Opinion: The Nomafication of New Nordic Cuisine

Eeva Väänänen Moore wrote . . . . . . . . .

René Redzepi changed everything. No one Nordic individual has done as much to capture the attention of food writers and enthusiasts worldwide as Redzepi, who has attracted them to the region in droves since opening Noma in 2003. In the years since, both his name and that of his iconic restaurant became synonymous with “New Nordic” cuisine and the sleek, earthy aesthetic he pioneered.

Over just a handful of years, this vision propelled Copenhagen from a culinary wasteland to a food lover’s dream, and united the region’s individual countries into one gastronomic behemoth. The New York Times called his food inventive and witty, two adjectives that food critics would have been hard-pressed to apply to any pre-Redzepi restaurant in the Nordic region. Noma went on to repeatedly land on top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014); he was declared a “God of Food” by Time magazine in 2013.

But it takes more than one individual, even one as formidable in his field as Redzepi, to redefine an entire region’s cuisine and to generate a sense of cultural unanimity. In 2004, on the heels of Noma’s debut, came the New Nordic Manifesto, the brainchild of Danish restaurateur Claus Meyer (co-founder of Noma) and University of Roskilde researcher and lecturer Jan Krag Jacobsen. They invited 12 Nordic chefs — Redzepi among them — from across the region to draft and co-sign a set of food principles reminiscent of California cuisine’s commitment to local, regional, and sustainable food.

The success of the manifesto, which was released at a symposium in Copenhagen, was soon balanced atop a three-legged stool of government tourism budgets, international food writers, and ambitious chefs hungry to overthrow the old order and willing to break the first rule of being Nordic: Thou shalt not express pride. (The ethos is so deeply ingrained in the Nordic psyche that the Danes and Norwegians even have a name for it, janteloven, the Law of Jante.) Classic Nordic food — overcooked pork and prepeeled potatoes (or, if you were lucky, smørrebrød) for the Danes, and dense bread, mushrooms, and salmon anything for the rest of the region — gave way to reindeer served on a bed of moss and vintage carrots, a testament to the popularity of the manifesto’s seventh tenet: to develop new applications of traditional Nordic foods.

One of the curious effects of New Nordic cuisine is that food enthusiasts the world over now associate Nordic cuisine with a region in a way that its own residents do not. Fueled by social media and food publications, “New Nordic” is considerably more familiar to outside observers than traditional Nordic dishes are, generating a misleading sense of what is authentically Nordic. Redzepi himself credits his cooking style to his Macedonian upbringing and once noted that “Denmark has more in common with Germany than with Finland or Norway, especially when it comes to food.”

Nevertheless, here we all are — Finns, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, etc. — under one umbrella of Nordic cuisine, putting on a nice face for the world, which, understandably, knows little of our petty, intraregional animosities. Gone are the overcooked potatoes, thank goodness. But gone from popular display are also any dishes that do not fit Noma’s signature aesthetic. And while comparing salmon soup and Karelian pies with haute cuisine is unfair, the French and Italians identify with their high-end cuisines, whether or not they consume them regularly. Nordic people not so much. Yet.

The New Nordic Manifesto’s success was undoubtedly chef led. But 5.4 million euros from the Nordic Council of Ministers, an official consortium of Nordic members of Parliament, to build a tourism industry and cultural identity around it helped. (The council has doled out the money to the New Nordic Food Program since 2007.) This month, Redzepi’s nonprofit, MAD, announced plans to open an educational center in Copenhagen with funding from the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food. And 15 years after the manifesto’s debut, investments continue to pile on from individual countries eager to generate tourism revenue.

“The New Nordic food revolution isn’t a coincidence. It happened for a reason.”

Small-scale culinary tourism has been a mainstay of Finland for decades, thanks to its so-called Everyman’s Rights law, which allows people to forage even on private property. But in the post-Nordic Manifesto world, the monetization of those rights has been kicked into high gear. Sweden has the same Everyman’s Rights law, and promotes it heavily: Visit Sweden, the country’s official tourism board, pushes Facebook and Twitter advertisements encouraging tourists to visit Sweden to forage and cook with Michelin-starred chefs. The advertisements are part of Visit Sweden’s 2017 investment of 40 million SEK, or around $4.3 million USD, over four years into culinary tourism. The sum comprises the majority (but not all) of the money spent on promoting Sweden as a food tourism destination. Contributors to these efforts include the Swedish government, the European Union’s Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and regional tourism organizations.

“The New Nordic food revolution isn’t a coincidence. It happened for a reason,” says chef Titti Qvarnström, who was the head chef at Michelin-starred Bloom in the Park in Malmö, Sweden, until 2017 (and who, I learned later from the ads, is among the chefs you can dine with in a beautiful Swedish forest). “There were many lucky factors that worked together, but it’s been a political agenda to turn this around. It was launched at the right time by the right people.” A 2018 report entitled the Solutions Menu, published by the Nordic Council of Ministers, outlines this process, looking at the politics, strategy, and goals of the New Nordic Cuisine movement: increase healthy living, promote sustainable food consumption, attract tourists, and create a new food identity.

Qvarnström’s hometown underscores just how dramatic an impact this strategy has had. A former shipbuilding town, Malmö suffered a bruising economic downturn in the ’90s. In the aughts, it became known in the region for absorbing an influx of Danes whose non-EU spouses were barred from living in Denmark by the country’s notoriously restrictive immigration laws. It’s not the sort of place you expect to find haute cuisine. And indeed, despite Bloom in the Park’s success, New Nordic has been a hard sell for many locals: “If it’s not for everybody, we don’t want it,” is a refrain Qvarnström encountered often in Malmö.

Restaurateurs in neighboring Denmark are familiar with skepticism from locals. When chef Nicolai Nørregaard opened his groundbreaking restaurant Kadeau on the remote, sleepy Danish island of Bornholm, he encountered his share of Danes looking for a classic dish of meat, potatoes, and sauce, perplexed to find dishes like kohlrabi, black currant, and Nobilis fir, or wood ants on scallops and asparagus with pickled pine leaves. But, unlike Qvarnström, Nørregaard found local skeptics to be more forgiving. “Even Danes who can’t afford it or think it’s a little ridiculous are still proud of what we’re doing,” he says. Which makes sense: Those of us who come from small countries tend to be acutely aware of our countries’ international reputations which, if you’re Nordic, include admiration of our health care systems and designers. Accolades for our food count toward that net positive, and the international attention is undeniable. At Kadeau’s Copenhagen outpost — for which Nørregaard earned two Michelin stars — roughly 80 percent of the clientele on any given night is non-Danish.

Nørregaard, who was among the earlier adoptees of the Nordic Manifesto’s call to arms, credits international media with bringing attention to the region. “I like that people write about it,” he says, “even though it’s sometimes inaccurate.” He notes that the attention has generated an influx of investor money from local accountants and lawyers and, more recently, monied angel investors, putting every talented sous chef in town within arm’s reach of their own restaurant.

Though the buzz may be lost on locals with no ties to the restaurant world, it has fundamentally changed what it is to be a chef in Copenhagen. Anika Madsen, head chef of Kadeau’s sibling Restaurant Roxie in Copenhagen, offers diners dishes like North Sea cod “wasabi” with turnips and grilled beetroots with spelt porridge, gherkin gel, and duck hearts. She began her studies in 2010, dodging Copenhagen’s ’90s restaurant doldrums entirely. She cites the city’s bustling restaurant scene as a reason she chose to pursue a career as a chef. “It’s a playground,” she says. “You don’t have classical techniques like the French. You can’t look it up in a cookbook. You can’t Google it. You have to make your own way.”

Similarly, Qvarnström, who describes her food as focusing on the here and now (a common theme in New Nordic cuisine) feels affection for, but little allegiance to, a Nordic past. She says donkey rhubarb is her favorite wild herb. “It’s not native here, but it’s spreading because it really likes it here.” In other words: A food doesn’t have to be Nordic to be Nordic cuisine. After all, what would Italian cuisine be had the tomato not immigrated to Europe from the Americas?

“I cook classic Finnish food because otherwise it will disappear.”

Not all chefs agree that the past should remain in the past. Helsinki, which, like Copenhagen, had an expensive and disappointingly sparse restaurant scene in the ’90s, differs in that it has a long tradition of fine dining restaurants serving Finnish food. Unlike Denmark, Finland drew its food influences from its neighbors and former ruling powers, Sweden and Russia. Tony Öhman, the head chef of Lehtovaara, a Finnish restaurant that is older than the country itself, is more interested in perfecting and preserving traditional Finnish food than rethinking it (think: pickled herring, smoked salmon, black rye bread, chanterelles cooked into a cream sauce, and elk that’s been stewed, smoked, or dry cured). “I cook classic Finnish food because otherwise it will disappear,” he says. Öhman seems bemused by the notion that seasonal, regional cooking is new Nordic. But even at Lehtovaara, which adheres to seasonal foods and high-quality regional suppliers, the menu is seldom exclusively Finnish; French dishes and techniques makes regular appearances. And although the Finnish fare at its Sunday brunch will knock your socks off, it’s not exactly Instagram friendly.

Juha Harmaala, co-owner and general manager of Restaurant Pelikan in Stockholm, doesn’t see New Nordic as a threat to traditional Swedish foods. Pelikan has been serving meatballs and herring since 1733, and Harmaala says a day doesn’t go by that one of his customers doesn’t tell him that they first dined there as a child with a parent or grandparent. “Somehow classic Swedish food stays in Swedish minds and hearts,” he says. “They always come back to it.”

Perfecting a dish that delights the average local attracts an altogether different type of chef. While Öhman is interested in honoring and safeguarding traditional methods and dishes, Qvarnström, Madsen, and Nørregaard are interested in upturning the old ways altogether. If they had much regard for what came before, they probably wouldn’t have staged a revolution in the first place. And given that 43 percent of non-Danish tourists now cite good places to eat as a reason to visit and 26 percent visit Denmark specifically to taste local food, restaurants like Lehtovaara and Pelikan stand to reap the benefits of that revolution, too.

Unlike the rest of the world, the chefs I spoke with don’t view New Nordic as a type of food, but rather a cultural shift that liberated them to do whatever they wanted in a region where uniformity and modesty were the norm. None see other types of Nordic cooking styles as a negation of what they choose to create in their own kitchens. That mindset tracks perfectly with a key Nordic characteristic: up close there’s regional diversity and cultural richness. It only looks like a succession of Noma plates from the outside, because that’s all our tourism industry wants to sell, and much of what outsiders want to buy.

But with great hype comes a lot of hot air, and Nørregaard and Harmaala both worry that the region’s restaurant scene is experiencing a bubble. The problem with bubbles is no one knows when they will burst, or what comes after. If the ubiquity of California cuisine is an indicator, there isn’t any going back to how it once was, but as soon as another region figures out how to rebrand its cuisine and dethrones New Nordic, paying the bills will depend on a restaurant’s ability to draw locals as well as tourists.

Source: Eater

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Prime Rib Chili

Ingredients

2 lb prime rib steak, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Anaheim chilies, seeded and diced
2 to 4 tbsp Mexican Spice Blend
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz) can chopped tomatoes
2 cups assorted canned beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Method

  1. Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. Cook, in batches, in hot oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes or until browned on all sides. Transfer to a bowl, reserving drippings in Dutch oven.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion to hot drippings, and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, and cook 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in chilies and Mexican Spice Blend, and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes.
  5. Return steak to Dutch oven. Add broth and tomatoes.
  6. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes.
  7. Stir in beans, and cook 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat, and stir in lime juice. Serve with cheese.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Cooking in Everyday English

Top Six of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019

No.1 Odette, Singapore

No.2 Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand

No.3 Den, Tokyo, Japan

No.4 Sühring, Bangkok, Thailand

No.5 Florilège, Tokyo, Japan

No.6 Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China

Read more about the other winners . . . . .

Eye-Soothing Tips for Computer Users

Screens: They’re at work, at home and even in the palm of your hand. But stare too long at them and your eyes — and mind — could pay a price, experts warn.

For example, too much screen time can lead to problems such as eye strain, dry eye, headaches and insomnia, the American Academy of Ophthalmology warns.

“Eyestrain can be frustrating. But it usually isn’t serious and goes away once you rest your eyes or take other steps to reduce your eye discomfort,” said Dr. Dianna Seldomridge, clinical spokesperson for the academy.

The average office worker spends 1,700 hours a year in front of a computer screen, according to a recent study. That doesn’t include time spent using smart phones and other digital devices.

Here, the academy offers tips for preventing eye problems:

  • Keep the screen at arm’s length, about 25 inches away (eyes have to work harder to see close up) and position the screen so that your gaze is slightly downward.
  • Use a matte screen filter to reduce glare that can aggravate your eyes. Be aware that if a screen is much brighter than the surrounding light, your eyes have to work harder to see. Adjust your room lighting and try increasing the contrast on your screen.
  • Remember to blink and follow the 20-20-20 rule. Take a break every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will help your eyes relax.
  • Lubricate your eyes with artificial tears when they feel dry. In offices with dry air, desktop humidifiers can be beneficial.

“If these tips don’t work for you, you may have an underlying eye problem, such as eye muscle imbalance or uncorrected vision, which can cause or worsen computer eyestrain,” Seldomridge said in an academy news release.

Source: HealthDay

Walk, Dance, Clean: Even a Little Activity Helps You Live Longer

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Want a reason to get out of your comfy armchair? Even low levels of regular physical activity — brisk walking, dancing or gardening — can reduce your risk of premature death, a new study finds.

Americans who got in just 10 to 59 minutes of moderate physical activity every week had an 18 percent lower risk of death from any cause, compared with couch potatoes, the researchers found.

Those benefits continued to mount with longer periods of activity.

The message is clear, said Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, a cardiologist with the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If you’re completely sedentary, you have to start moving, even if it’s 10 minutes a day,” she said.

“If you’re already moving a little bit, going a little bit further, with a little more vigor, really reduces the risk of death even greater. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to have these good effects,” added McLaughlin, who wasn’t involved with the study.

People who met the U.S. guideline of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week reduced their overall risk of death by 31 percent, and those who clocked in 1,500 minutes weekly nearly cut their risk in half, the results showed.

Exercise also cut the risk of dying specifically from heart disease and cancer, the study authors noted.

The research provides further confirmation of the health benefits of exercise, and shows how physical activity could directly affect your risk of death, said Dr. Joseph Herrera. He is chair of the Mount Sinai Health System department of rehabilitation and human performance, and was not involved with the study.

“If I could write a prescription for every single one of my patients and it said ‘Exercise’ on it, and they took it like they would take a pill, I don’t think they would be seeing me as often as they do,” Herrera said.

The new report comes days after a study from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that routine housework and gardening could benefit older women’s hearts.

Even light physical activity — gardening, going for a stroll, folding clothes — appeared to reduce the risk of stroke or heart failure by up to 22 percent, and the risk of heart attack or coronary death by as much as 42 percent, that study found.

For this latest study, Dr. Bo Xi, of Shandong University School of Public Health in China, and colleagues relied on health surveys conducted annually between 1997 and 2008 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The analysis included more than 88,000 survey participants, aged 40 to 85.

Participants estimated their amount of leisure-time physical activity. The researchers then compared those responses to mortality data from 2011 to see if being active had any impact on risk of death during the study period.

McLaughlin said that “when the data was evaluated, those patients who got just 10 to 59 minutes a week of moderate physical activity really reduced their risk of death from any cause.”

The researchers only counted exercise that had been done in increments of at least 10 continuous minutes, which matched the U.S. physical activity guidelines of the time, she noted. Since then, the federal government has said that any activity, no matter how brief, counts toward your weekly total, McLaughlin explained.

Along with the overall reduction in risk of death during the study period, the investigators found that 10 to 59 minutes of exercise reduced heart-related death risk by 12 percent and cancer-related risk by 14 percent.

Heart risk declined by as much as 37 percent as minutes of activity went up, and cancer risk declined up to 47 percent with more activity, the findings showed.

Eventually, the benefits of physical activity appeared to plateau. People who exercised more than 1,500 minutes a week had about the same risk of death, or slightly higher, than those who worked out a little less than that, according to the report.

This makes sense given what we know about elite athletes and how they hit certain plateaus in their training, Herrera said.

“We do know that the body does require some sort of recovery as well,” he said.

This also has implications for people who are weighing moderate exercise versus more intense workouts, such as vigorous running or bicycling, Herrera said.

Essentially, people who engage in vigorous workouts don’t necessarily gain additional health benefits, but they do cut the amount of time they have to put in, Herrera said. For example, 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week has effects similar to 150 minutes of moderate activity.

Exercise likely affects risk of heart-related death by strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress levels, McLaughlin said.

The impact of physical activity on cancer is a little tougher to determine. Herrera said it might be due to the increase in body metabolism associated with exercise, which could help clear out diseased old cells before they become cancerous.

The new study was published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Source: HealthDay


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