I have just finished reading a book called How to be Danish : a Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark by Patrick Kingsley, and felt inspired to write this about the chapter entitled: “Ramsons and seaweed: the Nordic food revolution.”
In 2004 the New Nordic Cuisine movement was founded by Claus Meyer and Rene Redzepi. The New Nordic movement promotes the use of local and seasonal produce, along with social responsibility, taking into account local farmers, local businesses and consumers. They created a document, the New Nordic manifesto, in association with top chefs from all over Scandanavia, in which they agreed to goals that promote and recreate the regional culinary identity of Scandanavia. Claus Meyer says, “It’s simply about making people more interested in good, sustainable food. And it’s a global aim, not just a Scandanavian one” (p. 178). It has especially taken off in Denmark with great success. In Denmark chefs have become the role-models. They needed “chefs to be responsible people who would inspire the whole population to redefine their eating habits and their relationship to Mother Earth” (p. 36).
Danish food was in a slump and was viewed as boring. There are many reasons for this such as the rise in farming co-operatives which took away farmers individuality and led to the production of uniform foods, it also took away the diversity of products, and sent the best products overseas resulting in a loss of what tasted good. Farmers lost knowledge of the product and the expertise in making the product, also, Housewife associations started teaching uniformity in Danish cooking, and according to some, Denmark lost its collective confidence in 1864 after it lost two of its southernmost provinces of Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia. In an amazing feat, Meyer and Redzepi managed to turn around the slump and transform the whole food culture of Nordic countries through their ideas and values.
A collaborative effort has seen people join forces to promote the concept and restaurants share knowledge and recipes which benefits the whole enterprise. Copenhagen is home to the Nordic Food Lab which is a non-profit laboratory where food experiments are conducted to develop local produce at the cutting edge of cuisine. Meyer says that the movement “doesn’t work if the government comes in with some decree. Opening a restaurant doesn’t work on its own. But if you do a lot of things together, and you try to include a lot of people, and you inspire them and you think about both those who act and those who consume, then you might get a kind of critical mass. It’s like the snowball effect, or a tipping point.” (p. 49).
Looking beyond the longevity of the New Nordic Cuisine brand, Meyer believes that the values and the solutions that come hand and hand with it are what is important. For him it is more about social change rather than if the brand survives: “Obesity, diabetes, healthiness, the environment, biodiversity, the empowerment of the farmer” are the things that will last. (p. 53).
I think that the New Nordic Cuisine movement was an ambitious project that has turned out to be a huge success. It has achieved a complete turn around in how Danish cuisine is viewed, but it is wider reaching than this – Claus Meyer is right in that this is a movement that is part of a global trend with the words: local, sustainable, foraging, and seasonal, becoming part of a food culture. I see this every time I go to the local Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market and see the array of locally grown products change with the seasons, also I am amazed at the variety of world class products made from locally grown goods that a region can provide. I have found a new food hero in Meyer. Not just for his sustainable food goals, but he founded the award winning Noma restaurant which was voted the world’s best restaurant three years in a row, and Meyer’s resume in Danish food is far reaching – he founded the Nordic Food Lab with Redzepi, has published cookbooks, he lectures in food science, owns a bakery chain, runs a cooking school, and runs research projects into improving children’s food.
And for those of you wondering what ramsons are, as mentioned in the opening paragraph – ramsons are wild garlic.
How to be Danish : a Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark.
London : Short Books, 2013, (copyright 2012).
191 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm (paperback).
I enjoyed reading the whole book, not just the chapter on the New Nordic Cuisine movement. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone.