I am René Redzepi, chef & owner of restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. We have the best dishwasher in the world. AMA
Hello reddit friends, this is René Redzepi, here to answer as many of your questions as time permits.
About me: I am a chef from Denmark, son of an Albanian Muslim immigrant and a Danish mother. I trained in many restaurants around the world before returning home to Copenhagen and opening a restaurant called Noma in 2003. Our restaurant celebrates the Nordic region’s ingredients and aims to present a kind of cooking that express its location and the seasons, drawing on a local network of farmers, foragers, and purveyors. Noma has held 2 Michelin stars since 2007 and was been voted Restaurant Magazine’s “Best Restaurant in the World” in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. In January we moved the entire restaurant to Japan for a 5 week popup where we created a completely new menu comprised only of local Japanese ingredients. It was one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve been a part of, and a learning journey for the entire team.
I am also the founder of MAD, a not-for-proﬁt organization that works to expand our knowledge of food to make every meal a better meal; not just at restaurants, but every meal cooked and served. Each year we gather some of the brightest minds of the food industry to discuss issues that are local, global, and personal.
MAD recently relaunched its website where you can watch talks from all four symposiums (for free) as well as all of our original essays & articles: www.madfeed.co.
I’m also married, and my wife Nadine Levy Redzepi and I have three daughters: Arwen, Genta, and Ro. Favorite thing in the world, watermelon: you eat, you drink, and you wash your face.
UPDATE: For those of you who are interested, here’s a video of our dishwasher Ali in Japan
Now unfortunately I have to leave, but thank you for all your great questions reddit! This has been really quite fun, I hope to do it again soon.
Gordon Ramsay was just here yesterday. Has he dined at your restaurant before?
Yea he was here, he hated it. But he was nice about it 🙂
Was your mother a good cook?
I love my mother more than anything, but she was raised in post-war protestant Denmark and unfortunately great cooking wasn’t a thing back then. My father did all the cooking though, and he was damn good!
What was the most difficult part about moving an entire restaurant to Japan?
There were so many things that were so difficult, but the one that trumps them all was actually getting working visas for 70 people when the staff come from everywhere from Gambia to Mexico to northern Sweden.
Do you ever fuck up a steak or toast when cooking at home?
I fuck up things all the time, I’m a master fuck-up!
Why is your dishwasher the best in the world? Do they cook? What’s the best thing they’ve made?
Our dishwasher is the happiest person I know. Besides that, he’s about 55, and his name is Ali. My own father is 57 and his name is Ali too! For half his life he was also a dishwasher, so Ali (our dishwasher) has really become the father figure of the restaurant. He does help out in the kitchen but mostly he’s busy keeping everything clean and tight and making everybody smile.
Which would be the top 5 food experiences a foodie traveler should not miss in Europe?
Here’s a few: San Sebastián, as a destination in and of itself, it needs to be tried. Coming to Copenhagen in August or September when the game season starts is really nice, although Copenhagen is not at all on the same level culinary wise as San Sebastián. It’s great to visit it now to see the beginning of something that’s still quite new and fresh. Then there’s also La Boqueria Market in Barcelona. Wine bar hopping in Paris (there’s a real boom of small fresh wine bars popping up), kick the experience off at Chateaubriand or Verre Vole with a lunch or dinner and have them recommend the next places- have them pass on the baton (it’s a good way to travel, by letting the locals decide).
What do you think about pairing craft beer with food? Can the beer replace the wine as a companion of food? And how do you see this craft beer movement in Europe, because in US it is a phenomenon?
The craft beer movement is a real phenomenon here and has been for the past ten years. I don’t think that beer will replace wine but I do think it will be more present going forward. It’s a phenomenon that I personally really like, to see a bigger range and diversity of beers.
How did Noma managed to recover after the scandal from 2013, when over 60 people became sick after eating in your restaurant? Can a scandal like this ruin a 2 Michelin Star reputation?
I think any restaurant can get over a tough moment like that but you have to be totally honest and tell everything the way it is to the public. Don’t try to hide any details. Then people will quickly see that it’s a situation that’s almost beyond any chef or restaurants control.
I loved seeing you on The Mind of a Chef with David Chang. I noticed on the show that you have a variety of “juices” that you incorporate into your cooking. What are your top 3 flavors/seasonings/herbs to work with and why?
Thank you for the kind note! We use all sorts of plants and vegetable juices as sauces and ways to refresh and lighten other foods. I really can’t choose just one two or three, as every season I seem to have a favorite just for that period. Right now it’s definitely ramsons (the mild flavor of green garlic is a favorite)
With the recent sad news about Hamaro Catu could you speak to the hardships that chefs at your level must endure and how you deal with all the stress of running the best kitchen in the world?
It was a tragedy with Chef Cantu, unfortunately it’s not a rare thing to see people that are going under with stress and pressure from operating a restaurant. Nobody knows why Chef Cantu decided to do what he did but the suspicion has been to do with the financial quarrels, and you know, around the world you go to school to learn how to properly whip bearnaise or cook fish in a pan. Nothing prepares you for running a business or having staff or the pressures of media. Not to mention the pressure from guests. Any cook will tell you that there’s no recipe for how to run things because each day is different.
What was going on through your head when you met Jiro?
Meeting Jiro was truly nervewracking, I was awe-struck. Interesting note is that you’re not supposed to shake his hand when meeting him because he doesn’t want them polluted before touching the rice. I got to shake his hand though and as soon as I remembered I wasn’t supposed to do that– I almost shit myself, literally on the spot diarrhea. It’s mindboggling to have two hours privately with a man that is full of wisdom the way he is.
What’s the next step after Noma?
I’m very happy in my situation doing Noma, the next step for me is doing the same, but better and better.
What are some of your greatest failures and successes?
Too many failures to talk about. The biggest joy I have running Noma is seeing staff fueled and ready to attack the world!
You mentioned in Japan that you did NOT acquire the taste for natto. Did that change during the rest of your time there? And if not, do you think you would ever take a stab at making your own version in the science bunker?
Sticky, slimy, fermented soybeans… I never really got the taste for it. But we’re up for trying to ferment anything and we will give it a go!
here’s a little picture I think you’ll enjoy 🙂
Some years ago you told me that you had 2 years left in Noma before you would need to leave and go and ‘reboot’ yourself. Well, you’re still very much at Noma so, do things like Japan, MAD etc. keep you motivated or do you still see a time when you’ll be less known for Noma and more for newer projects?
I’ll tell you that after 12 years of doing Noma I’m actually more inspired than ever and I have more energy and drive than ever. Doing something like Japan is about life experiences for myself and the people that I work with and I hope that the future brings many more of such challenges. That being said, Noma is the only thing that I do, it’s my only job more or less.
What is, in your opinion, the most underrated cuisine?
Mexican! Mexican cuisine to me is on par with the ‘classic’ greats– French, Japanese, Italian… but unfortunately it’s often viewed instead as quick, cheap eats. I find that to be wrong.
What will be the food taboo to be tackled next after we’re all OK with eating insects?
Oh it’s gonna take decades for us in the west to accept insects on the same level as steak! One thing that’s happening simultaneously though is the idea of eating your trash– what I mean is that we will be finding ways to totally eradicate waste from food.
What’s the closest thing to Noma that I could find in North America?
I’d have to say that it’s probably Willow’s Inn on Lummi Island. Not just Blaine worked here but because he’s tapping into the Native American knowledge bank, which I personally think is an untapped resource.
What style/ brand of knife do you use? Also when was the last time you were poisoned by food?
Every year when the foraging season starts I’ll have a couple of moments where I eat some strange stuff that will fuck up my stomach pretty bad. Don’t ever eat something in the forest if you don’t know what it is, unless you’re a masochist and enjoy cascades of vomiting and diarrhea.
My favorite knife maker is called Takamura.
What’s the best advice you have for someone who wants to quit their day job and go to culinary school?
A lot of my cooking friends would say don’t: don’t because you’re going to work 85 hours a week for no money, you’re going to have cuts all over your body, and the chance of frequent humiliation from some chef is almost 100%. Yet this is the trade that I totally love, and I don’t know anything else. It is a lot of work, yes, but it is extremely gratifying in terms of teamwork and friendship, and the fact that you get to make people happy every day, twice a day. If you do it well you’ll end up being part of a community of cooks from your restaurant, former cooks, the farmers, some of your regulars… it becomes special. Something I can’t be without.
What is your take on the relationship between Native American culinary tradition and foraging opportunities in the United States?
Hey, I remember 7 or 8 years ago I bought this huge encyclopedia of Native American fauna… I think it’s a thousand pages long. I was never able to read through it because it was so overwhelming, there was literally too much stuff to comprehend. If I was ever to be a cook in America, that would be my starting point, my seed of inspiration.
There seems to be an untapped resource to connect with a local tribe. I know that Blaine Wetzel (Willow’s Inn) is doing it.
What is your opinion on the Michelin Guide and their rating system? I’m coming from Poland and I read that you came a few years ago to my country with the Cook It Raw event. How did you like Poland and our cusine? And my last question how was the trip to Japan with the whole crew?
First of all, I love Poland, I love visiting farms that were using such an old school way that seemed hypermodern. Amazing products.
The trip to Japan was the biggest experience in my professional and private life. Being together with the team so intensely was inspiring and touching- even when I think of it just now I get the chills.
About the Michelin guide (or any rating system), that should really be a topic of its own because there’s much to say– to much for a quick answer! But basically if you go to work with accolades in mind as your primary motivation then I think you’re on the road to a burnout. Go to work and find a way to make yourself happy in what you do. If the guides tap into it and like it then that’s an added bonus.
In the world of Michelin-starred restaurants, the stage system, where young cooks work for short periods of time, often for free, in top tier restaurants, is fairly prolific. As someone who himself staged at some of the best restaurants in the world, do you have any particular perspective that you would like to share? On a similar note, what is the typical experience for a stagiere at Noma?
I loved being a stagier myself, it was an opportunity to travel and learn without the grueling responsibilities of being a full time employee. Back when I did it it was on my spare time, unlike today where staging is usually part of school program and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. I think that it’s a good way for young chefs to get a taste of real kitchen work. We see that from time to time interns are surprised that the reality is so different from their ideals, what they see on television, or what they learn at school about professional kitchen life.
You are obviously very well known as a chef who has really brought foraging into the mainstream as a way of obtaining hyperlocal ingredients. Do you believe that this is something that is possible in every location, so long as one just looks hard enough?
About foraging: to me it’s an extraordinary way for a cook to connect themselves to the place they’re in but roaming about and tasting the different seasons, the plants, the mushrooms, the berries, the leaves. Throughout the year you really get connected to the place. I believe there’s a wealth of forgotten ingredients still, and I think it should be as normal as peeling carrots for any cook to be able to (responsibly) harvest things in the wild.
When you poach eggs do you put vinegar in the water?
Yes I do!
When is it a good time for a cook to leave a restaurant for another one? 1 year? 2 years? When he stops learning?
That’s a good question! Me personally, I’ve only had a few jobs in my career. I’ve always stayed a while and each of the places I stayed in, there was more to learn. But a year is definitely the minimum if it’s a place that follows the seasons and cooks up a full range of what’s available… then you need a year to see everything, and in your second year you’ll start to get more comfortable. We have people who have been in our kitchen for 7, 8, 9 years, and we’re still all learning!
Find a place where they’re really cooking and changing the menu and stay for a while. Stay for years.
What are your favourite dishes to cook at home?
I’ll be honest with you that I’m usually only home on Sundays and the rest of the time I’m actually at the restaurant (where I am right now!) and I love when my wife cooks for me. Huge roast chicken, crackling skin, or asparagus with fried egg and fresh cracked black pepper on top… that’s some of what I had yesterday 😉
Do you consider a hamburger to be a type of sandwich, or an entity of its own?
Well is pizza a pie?
What do you look for when choosing interns?
Well it’s first come first served, and then there’s quite a rigorous visa process that does scare off a few. So those two factors more or less determine who comes in. Hope that helps a bit!
If you’re interested in applying, email Arve at email@example.com 🙂
What is your advice for people aspiring to do personal research and experimentation like the Nordic Food Lab does in their own regions?
I think doing personal research and experimentation is paramount for any creative endeavor. To me creativity is your ability to bring your past experiences into the now. So the more well informed you are, the stronger your intuition, the more likely you are to come forward with new things.
How could DIY Cooks and Foodies incorporate your and your team’s ideas in their own food, in a more domestic and approachable way that’s suitable for the wide public?
I think what we do is about the cuisine of where you are. That’s do-able for anybody! Follow the seasons, seek out a farm and cook what they offer. Follow the rhythms of the year and you’re halfway there.
When you opened your restaurant in Japan, was the goal to try to keep classic Noma dishes, or adapt your philosophy to match your environment in Japan?
Definitely to adapt our philosophy to Japan. It was a mega challenge but ultimately very gratifying. By allowing yourself to free-fall into a new culture we’ve been able to come back to Copenhagen with a clearer idea of what to do.
The term refined gets thrown around a lot when describing haute cuisine, but your food and your philosophy is all about a celebration of ingredients in something close to their natural state. Would you use the word refined to describe what you do at Noma? If not, why do you think it’s become such a buzzword in fine dining?
The termed refined…. uhhh! So many terms for the meal… I personally never use the term refined as I don’t fully understand it. For me it typically eludes to luxury and that’s not always about refinement, but more about how much you’re willing to pay for an ingredient. For instance it takes a refined skill-set to find the best ceps that only come in a certain time of year, as opposed to caviar where it’s more or less about how much you’re willing to cough up.
Operating at your level it must be tempting to overcomplicate dishes to impress customers or even just to test your own abilities. How do you balance your creativity with an emphasis on simplicity?
It’s complicated as you know, reaching simplicity, because typically getting to the point where things are seemingly effortless and simple takes a lot of skill, knowledge, and research. After 12 years we’re becoming more simple but we’re still not there yet. To me simplicity is one of the most difficult things to reach.
What’s your favorite ingredient to use?
I don’t actually have a favorite ingredient, but my favorite range would be anything from the plant kingdom.
What cookbooks do you recommend if any?
If you’re a budding chef then you should start by reading some of the classics, get a sense for sauce (or vinaigrette is), and after that head over to some of inspirational chefs of the world.
What current big chefs are you a fan of?
There’s too many to mention so I’ll just focus on some of the up and coming ones: He may not be a -huge- world famous chef… yet, but Matt Orlando from restaurant Amass in Copenhagen (http://www.amassrestaurant.com/), he is truly a talent and I love going to his restaurant. There’s also Tatiana Levha from Paris, and the guys from Sixpenny in Australia.
How have you dealt with success and maintained a level head?
Success is great but it comes with complications. Will you get absorbed in success and have that be your guiding light? Or will you just keep focused on why you entered cooking? Which for me was a wish to explore ingredients (and the seasons), be with people, and also because I love eating.
What is your secret to keeping your staff happy?
Keeping staff happy is also one of the keys to a great success and it’s always hard striking that balance between a work with pressure and high intensity and also a good spirited, nurturing environment. It’s difficult in the kitchen. But one thing you shouldn’t do, and take this from a guy that’s been a fucking lunatic for many of the opening years (at Noma): don’t start shouting! It doesn’t do anything good to your team or anybody else. Find a way to get your message through without being a fucking asshole. 🙂
What meal do I prepare to impress the ladies?
You said before that you don’t see chefs as artists. Can you elaborate? Do you see artistry in cooking on any level?
Having cooked now for 12 years I’ve seen some people, very few, who can have a transcendental, life changing experience from a meal. Sometimes you see people eating out and they seem to have a different world view after a meal– that’s what I would describe as an artistic experience, but it is of course quite rare.
What’s your favourite food to go out and forage for?
It’s for sure the first ramsons of the season! They come when winter has just released its grip, its the beginning of the new gastronomic year, and when that happens we celebrate it like the start of a New Year in the kitchen!
What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve ever used in a dish?
Are there any foods you didn’t like, then tried to make yourself and ended up liking it afterwards?
There was this one time where I had semi-raw sea cucumber with a sauce of cod sperm….. I didn’t like it. Then I tried it had home. And I still don’t like it.
What is your favorite American dish, if you have one that is?
A fat, sloppy burger