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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

THE BEST CHEF ON PLANET EARTH: RENE REDZEPI

It was more than five years ago when I braved the cold of Copenhagen to walk from my hotel through the snow to Noma.  I first met Chef Rene Redzepi, and to quote:

Only 32 years old, boyish and understated (I actually thought he was just another staffer when he served me the cheeks), mother Danish cleaner and father a Macedonian (Muslim) taxi driver, he just wandered into cooking school, but had the good fortune to work at The French Laundry (#12) in California and a three Michelin star restaurant in South France.

We got along so well that he invited me to visit his kitchen, where the photo to the right was taken.  He is to my immediate left.  At that time Noma was "only" the #3 restaurant in the world.  El Bulli was #1.

Since then, Noma has been #1 four of the past six years.  I returned a couple of years later and got in only because of our original interaction.  Rene has now grown up.

There are two oracles of bestness in cuisine:  Michelin (yes, a tire company) and Pellegrino (sells water).  Michelin does not rank their restaurants, except for awarding 3, 2 and 1 stars.  Thus, the source I tend to follow is San Pellegrino from Italy.  In comparison, there are around 115 Michelin 3-Star restaurants (the latest are San Francisco's first:  Benu and Saison) and the Best 50 of Pellegrino actually goes up to a Best 100.   The World's 50 Best Restaurants is a list provided by Restaurant, a British magazine, where the more modern molecular gastronomy is favored.  It is here that Chef Rene obtained fame.

More than being the best, he has the courage to experiment.  Three years ago he took his whole team to Claridge's in London during their Summer Olympics, and for a ten-day period, used British ingredients for a $300/sitting meal.  The 3400 seats for lunch and dinner were taken within a couple of hours of the announcement.  

Then two years ago his home restaurant was hit by the dreaded norovirus and he dropped to #2, with El Celler de Can Roca of Spain rising to the top.  Last year he reclaimed #1, but in 2015 ECdCR prevailed.


In addition to Noma, I've been to #8 Narisawa (2014 Best Asian Restaurant--above I am with Professor and Mrs. Tadashi Matsunaga, who is now President of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology), #9 D.O.M. (long the best restaurant in South America, but this year Central of Lima jumped from #15 to #4, with Chef Atala to the right), and #10 Gaggan (2015 Best Asian Restaurant, with Gaggan and his staff to the left).

I might further add that five years ago in Seoul I "found" Jung-sik with Professor Kiryun Choi.  Jung-sik  Yim himself, the chef, came by at the beginning to apologize that he had to rush to catch a flight to New York, where he was opening his new Manhattan restaurant.  We had a marvelous meal, for he personally cooked all the entres for us and at the end waved goodbye.  He actually cancelled his flight to stay back.  No wonder from nowhere, Jung-sik is now the #10 Best Restaurant in Asia, and, therefore, the best restaurant in Korea.

So, anyway, Chef Rene, early this year took his staff of 63 and families (77 total) to Tokyo for a five-week run.  The posh 37th floor Signature of the Mandarin Oriental (Rene) was whitewashed and redone.  He even shipped in his Carl Hansen & Son tables and chairs from Denmark.  Rene did not serve traditional Nordic cuisine, but created a Nordic-Japanese fusion medley utilizing products only from Japan.  To quote:

It starts with a raw botan ebi shrimp, which, freshly killed, is still twitching, its shelled body seasoned with juicy ants from Nagano that add a citrus tang. The main event is wild duck, caught in nets in Aomori Prefecture in the very north of Japan. Aged for 24 days to deepen its flavour, it's barbecued over charcoal, its skin blackened and its flesh bloody.

A 16-course meal cost around $320 just for the food.  There was a waiting list of 60,000 to serve 3584.  

To the left, Rene with Jiro.  Interestingly enough, Jiro has 3 Michelin stars, and Noma only 2, but Sukiyabashi Jiro is #44 among the Best 50 Asian Best Restaurants, and #1 Gaggan in the Asia list is only #10 in the 50 World Best ranking.

The tableware was created by 14 Japanese artisans and is now on sale.  How much?  The cost for the assortment exceeded the 77 roundtrip airfares, but just the Akito Akagi lacquer fork and spoon pair costs $330, and everything comes used.  Before returning home, they all vacationed in Kyoto.

I might add that Fat Duck (#1 in 2005) has just ended a six-month operation in Melbourne, Australia.  Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, too, was hit by the norovirus, in 2009, and closed for several weeks.  The British oysters were the cause.

So next?  Rene and Noma will next year go to Australia for ten weeks beginning in January.  Sydney Harbor will be the location and the menu will be all new featuring products from the land and ocean found locally.

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Super Typhoon Soudelar weakened to 115 MPH, and will further drop to Category 2 status, but will then strengthen back to Category 3, then to Category 4, before making landfall at the mid portion Taiwan on Saturday.  This is not the popular center of the country, but the there will be considerable devastation.


Tropical Storm Guillermo at 60 MPH and is expected to only become a tropical depression (less than 39 MPH) on Thursday.  


However, there should be very high waves, a lot of rain and some wind as Guillermo brushes by the Hawaii Islands, beginning today.

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