The New Nordic Movement

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Having worked my way through the cuisines of Sweden and Finland (and before moving on to Danish and Norwegian cooking), I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss New Nordic Cuisine. In the past few years, Scandinavian cuisine (championed by chefs Claus Meyer and Rene Redzepi) has burst onto the international culinary scene and is regarded by many as the best in the world.

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Restaurant Noma’s dish, Radishes in a Pot  (Radishes on served in a terracotta pot with a herbed dip and hazelnut flour crumbs on top)

Photo courtesy of Chocolate and Zucchini

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Columbia University

About a month ago, I went to a daylong symposium on this topic at Columbia University. It came around at the perfect time as I was knee deep in everything Scandinavian at that moment. (It’s cool living in a city where events like these are not uncommon too!)

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / The New Nordic Movement

Divided into two sessions, the first dealt with the more theoretical and academic views of New Nordic Cuisine, focusing specifically on space and place.

Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / The New Nordic Movement

Mark Emil Hermansen, a cultural anthropologist and concept developer at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, spoke about the concept of terroir in New Nordic cuisine. This interplay between location/landscape in the Nordic/Scandinavian countries and cuisine and ingredients is vital. It is outlined in the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto, developed by Claus Meyer, which serves as the foundation for this burgeoning food movement .

Manifesto for the New Nordic Kitchen

The aims of New Nordic Cuisine are:

1. To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate with our region.

2. To reflect the changing of the seasons in the meals we make.

3. To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly excellent in our climates, landscapes and waters.

4. To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge of health and well-being.

5. To promote Nordic products and the variety of Nordic products – and to spread the word about their underlying cultures.

6. To promote animal welfare and a sound production process in our seas, on our farmland and in the wild.

7. To develop potentially new applications of traditional Nordic food products.

8. To combine the best in Nordic cookery and culinary traditions with impulses from abroad.

9. To combine local self-sufficiency with regional sharing of high-quality products.

10. To join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, the fishing, food, retail and wholesale industries, researchers, teachers, politicians, and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.

As seen through my own discussions of several of the regional Scandinavian cuisines, local and seasonal ingredients — using what you have available — in a simple and pure way is at the heart of this style of cooking.

And honestly, no conversation of New Nordic Cuisine is complete without discussing Noma. It’s been named the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011 and 2012 by Restaurant Magazine (it just received second place this year). Chef Rene Redezepi of Noma is innovating cuisine and pushing our notions of what is edible and delicious. They are producing dishes that are complex in flavor yet simple in their ingredients – using local and seasonal ingredients in new way. Really, it’s hard to fully explain my fascination with Noma — it’s up there with the French Laundry and Alinea as a restaurant I would kill to dine at! I admire and respect the chefs at Noma so much!

**For more information about Noma, Road and Kingdoms has a great four-part series on the restaurant (as well as some other great essays on Denmark and Scandinavia). And here’s a great video on Rene Redzepi and Noma.

Speakers also included Susanne Osterlund-Potzch, a researcher, who discussed the rhetoric used to describe New Nordic cuisine and the terroir in the cuisine specifically in islands within this region; and Jonathan Bean, a scholar, who examined Scandinavian design principles, comparing and contrasting those exemplified at the Red Rooster and Aamanns, a Danish restaurant. (Interesting fact: design wise objects are commonly placed aesthetically together in pairs in Scandinavian countries (an equality of sameness), whereas in America we tend to group items in threes). This first half was also moderated by the Trade Commissioner at the Icelandic Consulate in New York, Hlynur Gudjonsson.

The second half focused on case studies of Scandinavians bringing New Nordic cuisine stateside to New York City.
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Siggi Hilmarsson, founder of siggi’s diary products and an Icelander, discussed developing Icelandic yogurt, Skyr. Homesick, he started making his first batch in his apartment and now has an official production, selling Siggi’s skyr in Whole Foods among other retailers. (More on Siggi and skyr when we get to Iceland!).

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Next up was Simo Kuusisto, a Finnish chef and bread baker, who founded Nordic Breads which specializes in Finnish Rye Breads. And by the way, this rye bread tastes great (he brought samples), but is also supposed to be quite good for you. (Siggi’s is also a better yogurt for you… Scandinavian cuisine is much healthier in general!).

Both Siggi and Simo discussed not only the struggles with developing these products (finding the right techniques, recipes etc), but also the great warmth and support they’ve received from the public – selling out frequently at farmer’s markets, working with larger distributors and the realtionship they have with consumers (many of them ex-pats who miss these products from their native Scandinavia).
Breakfast in Bed(stuy) / Aska Restaurant

Finally,  Chef Fredrik Berselius spoke about opening Aska, a 18-seat restaurant in Williamsburg Brooklyn. In Aska, Chef Berselius wanted to evoke memories of growing up in Sweden — foraging in the forest and having been more connected to nature through food. Most interesting as seasonal and local ingredients are key to New Nordic cuisine here Berselius is using that element within the context of the Brooklyn terroir. Aska sources fresh and seasonal ingredients from farms in upstate New York and is using this environment to dictate his menu while staying true to his Scandinavian roots.

Overall, this was a great event and one I’m glad I went to. I loved being exposed to these Scandinavian, New York-based products and restaurants and left feeling inspired and passionate.

Also, happy May day!

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