Behind The Scenes At Noma’s Fermentation Lab

written by Marah Koberle 27th April 2018

Thought fine dining was all about fancy foods you can’t pronounce? Well think again explains Marah Köberle, as she brings us on a whirlwind tour of one of the most prized restaurant kitchens of the world

When Rene Redzepi, of “best restaurant in the world” Noma fame, opens the door to his fermentation lab, you enter a world of wonders. A huge glass container with a whole octopus pickling away, orange pumpkin pieces dipped in beeswax left curing for months, Mason jars with colourful pickled vegetables or black garlic and a bucket full of fermenting peas to create a miso-like soup base, just to name a few.

Chef Rene Redzepi Photo: https://www.finedininglovers.com/

The rooms have the feeling of a science-lab with dated labels full of ingredients and other scribbles sticking to the batches of food. A quite unexpected experience considering where we are: Redzepi’s ‘Noma’ has been named world’s best restaurant four times since 2010 by Restaurant magazine and was awarded two Michelin stars by the influential Michelin Guides.

For Redzepi, the Danish chef behind the Copenhagen-based revolutionary dining establishment, preserving techniques such as fermenting and pickling are the core of his cooking style. According to his book: “The Noma Guide to Fermentation”, every one of his dishes include some form of fermented food, making it key to the flavour profile of his fine dining establishment. With the described integration of traditional techniques and his favouritism of local ingredients for his fermenting and cooking practices, he embodies a new style of fine dining.

Chef René Redzepi Pike perch and vegetable stems unright elderberries,
Photo: http://visionsgourmandes.com

Fine Dining nowadays isn’t limited to French foie-gras and caviar from Russia anymore. Chefs like Redzepi incorporate locally pickled carrots forest moss and pickled quail eggs in their dishes. Noma might be a frontrunner of this global trend but other highest ranked fine dining restaurants such as “Farmhouse Inn” in California, “Blue Hill” in New York, the German “Restaurant Überfahrt” or the Swedish “Fäviken” have a similar approach. The appreciation of fresh locally available ingredients as well as traditional cooking techniques, which are perceived as both rather rustic and nifty.

CNN Culinary Journeys confirms this trend, describing the 10 ways in which Noma has changed nothing less than “the world of food”. The article states that Redzepi’s approach changed the way in which luxury is understood nowadays, making locally foraged ingredients instead of imported goods and the creation of “weird but lovable ingredients” through fermentation thoroughly en vogue.

Sarova Stanley Augus Beef. Photo: Peter Ndungú

While fine dining is mostly interpreted the traditional way, some change can be observed: in Nairobi the Sarova Stanley, for example, recently served up unexpected dishes such as lamb’s tongue at an extremely exclusive, fine dining meal.

It is a welcome fresh wind to see early movers like Redzepi change paradigms of fine dining. The movement of local and traditional foods on the fine dining table seems more to be a fast-lived trend, although Europe and the US seem to be the centre of the phenomenon so far. Once the trend hits Nairobi, I sure will be one of the first to try.

Follow Marah on Twitter @marah_tweet

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