The Funk of Noma


As Noma, Copenhagen’s world class locavore restaurant opens its doors this week for a casual outdoor picnic- experience, founder and executive chef Rene Redzepi will replace his signature sea urchins in slivers of hazelnut and lobster and nasturtium with soft custard of egg yolk in a nest of potatoes with essence of rose petals with a $15 burger. But as former New York Times journalist and Redzepi disciple Jeff Gordinier tells me in my Cooking the Books podcast he will bring a realm of flavour most of us have never tasted.

Gordinier tells me in a 50-minute interview for the podcast about his rock ‘n’ roll road trip with the super-chef that Rene is not going to tell all the secrets about the new restaurant experience.  ‘But all this stuff they do, like fermentation and foraging – the two pillars of Noma cooking- they sound cliched after a while. But there’s a reason the restaurant is committed to those endeavours. And the reason is flavour… realms of flavour that you and I haven’t experienced.  My educated guess is that they’re going to apply those principles to this burger.’ 

Redzepi has announced that he will use meat garam in the burgers, and this, says Gordinier, is the key to the Noma 3.0 experience.  Describing the garam ‘like a funky fish sauce in Asia, a colatura that you might have in Italy’, he says: ‘It’s like pairing beef with its age-fermented counterpart, and that brings depth. I suspect that they’ll be little bits of greens that they’ve foraged. That’s not just a show piece. They don’t do that just to look cool. People sometimes ask me how good can Noma be? Here’s the thing, You know the colour spectrum? What if I were to tell you that there are colours out there that your eyes cannot apprehend? You cannot see the colours somehow.  And then if I give you his little pill, you would suddenly see the colours. Like the Matrix.  Well, that’s what they do at Noma with flavour, with fermentation and foraging.’

Gordinier says that what Redzepi will do will bring the funk of fermentation to his burger. ‘It’s umami’, he says, a word which he admits is overused.  ‘But umami is real’, he insists. ‘It’s a portal of flavour. It’s like the bass in a great funk song. Without it the song is still great, but it doesn’t have this bottom. And the funk of umami and fermentation, that’s the bottom.’

Listen HERE to listen to the whole episode

How to Eat to Save the Planet

Who knew when Leon asked me to make a series about the way we should be eating to reduce our carbon footprint that days after the final episode, we would be closing our doors and facing an indefinite Lockdown?

Or that ‘the answer’ according to the chefs and producers, farmers and campaigners I interviewed would be forced on us as the world skidded to a halt to ‘flatten the curve’ and keep the virus barking at our battened-down hatches.

Localism, the posh term for noticing what’s under our noses, has become the new normal, no longer just a call to arms among the sustainability crowd but an option to queuing around the block for a punnet of tomatoes. The village shop, the newsagent, the ‘social supermarket’ has become the place to catch up with the local news and pick up a veg box stuffed to the brim of local produce. The local farm has found itself selling its wares at the gate while the supermarkets scratch their heads and work out a new system for distribution.

We’ve begun to grow- not just as human beings as we cook for our NHS and check in on vulnerable neighbours – but our greens and legumes too. As Mother Nature smirked at the success of her massive strop, she shone down on our spinach and watered our Webbs in a spring out of a gardener’s fantasy. The skies have cleared and the people of Hastings cheer as they see France across the sea and the people of Delhi cry as the night sky twinkles with stars for the first time in decades. Deer and goats walk through empty towns and birds sing for the sheer joy of being alive. The silence of plane-free skies is deafening.

As death rates rise and brains are rewired to step back from human contact, life may never be the same. But when we finally step blinking out into a post-Lockdown light, let’s hope that localism will survive. Let’s continue to grow, eat and cook together. Let’s keep baking bread and working from home, talking face to face through the tech that we were always too busy to use. Zoom – such a fast word for a slowed down world – you’ve shown us how good it is to talk.

Here’s my prediction. We’ll celebrate together more, bringing back the old ways like the midwinter Wassail (launch episode) that blessed the apple trees and had us singing loud and proud over a bowl of home-made cider. We’ll eat less meat and love it more when we do and after months of hand sanitisers and plastic everything, we’ll understand the power of gut bacteria to make us healthy (Ep 1). Hyper-local will be the only way to eat out (Ep 2) and we’ll remember how creative we were when the chips were down, wasting less and re-using more(Ep 3 and Ep 4). And after months of how many ways with dahl? we’ll buy British pulses like we used to and eat food from the land like the cuisines we’ve coveted for decades (Ep5). And maybe, just maybe, we will have learned how to eat to save the planet.

Leon Presents: How to Eat to Save the Planet.

Should we Brits be ashamed of our food heritage?

This week, I’m with multi-award winning author Pete Brown whose latest book, Pie Fidelity, explores a patriotic story of British food.

We discuss why he thinks British food is something to be proud of…

Though we may put down our food heritage in the UK, some of the traditional food and drink from the small island is one of the best things about being British. That’s why Pete’s on a crusade for us to treat our own cuisine with the same respect as all the other cuisines of the world.

In his book, Pete travels the country and looks at classic British dishes like fish and chips and the Sunday roast. He tells me about Devonshire cream tea and how, when in a cafe in Devon, he had a revelation that an immaculate cream tea doesn’t have to be posh; it’s just snobbery that has made it that way.

We also discuss how the British recipe of Spaghetti Bolognese has been bastardised over the years. He thinks our British version is better than the traditional Italian recipe of Ragu alla Bolognese. Listen to why by clicking below:

To Thailand, with love

This week, I go way off the beaten track in Thailand with Thai-born food writer, and delicious. columnist, Kay Plunkett-Hogge.

We go in search for the food of Kay’s childhood, in the roadside cafes and markets of Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.

To start, I catch up with Kay who tells me how she absorbed recipes from her Thai nanny, learnt how to cook Thai food and how Thailand has changed since she was born there in the 70s.

Along with my fellow foodie travellers, James Ramsden and Audrey Gillan, we travelled around Thailand. From a michelin-star restaurant in Bangkok to a roadside cafe in Chang-Rai.

We taste the most spectacular food; a highlight being roadside pancakes, called khao soi noi, with eggs, beansprouts, chilli and tofu.

The Easter Episode: With Steven Lamb, Dan Saladino and the food lovers who’ve found their happy place.

This month’s pod is all about finding your happy; River Cottage’s Steven Lamb argues that curing your own bacon delivers the key to Paradise, Dan Saladino tells me that after 13 years of presenting Radio 4’s The Food Programme, he’s finally got something to say in his book-in-progress, ‘The Ark of Taste’, and nomadic chef, Michael Watt, formerly of Brighton’s 64 Degrees tells me why he ran off to set up his own culinary circus.

Plus, Susana Perez of Susana and Daughters, on why making kefir makes her happy and Will Davenport on why organic wines can save the planet. And Sophie from the food team gives us 25 seconds on Marmite.

Click below to listen.