Miriam's Reviews > Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine

Noma by Rene Redzepi
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's review
Apr 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: art, culinary, ideas, non-fiction
Read from April 20 to 22, 2011

Floating to add this awesome portrait of the author:

Out of respect for Redzepi's emphasis on the interconnectedness of environment, taste, appearance and other factors leading to the final experience of consuming a dish, I will attempt to consider all the aspects of this book in my review. Because it is first way in which one encounters a book, I will begin with book as object. NOMA is large and heavy. The title is oversized and arty. It correctly communicates the weighty ideas and glossy images one finds inside. Very coffee-table-for-intellectuals. The quality of paper, binding, and photography is all very high. This book takes itself seriously, as does the author. The mixed-off-whites color scheme and modern fonts are true to the Scandinavian aesthetic that Redzepi promotes. As an object, the book is beautiful.

Unfortunately, appearance is only a part of the reading experience. As already stated, the book is heavy and large. Awkwardly so. It was uncomfortable to hold and I had a hard time finding a place to read it. I ended up placing it on the kitchen table, but even that wasn't very satisfactory because of its size. Despite the large pages, the print in most sections is rather small (art books seem to require huge margins these days) and I had to lean forward over the book to read the tops of the pages. This was hard on my spine and made it difficult to read much at a time, which is too bad because the introductory essays were my favorite part. This book is emblematic of what happens when one prioritizes appearance over functionality.

The same can be said about the food itself. Visually, it is beautifully styled and plated and photographed. It is art. In fact, if I saw an image out of context I would guess that it was glass or stone rather than edible materials. It stimulated my appetite less than any recent book on food I can think of. Of course this doesn't make a practical difference because I'm not scheduled for a trip to Copenhagen and the ingredients are impossible to obtain fresh here -- and fresh is the whole point of NOMA's the culinary philosophy. But pretending for the moment that I in fact possessed the opportunity to eat there, would I? Well, yes. There is some novel stuff here, and anyway I'll try anything once, or even twice. NOMA's menu is highly seasonal so maybe if it wasn't horrible the first time (and I had lots of money and time) I'd try it again at a different time of year. Redzepi himself admits that lack of repeat custom is a serious problem for the restaurant.

Philosophically I found the approach to food very interesting. Redzepi's idea is that dishes should not be only seasonal and local but also environmental, not necessarily in the "green" sense but in that they recreate ecological systems by serving things that live together or eat one another, such as wild boar with roots and berries and leaves. Here is a description of one such dish:
A plateful of milk skin with grass, flowers and herbs... The garnish came from the field where the cow that had supplied the milk had walked, grazed and defecated. The plate itself was a small ecosystem... my mouth was exploring very area of the field.
Now, I'm very attuned to terroir, but to me, this is far more interesting than appetizing. It is food for your mind, not your mouth. Redzepi is quite young and I think he makes the mistake of many young chefs in prioritizing originality over all else. Sometimes there's a reason no one has done something before. Sometimes, it is because it isn't good.

So while not in any way inspired to try more modern Scandinavian food, I did enjoy this book as a thinker, if less so as a reader or gourmand.

And if you ever need an intellectual argument to convince some one to try -- I mean really try, not take one bite, say "There, I tried it and I don't like it" -- new foods, here it is:
We are constantly confronted with a trivialized sensory world, largely the product of banal commercialization. The makers of that world aim for 'safe' sensations, selling experiences with which their target group can immediately identify. As a result, the individual's imaginative ability is levelled off to become the same for everybody. The senses are blunted.
...When you work with a language of very delicate shades of meaning -- in cooking as well as in art -- it gives access to a subtle and unfamiliar register of experience. You come closer to the limits of your sensory values. The senses combine, stretching your brain, and a new synaesthetic map appears.
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Reading Progress

04/21/2011 page 7
2.0% "We do not stop the world when we eat; we go into it a little more deeply."
04/21/2011 page 8
3.0% "We have grown up as part of a tradition that sees the eating of food as an isolated phenomenon, as an interval or pause during the day... This offers an impoverished taste experience."
04/21/2011 page 9
3.0% "what we eat affects how the world looks. And that affects how we understand it. When we look at a plate of food, we should see the greater ecosystem"
04/21/2011 page 11
3.0% "You know you are meant to be a chef when the first time you keep a diary it is about new foods."
04/21/2011 page 67
21.0% "Shout-out to my squid-lovin' compadres: Scientists predict that the biodiversity of the world's oceans will increase dramatically in the future and that squid will therefore become bigger and stronger."
04/21/2011 page 84
26.0% "Taken out of context, many of these photos could just as well show glass art as food."

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by mark (new)

mark monday for some reason i am reminded of how meaningless, how pointless, Top Chef is without padma lakshmi.

Miriam I know. I stopped watching because the chefs were annoying me.

message 3: by mark (new)

mark monday i really don't know how she puts up with them. well, she put up with salman rushdie, she must have the patience of a saint.

Miriam I know! And the vision of a mole...

message 5: by Shabbeer (new) - added it

Shabbeer Hassan I agree with your point that food should not be local but also environmental...but is it just limited to vegetarianism ?

Miriam This book? It is not vegetarian at all.

message 7: by Miriam (last edited Apr 20, 2013 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Miriam Addendum: after reading around a bit (I don't actually eat at restaurants in this price range except that one time at Fond) I gather that the closest NorCal equivalent would be Manresa in Santa Cruz.

Kristin ❋extols death with luminescent brilliance❋ Mmm...defecated...there's an adjective to make you want to taste his ecosystem. His ideas sound unique and interesting, but I agree, it sounds like he is trying to hard to be "original".

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