A lament for the passing of Scandinavia’s ‘silly food’
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a new biweekly food column by Rick Koster, where he’ll whimsically discuss the absurdities of All Things Caloric.
Starting in 2025, the reindeer of Denmark can breathe easier!
This is because the visionary Danish restaurant Noma — an unprecedented five-time Michelin three-star restaurant, acknowledged by many professional food critics to be the finest restaurant in the world — has announced it will close its doors at the end of 2024.
This will make many epicureans sad — but not the reindeer.
You see, from what I can tell, various reindeer organs are frequently utilized on the autumn/winter “Forest/Game” menu. (Other Noma seasonal repasts are ocean themed and vegetable/garden-sourced.For each, the guest is served 15-20 dishes, after which a list is THEN presented to the guests itemizing what they ate.
A menu in reverse, I suppose. Like you’d forget this stuff!
Based on various reviews of their forest/game dishes, the diner will consume reindeer brain custard topped with pheasant broth and braised seaweed bits — served inside a reindeer skull. Or reindeer penis ragout served on a leaf. Or a tartare of reindeer hearts with ants. Or reindeer tongue with pine on a skewer. Or reindeer sweetbreads wrapped in moss.
Santa’s having a stroke if he’s reading this!
If you think I’m making this up, call Noma chef/owner René Redzepi, who pioneered these dishes and is the leader of a Scandinavian culinary movement called Silly Food. Kidding. It’s actually called New Nordic, and it seems more than a little pagan in its approach and ingredients.
The focus is on foraging natural and oft-overlooked possibilities from land and sea — spruce tips, pinecones, “carrots buried for two years,” “safe to eat” white mold and, ah, bears — as rendered for serving through ancient preparatory techniques like drying, smoking, fermentation, curing and pickling.
It's as though the community in the film “Midsommer” had its own cooking show!
Clearly, Redzepi and Noma have been extraordinarily successful, so as usual I’m the idiot here. And it’s not through lack of popularity the restaurant is closing but rather a matter of sustainability. The New York Times quoted Redzepi as saying the math of compensating nearly 100 employees fairly, while maintaining high standards, at prices that the market will bear, is no longer workable (and it’s worth noting customers pay about $500 each to eat at Noma).
Yet here I am in my cloddish fashion — the “Hee Haw” of dining writers — making fun of the place!
Hell, if I was in Copenhagen, I’d march to the front of the Noma enclave and demand to see Chef Redzepi. When he came out, I’d order to him to punch me in the face.
“Why?!” he’d say, perhaps surprised that some kook with a Texas accent had shown up with a nutty request for violence.
“Because I’m the ‘Hee Haw’ of dining writers and I’m scared to eat your reindeer-and-bug food!”
And he’d laugh and pat me on the shoulder, then bind me to a giant yew tree with river reeds and strips of horse flesh and sacrifice me to Jörð, the Norse goddess of the wild earth.
I wouldn’t blame him — and I don’t know how I turned out this way. I grew up with parents who were exceptionally refined cooks. My godfather, Jimmy Vouras, owned a Dallas restaurant called The Chateaubriand, which had a significant and critically exultant national reputation — and I ate there regularly.
On the other hand, the Chateaubriand did not serve dishes like these Noma mainstays: bear dumplings with a crispy duck skin wafer and bear caramel sauce, hot broth with squirrel ferment, or fried mallard brain still in a clearly identifiable, that-looks-like-an-Aflack-commercial-gone-horribly-wrong severed duck’s head.
And yet ... I’m a guy who willingly eats and enjoys the McRib sandwich.
And I’ll bet Chef Redzepi can’t say that!
What about you? What’s the most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten — and would you in fact give Noma a try? Let me know at email@example.com and we’ll print a representative array of your responses.