the chefs are not fat bastards but healthy looking, cool dude designer types. Head Chef René Redzepi has as a cardinal rule that at least 1/3 of all dishes should consist of foraged goods and his explanation makes perfect ecological sense in the present but are also typical in the wider sense of foraging as an activity of reinhabitation, skill, concentration and awareness.
All of the people who work in the kitchen with me go out into the forests and on to the beach. It's a part of their job. If you work with me you will often be starting your day in the forest or on the shore because I believe foraging will shape you as a chef. I know it has shaped me. If you see how a plant grows and you taste it in situ you have a perfect example of how it should taste on the plate. But it's more than that. When you get close to the raw materials and taste them at the moment they let go of the soil, you learn to respect them.       
Central to the argument of the great forage revival is that it reintroduces an ancient practise wiped out by the aggressive spread of the culture of agriculture. Redzepi tells us that choosing local, foraged, ingredients also means breaking with the great tradition of fine dining: fat! And this is no surprise: not health or food security but calories were the killer app of agriculture. 
So when we came to open Noma, with our commitment to a new style of cooking that turned away from the otherwise terrific classical French repertoire – no olives or its oil, no tomatoes unless briefly in season, no bulb garlic – to something distinctive and regional, it made sense that a lot of our ingredients should be those we could find, not least because they are so available. That's the beauty of Copenhagen. You can just go into its parks and find the likes of wild garlic and yellow star of Bethlehem and march violets, all of which we use in our dishes.
Another returning fascinating point is answered as well. How do you actually learn to forage. Mostly by being instructed. The 'rare character' mentioned at the end, one of those persons with real knowledge doesn't sound open to the suggestion of  sharing his sites with the internet dummies finding edibles for free the augmented foraging easy way. There is a discussion about this earlier.  
Other things came from further away. I studied recipe books and nature books, learned about wood sorrel and ground elder and particular kinds of seaweed to be plucked from the shore. We also developed a network of professional foragers. We have one man who has been doing it for decades. He is one of those rare characters, with teeth that go in all directions and a book in which he has been keeping notes about the weather and the locations of particular mushrooms since the 1970s. This information he keeps to himself, like it was the recipe for Coke. They are his life, his treasure. 
The pictures below are from a Flickr Photoset that contains many more goodies. The quotes are taken from an interview with The Guardian in April 2010. 

Blueberries and pine

Cook it Raw

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