An old man sits collecting stamps, inn a room all filled with Chinese lamps.
He saves what others throw away; he says that he'll be rich someday.
"Frank Sinatra," Cake
Last weekend, I had a brief audience with Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. For the years 2010-2012, he operated what Pellegrino deemed "The Best Restaurant in the World."
I suspect that to Redzepi, such accolades, though good for business, are largely meaningless. And even the business side of Noma is of little interest to him: he admitted that his restaurant is not actually profitable, which is baffling, amazing, incomprehensible (at least to me).
Regarding Redzepi himself, I have rarely met a more down-to-earth chef, warm, generous with his time, and articulate, speaking, as do chefs like Achatz at Alinea, with an artist's intensity of vision and commitment.
As I was waiting to speak with Redzepi, I read in his Journal that "All ingredients have the same worth." Of course, ingredients have different values, but that's determined by the market, and one cannot say that truffle is a more worthy ingredient than a tomato. As he explained to me, "It's the cook's job to make such foods equally delicious. Obviously, when you have a steak, and you put that on the grill, it's immediate pleasure. With other ingredients, you have to work; you have to be more imaginative."
His book Noma Recipes is full of ingredients that are available in most woodland areas and that likely would not be considered food: pine needles, various grasses, black ants.
What I admire most about Redzepi – as well as chefs like Cantu at Moto and Regan at Elizabeth – is that they're expanding our notions of the edible by serving some things that may make people scratch their heads and think, "Gee, I didn't know you could eat that, but it's not bad."
Now, the irony, of course, is that a dinner at Noma – even if it contains "trash" – is about $500/person with wine pairing.
I would hazard, though, that a dinner prepared by Redzepi and his crew is probably going to be much more memorable and meaningful than five dinners you might have at $100. I strongly suspect he blows minds regularly.