Near the final scene of the new doc, Noma: My Perfect Storm, Chef René Redzepi--the seal fucker who won't let us forget it-- is surrounded by his staff. It was at the 2014 World’s Best Restaurant Awards and he's trying to stifle the emotion as if he desperately didn't want anyone to see. That is, how he truly desired that thing, that prize.
Angst-ridden Redzepi, thrice winner of best restaurant in the world, lost the the title in 2013.
There had been a bad situation, it was deemed a norovirus. Mussels were involved. The restaurant that pointed out new foragable corners in sea and woods, the restaurant that made Nordic Cuisine a thing, suffered. Even though the award was meaningless the first one wasn’t that meaningless, it changed everything. As he said “We went from zeroes to heroes… like that.” He wanted to be back on top, badly.
Graceful, ants perched on a cloud of cream.
Director Pierre Dechamps first feature length film captures the pain, the sorrow, the drive and the insecurity. He showed that Redzepi was not going to let a norovirus rumor sink him. Instead of total reliance on talking heads, he swaps it out for action and narrative.
This one: Boy gets big award. Boy loses big award. Boy recaptures big award.
It’s tried and true and works. Because who cannot relate to paradise regained? This longing fulfilled is primal.
For four years Dechamps trailed Redzepi, the chef, humbly born of a Macedonian immigrant and a Danish mother. Chef remembered racism. He remembered hardship. He viewed himself as an outcast in a society where it’s difficult not to be 100% Danish. Yet, Chef emerged as the creative force behind modern Scandinavian cuisine, whether moss, sap, ant and seal.
The film flags the paradoxes: the struggle between the t-shirt and chef whites. The imbalance between food for the people but served to the few. He shows a chef who sometimes cracks a charming smile. Dechamps balanced the tension, and pretension, royal and peasant. The moment where Chef is cooking for his son, breaks a yolk and says, “I’ll eat that one,” it lands with subtlety.
The director seems to throw more than one painterly and musical reference to the works of Peter Greenaway (from dramatic angle to use of Mozart and chorale).There’s some artifice, the slow and fast motion, but forgivable in the context of kitchen choreography. Yet, where was the drinking?
There is no wine or mention of its first wine director Pontus Elofsson or its second, Mads Kleppe.
I’ve gotten drunk with Mads Kleppe only once, but it seems like several times. I look forward to the next.While not an ingredient, wine and their controversial coffee program is an essential part of their restaurant experience, but how did they go missing in the film, even with a passing visual or mention?
The only drink on screen was a non-alcoholic one sipped from a hollowed out kohlrabi. Redzepi berates his chef who created it for its sugary simplicity. “Not just water with sugar," he scolds. In frustration he tries to explain the taste, “It’s just lemonade, man, it’s sugar and water …it’s beautiful, it’s pretty, but it’s hopeless.”
Chef casts a glance down. Then, as the kohlrabi is spirited away in shame, he does a double take as he says, almost as an aside, motioning to it, “But I’d like another glass of it," almost as he said to his child about the broken yolk, "I'll take that one."
Another glass? Yes, those are the kinds of wines he has on the list. The lists and the service is controversial (another piece for another time), but there are plenty of serious and vin de soif bottles. Those are wines were you think, I want another glass and another. Where were the people behind those bottles? They have stories, they have agriculture, they have wisdom. I wanted at least one of them.
Perhaps the connection between chef and wine is too obscure. But there were other connections to earth and sea. Foragers and suppliers were the piece of the film that provided pure emotion. Søren Wiuff stuffed his mouth with his flowery coriander. “René,” he remembered saying, “when are you going to use Danish coriander?”
Redzepi answered, it’s not native.
Wiuff responded, “It grows well here, it flourishes. His poetry was like so many that have sucked me into writing about wine, the connection to the soil and to the symbology of it all. Here, as with wine there was a man who grew and hunted greens soulfully. In his desire to bring coriander to Noma was another message. Redzepi was no different than transplanted coriander, who bloomed in the land of Denmark.
The man on the stage finally screamed out the best restaurant 2014, Noma!”
Redzepi walked to the stage, he pulled out a sheet and started to read. “Guys, we did it. Do you remember the opening they gave us funny names, we all remember the seal fuckers.”
The audience tittered with discomfort. They were not used to a chef using language like that out of a kitchen. “ Look where we are now," he said. "Wood sorrel conquered caviar. The seal fuckers were on top. My dear Seal Fuckers, let’s keep failing together.”
The film comes out on December 18th, in theaters Amazon Video and iTunes.
DISHES FEATURED IN THIS FILM IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:
Grilled romaine heart and summer greens
Apple on ice
Tartar of Beef and wood sorrel, tarragon and juniper
Bone marrow and spice flowers
Brown cheese and sloe berries
Duck, pear and autumn leaves
Pickled summer squash
Squid, fennel and broccoli
Beef short rib
Bouquet of greens and black ants dipping
Pumpkin and caviar
Fermented gooseberries and elderflowers
Pumpkin, barley and kelp
Potatoes, kelp and barley
Kohlrabi in Kohlrabi
Crispy reindeer moss, spice and crime fraiche
Onion and pear stew
Flat bread and grilled roses
Glazed pike head
Raw shrimp and ransoms
Crispy winter cabbage and samphire
Wild blueberry and ants
Sweet water pike grilled with summer cabbage
Cauliflower slowly caramelised and whipped cream
Sourdough bread, virgin butter, pork fat
Yeast caramel with skyr
Smoked quail eggs
Potato and plums