No. More. Nordic. Please.
Copenhagen is ready to break the mold of New Nordic cooking. The next generation of chefs in the city is ready to be freed of the New Nordic Food Manifesto. According to them, “Nordic” no longer encapsulates the Copenhagen food agenda. Tired of the “N-word”, they explore the possibility of a Post-Nordic style of gastronomy.
Please: Don’t call me Nordic
The next generation of chefs in Copenhagen is growing uneasy with the knee-jerk use of “Nordic” to describe their food. They seek to be understood on their own terms. “I don’t use the term Nordic anymore about my food. It died for me a while back,” Claus Henriksen explains. He’s the head chef of Dragsholm Castle, and one of the chefs very much associated with the new Nordic revolution in gastronomy. Like many other new stars of the Danish dining scene, he came out of Noma, the iconic restaurant that introduced and embodied the term “New Nordic” to the gastronomic world at large.
Claus is not alone. Many chefs in Denmark echo Claus’ sentiments and are tired of the term “Nordic.” It no longer describes the food that has made Scandinavia the epicenter of culinary innovation; instead, it is increasingly deemed a term that has outlived its utility for contemporary chefs. “Nordic” doesn’t describe the style of food being pursued here, more than anything the food is defined by a truly globalized cooking community attracting talent and entrepreneurs from around the world. “Nordic Food” seems now merely a perversion for the benefit of marketing departments and a far cry from the work of this ambitious and very environmentally- conscious group of chefs.
In restaurants like Amass, BROR and Dragsholm Slot – often seen as the next torchbearers of the Danish Food Scene – they’d much prefer to not be labeled New Nordic at all. “I don’t consider my restaurant a Nordic restaurant. Absolutely not. We use lots of things that don’t come from this part of the world in our food. But our restaurant is continuously being portrayed as such.” explains Matt Orlando, formerly of Thomas Keller’s three-starred Per Se in New York & Noma, and now owner of one of the most ground breaking avant-garde restaurants in Copenhagen: Amass. Much akin to the group of physicists attached to physics Nobel Laureate, Niels Bohr, in the 1920’s, one could call this group of ambitious, international and talented chefs a “Copenhagen School” of cooking. Others are referring to transitory period as “Post-Nordic.”
To Keep Moving
Orlando came to Denmark to work and stayed here because of what he perceives is a fantastic community of chefs and food minds. “I think there is an attitude of cooperation, not competition, in which we together strive to develop a better, more interesting and more sustainable food culture. It’s a very globalized community. The language spoken in most cutting edge restaurants in the city is English,” he says, pointing out that people from all over the world have come to Denmark to work. But this is not merely a linguistic difference. The experiences, knowledge and ideas that these foreign chefs have brought literally to the table are absolutely necessary for the continued evolution of Copenhagen’s gastronomic culture. “My staff comes from Asia, New Zealand, the US – all over. I myself am a Californian. I would be a fool not to tap into that. There’s so much talent in this city,” Orlando says.
“The important thing is to keep evolving. To keep looking for what next”, Victor Wågman explains. Also a veteran sous-chef of Noma, together with his partner Samuel Nutter at BROR-restaurant, he points to some obvious facts. “Well, first – “New Nordic” is not new. Second – look at what’s happening in the food scene in Copenhagen: Old colleagues of mine are opening restaurants producing pizzas, taco shops, Venezuelan cuisines and American barbecue places. It’s not a city of Nordic food, but instead beginning to be much more of a city that has a world cuisine”, Victor says, stating that looking for “what’s next” is really what defines the city’s food community to him as well. “And to me, a lot of the stuff happening here is in ethnic foods and in the more affordable places to eat” he adds. He too runs a kitchen where the staff is assembled from around the world.
It’s not that anybody is looking to distance themselves from the achievements of either the much-revered Rene Redzepi or Noma – the source from where so many of the new restaurants in the city have their culinary offspring. Quite the contrary, actually: There’s a near unanimous agreement of the importance and quality of that particular restaurant which has become, to many, the most interesting cultural innovation in Denmark since the millennium.
“There was nothing here before ‘New Nordic.’ It was our genesis gastronomically. We found our culinary language. We all need to be thankful of that. But I think that the kitchen scene here has outgrown the paradigm ”New Nordic”. The quest is not to imitate that continuously,” Victor of BROR explains. Matt Orlando agrees, adding the fact that foraging and having farm-based restaurants built upon local produce are nothing new. “The new thing was that people in this part of the world started to run kitchens that way,” he says, pointing out that in France or Italy and many other places, this was how cooking had been done for ages. He too believes that the Nordic Manifesto and the aim of developing a hyper-localized cuisine here pulled Nordic cooking from the dark ages. “It was the movement that changed everything here. It forced chefs and farmers to develop immensely. But now the question is – what’s next?“ he says.
A new culinary language?
The culinary direction that has been fostered by this group of chefs does not resemble the usual continental suspects France and Italy. Asia has now become the largest influence, says Orlando: “The fermentation, which is really dominant in many modern restaurants here, stems originally from Japanese food, but you see it in every Asian food culture. The way many chefs here make stocks – it is really more teas and infusion than classical stocks. Almost no one in this city associated with modern food will use meat based sauces. Good luck finding a demi-glace in Copenhagen in anything but French bistros”.
At Dragsholm Castle, Claus Henriksen calls his cuisine a “nature-conscious cuisine,” basing all his dishes on foods from the areas immediately surrounding around his castle. But that doesn’t really make his food Nordic – at least not any more: “A chef’s mission is to interpret nature through craftsmanship. The word “Nordic” has completely left my vocabulary, even though my kitchen has been heavily associated with that. My cuisine is a super-local one. But that really is how I’d do it anywhere in the world. There are people inspired by the “Nordic” cuisine in Australia, in California or in the Amazon. They are inspired by the food thinking, and the attention to wild nature. But they’re truly not Nordic – they’re Turkish, Australian or whatever. But we are still related and we think the same,” Claus states.
The Nordic Marketing Machine
The way that big business has embraced the word “Nordic” also creates resentment among many chefs. Many products have tried to associate themselves with “New Nordic,” from politicians to Big Food. Even shampoo and deodorants are now available in “Nordic” varieties.
“I saw ‘New Nordic’ rye bread and I knew they were killing the word. Of course rye bread is Nordic, I mean, nobody else in the world eats rye bread except Scandinavians. It’s like saying Italian risotto. Of course it’s Italian, stupid. Now you have Nordic shampoo, Nordic diet, Nordic bloody everything,” Claus Henriksen says, stating that the commercial exploitation of the phrase has gone too far.
“In the States, Nordic just sounds exotic,” says Matt Orlando as he tries to explain the success of the term. He too finds the many iterations of the phrase odd. Orlando has guests that come inspired by something called the “New Nordic Diet”: “I don’t even know what that is. But apparently it was in Vogue Magazine,” he says, joking that no one made a “molecular cuisine” diet or “nouvelle cuisine” diet after other major movements in modern cooking. “Tons of things are labeled Nordic now. As a result it’s not really describing anything to do with the dining experience.”
What’s Next? Break the Mold
“We don’t need a new manifesto,” Victor Wågman says, looking forward to a blooming of a more diverse food culture: “We absolutely needed it. We grew on it, all of us. But I think we learned the things we needed to learn: Attention to nature, farming and the constant need to be curious, to keep working end developing. So – what’s next? That’s the question“.
Orlando agrees. For him there needs to be more attention to flavor and less to process – like foraging or dogmas. “A group of really talented chefs have developed a new way of thinking about food up here in the last ten years. The flavors are different, the approach is different. When you come here and eat in these restaurants, like BROR, Noma, Dragsholm or Christian Puglisi’s Relæ, you find a different food language than anywhere else. It’s about developing that approach to food. And more and more chefs are not afraid to break the mold.”