Tuesday, 15 July 2014

New Nordic Cuisine - Cooking up a Storm!

This year I decided to enter a young food writers competition called 'Write It! 2014' run by the The Guild Of Food Writers. I based my article on the new Scandinavian craze sweeping the foodie revolution. The bad news...I didn't win. But, the good news is: I can still publish my entry on my blog. (Ha!) So read it, see what you think and feel free to comment your thoughts on it. Oh and I feel like I should be a good team player so I'm also giving you the link here to read the winning entry. (I must say that there are so many great budding young food writers out there, so I better watch my back eh?)

Let’s be honest here, Scandinavia was never regarded as a place for attracting foodies unless you fancied a pickled herring or some meatballs! Yet, that all changed a few years ago when one Copenhagen restaurant opened its doors, attracting gastronomic disciples from all over the world.  From 2010-2012 it was voted the ‘best restaurant in the world’; it’s name is Noma!

Noma is essentially a creative hub of Nordic food exploration and creativity, the culinary reputation of a culture transformed by Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer. Pioneers of the movement ‘New Nordic cuisine’, Redzepi and Meyer offer a gastronomic revolution that’s sweeping away the old Scandinavian images of meatballs, pickled fish and smorgasbord in favour of stunning and inventive plates combining new ingredients with traditional techniques.
Precision is the key to plating up...

Moss foam, sea urchins and kelp. These are all hallmarks of the trend blowing the minds of foodies like myself; new tastes and textures which are unfamiliar to most, hidden in a mysterious maze, there for us to navigate and unearth ... often flavours which exhibit more bitterness due to the extremes of climate; vegetation tends to be tougher ‘up north’! The flavours are kept pure, often raw and not at all dominated by strong spices. It’s a clean cut distinctive taste, enhanced with a wild herb, giving a complementary aroma.

A plate often served up at Noma

Earthy and refined, ancient and modern, playful and yet paradoxically deeply serious are all adjectives which could describe New Nordic cuisine. Instead of the new (techniques, stabilizers, ingredients), it emphasises the old (drying, smoking, pickling, curing) with an overall aim of returning balance to the earth itself. Preservation plays an important role in Nordic cuisine; mushrooms, herbs, and even seaweed are kept across seasons, used to boost flavour, bring a variety of textures and enhance winter dishes. Hay, shells, pine and juniper twigs as kitchen tools generate yet more natural flavours within dishes, turning the culinary clock back to how prehistory used to cook.

The menu at Noma is populated with unheard-of, wonderful items such as: cloudberries, possessing sweet-sour apple piquancy; moss and cep delivering a delightful salty aftertaste, and musk ox with its deep gamey quality. Foraging is pivotal in the discovery of all these new finds, confirmed by the fifty types of berries which emerged from the Scandinavian forests, adding to the lexicon of New Nordic Cuisine. A team of chefs-turned-foragers scour the woods or shoreline to collect all edibles otherwise forgotten by mainstream food culture. Ingredients are explored and reinterpreted to reflect the changes of the seasons in the meal whilst seeking purity, simplicity and freshness.

"Blueberries Surrounded by Their Natural Environment"
It makes perfect sense to spread this way of thinking, this natural ethos about food to all parts of the world. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to eat what you have just found... yet most people associate New Nordic Cuisine, if they are even aware of it, with the elaborate, experimental techniques we just aren’t that familiar with including many ingredients that aren’t accessible to most home cooks. We need to turn that idea around, to embrace the philosophy of New Nordic Cuisine into our everyday cooking, no matter what our location. Essentially it’s about eating from our ‘backyard’, putting wild, seasonal and local produce right back at the heart of the agenda all year round, creating a self sufficient food culture connected to our natural surroundings. The term ‘Allemannsretten’ meaning ‘freedom to roam’ could perhaps be the difference and explain why Scandinavia has embraced foraging more than the British; as long as foragers respect the livestock and cause no damage they have access to private land, therefore possess the right to pick what they want. If we are to fully embrace the Nordic philosophy, I believe Britain should follow suit so that we too have the opportunity to celebrate the greatness of nature’s edible delights present within our own region.

"Vegetable Field" - It's all the fun of foraging without the work!

Evidence of the growing Nordic invasion is everywhere: locally, ‘The Salt Bar’ a restaurant focussing on the more traditional home cooked Scandinavian dishes has recently opened its doors. My meal there was not impressive to say the least, (having wanted to be impressed, unfortunately, I wasn’t!) Truthfully, I think my expectations of Noma were too high for ‘The Salt Bar’ to contend with. Yes…a sense of this new food culture is growing; but we still have a very long way to go until all the ethics New Nordic Cuisine observes really takes hold of Britain, helping to earn our place on the Global culinary map too!

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