“Taste this!” He shoots at me in his usual direct frill free tone.
“Ok…” I respond as I don’t think I could ever have the balls to say no to René.
“What is it?” A question that always forcibly comes after I have put something in my mouth.
“Sous vide swan breast” with out a second thought.
“The guys found it dead in a park. Is this you first time eating road kill?” He looks at me as if it would be odd for me to admit that he just stole my road kill virginity.
This interaction may sound abnormal but at Noma the word normal doesn’t exist in any context. Swan road kill is just one of many things I have been given to taste in the search for odd new ingredients. Swan, by the way, is like the steak of poultry very savory with a slightly heartier texture and a deep red color.
Cod sperm has been the butt of many jokes among the test kitchen. While mixing a large batch with koji and salt for fermentation I was asked if my broken hand was received while harvesting the said sperm.
We also tasted the cod sperm fried in a tempura batter but I found it to be bland and uninteresting, but none the less there were many jokes about swallowing fish spunk. If you haven’t noticed chefs are as mature as thirteen year old boys.
Some of the many other ingredients that amazed my taste buds included smoked beef fermented for one year, candied mushrooms, rose root elderberry vinegar, dehydrated rendered duck fat, kelp cured beef tartare, cep infused apples, and many other mysterious, confusing, and goosebump worthy flavors. The kitchen even acquired nearly 100 kilos of cheeses just so the four of us could look for something inspiring amongst their flavors.
What has been even more mind ravaging has been listening to René talk about ideas for new ingredients. I remember overhearing a conversation about possibly using newly born seagulls in a dish. We spoke of the ethics of using bear meat in restaurants. Most interestingly René told me the best piece of meat he has ever eaten was a horse steak. No animal has been left untouched especially with the controversy of a local zoo slaughtering a small giraffe we instantly wondered if we could try some of the meat.
The most common place they like to find new ingredients is by looking back on history and seeing what was eaten by previous generations and is longer served on a dinner table. The past has many ingredients to offer that would be considered new to the rest of us.
I like the idea of no boundaries. Noma faces potential ingredients head on considering flavor, texture and originality first and then taking into account the ethical and sustainable nature of a product. Naturally this is all pondered before deciding to cook with a product like bear meat or suckling seagulls. We spend hours considering new vegetables, meats, juices and spices and it is thrilling when you find some new food that you have never considered eating and it is now delicious. We should approach all things like this. Figuring out new ways to use things that we usually would think nothing of or even throw away. If it there is anything I have learned from Chef it is that you can’t be afraid to be weird. René Redzepi is the right kind of weird!