It's -6 degrees Celsius. The wind snaps its cold whip upon my cheeks. I wince and put my shoulders forward into the forces ahead. No weather can pull the smile from my face though....
Hello from Toronto!
It's the end of March and I step out of the warm plane into the chill of the cold Canadian evening. I have been lucky enough to avoid the vicious winter Canada has had. Copenhagen has an unusually warm winter with only one day of snow. I miss the crisp air of our nation and the buzz of Toronto. It’s good to be back.
My last week at Noma was one I will never forget - an end to a chapter in my life that concluded absolutely perfectly.
Final week: Test Kitchen
Before any dish is served to a guest at Noma, it has to pass through the test kitchen team – Lars, the head of R&D, Sous Chefs Thomas and Rosie and Chef René Redzepi. The test kitchen is where Chef René resides at most points during the day.
It starts with a clear glass board and a white board marker. Often on Saturday, near the evening, is when the next week begins. Chefs René, Dan, Lars, Thomas and Rosie huddle around one of the two islands that make up the test kitchen and reflect on last week’s ideas - what worked, what might be time to set aside and sometimes the "no's". Next in line is brainstorming new ideas and what is coming up seasonally. Once a rough list is compiled, it's filled out on the glass board. Perhaps it’s a protein that hasn't been used at Noma, seasonal wild ingredients, fermentation ideas and/or new techniques. Every week is different, always shifting with the seasons and the Earth. If spring is as early as it was this year, they shift into spring testing faster. Once a board of ideas is created, they discuss where the focus has to be and part ways.
Tuesday is when the tasks begin to take shape into the next great dish. I arrive and set up the test kitchen with towels, c-folds, little dish area, spoons and basic mise en place. Lars arrives and likes to start the day with coffee and some really hard rock music. Why not?!
We take a moment to discuss the tasks that Jeremy (the other stagier working in test kitchen) and myself will be doing, the week’s game plan and then we dig in. Today, we are butchering 15 heads of monkfish for their cheeks, breaking down 40 pounds of herring that have been curing for months, pick through all the foraged flowers and herbs that come in (wash and sort), try different techniques on sea cucumbers, prep sea snails, wash dishes (they pile up!), dry dishes (they must be bone dry), keep the test kitchen spotless and gather mise en place as needed. If you have any ideas that pertain to the ingredients that are being tested that week, you can try them out.
The test kitchen is its own world at Noma - often it has a very zen feeling. You can go hours without speaking, focusing just on the tasks at hand and music. Lars is one of the calmest people I have ever met and considering the task that the test kitchen has – creating all dishes at Noma, I couldn't admire and respect anyone more in the culinary world. Thomas and Rosie are both very busy this week, helping run the service kitchen as well as operate in the test kitchen. It’s a very big weight they carry on their shoulders.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are similar - continuing techniques on monkfish cheeks, sea snails, more herbs, with new ones coming in every day, cooking octopus with eight different ingredients, cooking monkfish cheeks several ways - lots of dishes, always keeping the test kitchen immaculately clean, tasting lots, all this while the sea cucumber mystery continues. The sea cucumber has been worked on at Noma for the last year, maybe even before then – a long time now. It's an enigma.
Often prepared by drying out in sun and rehydrating followed by a long simmer, it yields a fairly soft and unflavoured product, which is not ideal for Noma. We try several techniques, burning on the grill, boiling, baking, and freezing. Right there - that's what makes Noma! Always pushing, never giving up, trying anything and everything new and being unafraid. Unafraid is Noma. The thing is...Lars did crack it - the "Sea Cucumber Code". It was amazing, seeing something you didn't think could exist and possibly something that has never been produced ever. This is the life in the test kitchen at Noma - lots of ups and even more downs.
Wait…you didn't think I was going to tell you the great sea cucumber discovery, did you? No way, my friends. Once you become that unafraid and driven to discovering, you will and can achieve amazing things.
Saturday is project night. My last day at Noma. I am presenting a project with a young chef, Akino. We have been testing and toying around with different ingredients for several weeks. We settled on Citrus Cured Mackerel, chervil purée, citrus "roe", carrot pickles, kumquat pickles, sea asparagus in a sea asparagus oil, wild flowers and lemon verbena. Watching Saturday night projects on someone's social media stream or videos posted online don't do justice to the pressure you feel - it's incredibly intense. We prep through the evening, focused on making sure everything is as perfect as possible, with everything laid out in containers, tasted and re-tasted. Around 11:45pm we make our way to the service kitchen and begin setting up, making sure to place our mise en place within arms’ reach. At 12:05am Chef Dan says, "first team, Arron, Akino, 10 minutes until plate up". "Yes, Chef" we respond and rapidly begin to assemble our plates for tasting.
Our friend Justin, previously of Corton and Per Se, jumps in without us even muttering a sound. It's just what we have been doing for the last three months - having each other's backs. We hit the pass with two minutes to spare. Countless faces surround you, all eager to dig in and taste the creation you are presenting. Around the beautiful marble pass are cooks, sous chefs, servers, chefs and guests who have waiting around to experience the buzz surrounding Saturday Night Projects and last, but definitely not least, Chef René.
Chef René and Chef Dan always taste first. Once they have tasted, mayhem erupts - spoons and forks pop out from behind others, moving fast but carefully taking small tastes, always saving a bite for the person behind or beside you. René is on the fence - feels the fish is out of season (it is), likes the idea of creating a feeling of Florida with the dish (Akino is from Florida) but hates "pearls" (saw it coming). After some discussion, Chef says it's a very good dish and thanks us. Amidst the shifting onto the next project from other stagiers, we clean up from ours.
Just like that and it's over. Three months of intense hard work, incredible teamwork and a story to tell for the rest of your life. A finish to this part of my culinary journey that couldn't have been better.
I am left with a feeling that something is missing.
Noma is a restaurant unlike any other on the planet. It has a buzz about it that could never and will be reproduced. Noma pushes you to be the best chef you can be at all times, every day. Every chef and stagier at Noma is there because they want to be part of a culinary journey that very few take. It can't be easily described but Noma feels like it works in a bubble - a glass dome that separates it from the rest of the world. In this dome, you see teamwork unlike any other, you see chefs and servers truly working as one unit, all with a goal in mind - achieving the best and giving every guest the best restaurant experience in the world. This bubble holds every chef to the highest standard; there is no room for excuses. You feel a sense of pride that pulses through everyone; it’s not ego driven, but instead the positive energy of achievement. Chefs help each other and the smiles are frequent, with music helping to keep the pace and rhythm high. Not every day is perfect; this is reality still, but you often go home ready and excited for the next day. To work at a "World’s Best Restaurant" challenges you emotionally, physically and mentally, but rewards you with a feeling of accomplishment that little on Earth can rival.
Arron, the Noma Intern...
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: The Noma Intern - Time and Place
I hear a low-pitched deep snort come from the bushes ahead. I think nothing of it, but it comes again, a bit louder and a bit closer. I ask Mikkel, "What could that sound be?"
He answers, "Wild pigs. I've been chased by one. Maybe the most I've been afraid in my whole life."
"Can we stop picking the flowers and get out of here then?” I ask, hoping he will see my viewpoint of not wanting to be trampled by wild pigs.
"No, no, I think they are far away. If we hear them closer, we go. Keep picking; they are beautiful!"
As always, Mikkel is correct and we are completely fine. There are no wild pigs, just beautiful wild viol flowers on the side of a hill in Sweden!
Hello from the hills and forests of Sweden!!
This was near the end of our day in the Skåne region of Sweden. Let's rewind back to a few hours earlier...
We arrived at a secluded forest in Sweden, just over the bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. The weather forecast says the weather is better in Sweden and we need sun today. No, we are not tanning! We are collecting red wood ants for Noma.
Formica rufa red wood ants.
August 2011 - Mad Food Symposium in København, Danmark. One of the headlining guest speakers, DOM Chef Alex Atala, gave everyone in the crowd a translucent gel containing one single ant. The only flavouring was ant. It shocked the crowd. It invigorated Chef René.
Currently, the ants are used in three dishes - ant paste and ant salt.
Ants taste like ginger and lemongrass. Unique. Amazing. It's about being unafraid of anything. As stated in the latest Noma cookbook, René is unafraid.
First, we wander the forest trails to establish where the ants will be active midday. Once we establish our route for the day, we start! We are looking for ant hills that have a lot of ants on top that are not moving. They are collecting sunlight to bring heat into the nest. The nest can contain 100,000 to 400,000 ants and 100 queens.
We gently place firm cardboard in various spots of the ant hill. They become very intrigued and wander onto the cardboard. Once the cardboard is full, we shake off ants into a container. Once the ants start getting upset, we leave. Mikkel is very focused on making sure to never upset the entire hill. Once he sees signs of defensiveness from the ants, we move on to another hill.
They ants have large mandibles and are able to spray formic acid from their abdomens. That is exactly why we wear gloves for protection. We also wear large rubber boots and tight fitting clothes…they like to find their way in and they aren't friendly.
We progress through the forest and Mikkel is always on the hunt for more ingredients to forage - always stopping to get close to the ground to see what's on the forest floor. He has keen eyesight and often catches many things that even a trained eye would easily miss. His passion to find the next great undiscovered ingredient for Noma and René is amazing.
After a few hours and sore legs, we pack up. A good day.
As we head home, alongside a country road, Mikkel suddenly slows down and tells me to follow him. We cross the road to a hill covered in purple flowers – viol, or violets as we call them in Canada. Wild violets. I eat one and it blows my mind. This is why foraging is important. This is connecting to the earth and the wild ingredients at our fingertips.
Then we hear the pigs.
Now we head back to Noma. Precious cargo - ants, ramps, wild ground alder and viol.
I bring the treasures to the test kitchen. René immediately spots the viol and opens the lid, inhaling deeply and smiling. Right then, a kitchen tour is going through and René gets them all smelling and tasting, sharing in the Time and Place of Noma. The guests can't even control their smiles. They are in heaven.
As I watch this from the background, I can't help but smile. We are harvesting the earth responsibly, taking care, sharing our treasures with the world and building a better tomorrow. The effect you can have when you are as passionate as René is unimaginable. Every guest walking through Noma can feel it and see it.
Go grab a book or find a local forager in your city who is doing guided tours of the edible landscape we have. Embrace the land that we call Canada. Embrace what's around you. René embraces Scandinavia.
From Noma, I don't only stop and smell the flowers now - I wonder, can I eat them?!
Edible landscape of our land.
Arron Carley, The Noma Intern
Stay tuned for Arron's next update - his stage at Noma is wrapping up! - C.L.
Our very own Sous Chef from Jump
, Chef Anthony Figliano competed on Chopped Canada! If you missed last night's episode, you can watch it here. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page to watch Episode 13
Here are Chef Figliano's dishes (and photos!), which were specials at Jump the following weekend, with the episode playing on the big screen in the bar.
Well done, Chef Figliano!
Appetizer: chicken wings, arugula salsa verde, mortadella, ice cream cone hash
Main: ribeye, edamame beans, maple syrup and chocolate neopolitan wafer cookie jus
Countdown: 30 days – young chefs, you have 30 days to show the world what you’ve got.
May 5, 2014
is the deadline to submit your recipe for a chance at winning the 2014 Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship
– not only is $10,000 at stake (provided by the Chefs’ Table Society of BC) but also the opportunity to stage at a top international restaurant.
Canada’s top chefs and critics will be at the helm of judging this competition.
: Connie DeSousa, Justin Leboe, Michael Allemeier and Michael Noble
: Lynn Crawford, Damon Campbell, Rob Gentile and Anna Olsen
: Michael Smith, Jeremy Charles
: Anthony Walsh
, Jacob Richler, Mark McEwan, Normand Laprise, Scott Jaeger, Kristian Eligh and David Hawksworth
If you’re looking for a challenge, don’t miss out on this opportunity to compete against the country’s brightest.
Spring has finally sprung! Well, technically. Flowers may not exactly be blooming outside, but we'd say this beats ice storms and polar vortices. After a thoroughly miserable winter, we all think it's about time to reward ourselves with big ol' drink. Here, Canoe
bar manager Michael Bracegirdle shares his inspiration behind these eight new spring cocktails
to help us usher in the longer days and warmer(ish) nights.
Rhubarb Smash - Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Rhubarb, Basil & Lime
Add a shot of spring to your glass with a Rhubarb Smash
"We use rhubarb juice, basil and lime with Maker's Mark bourbon and simple syrup to give the drink a refreshing balance between sour and sweet. The rhubarb is in focus because it's in season during the spring. And you will see a beautiful red piece of rhubarb doubling as a stir stick in each smash that is made."
Spring Flower - Dillon’s Rose Gin, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Vanilla & Chamomile
Green thumbs will love the Spring Flower, which features Dillon's rose gin, infused with rose hips and petals and made in the heart of Niagara wine country. The cocktail is rounded out by St-Germain elderflower liqueur, vanilla and chamomile. Garnished with fresh green herbs, a sip of this drink is the perfect way to embrace the new season.
"The rose gin was going to find its way on this cocktail list, no matter what. All together it is light and refreshing."
Screech Manhattan - Newfoundland Screech Rum, Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Rouge, Orange Bitters
At the heart of the Screech Manhattan
is the Newfoundland Screech
, a Jamaican-style rum that offers dense notes of spice, brown sugar and caramel. Evened out by Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Rouge and orange bitters, this cocktail goes down smooth, so you don't need the tolerance of a sailor to enjoy this feisty libation.
"Screech is identifiably Canadian and something that is typically drank in pubs on the East Coast. The term has been used to describe many styles of rum, including moonshine and is the centerpiece to the 'screech-in' ritual started by sailors."
Maggy Rose - Tequila Tromba Blanco, Grapefruit, Cuvée Catharine Sparkling Wine, Agave
A cocktail fit for the late princess herself, the Maggy Rose
is classic and graceful, with a dash of royal sass. It pairs Tromba Blanco
with grapefruit, Cuvée Catharine
sparkling wine and agave.
"Maggy is bright in flavour, but not too sweet - a spring grapefruit margarita with a premium twist. It's so well-balanced that people will sip it not caring about the consequence of having a couple in a row."
Ol’ CDN - Lot No. 40 Rye, Maple Bacon Syrup & Celery Bitters
Combining Lot No. 40 rye
, maple bacon syrup and celery bitters, it really doesn't get much more locally inspired than the Ol' CDN
"The cocktail pays homage to the old cans of maple syrup and is a play on an old fashioned that we've jazzed up by garnishing it with celery dipped in lovage seed. Lot 40 is a robust 100% rye-based whisky that is starting to get critical acclaim. The name comes from the Kingston lot that the whisky-maker originally had his copper pot still. The cocktail is savoury and bold in alcohol. It's well-balanced and easy to drink because of the maple bacon syrup, which is made in house by combining bacon stock with maple syrup."
Nouveau Blush - Grey Goose Vodka, Pink Guava, Prosecco & Lime
Many of us tend to equate spring cocktails with light, colourful and refreshing concoctions. Shake off the winter frost with the elegant, simple Nouveau Blush
, which features Grey Goose vodka, pink guava, Prosecco and lime.
"This is a spring martini that has everything that one could want in a fruity drink - bubbly, sweet fruit, acidity and premium French vodka."
Cidre Mousseux - Cidre de Glace, Vin Mousseux & Pommes Amères
As a tribute to Taste Québec, Chef John Horne's latest tasting menu, Canoe's bar is also serving up a delicious Cidre Mousseux, one of Québec's most celebrated culinary creations. Since apples that are made into ice cider are left on trees until mid to late January when the temperatures dip well below freezing, and the fermenting process takes up the winter months, the cider is not ready to drink until the spring. But the payoff is certainly worth it.
"Our cocktail is not overly sweet, but has a definite apple taste to it. The Cava leads the way with its bubbly crispness and acidity, followed by the obvious hint of apple."
Dill Pickle - Dillon’s Gin, Grand Marnier, White Cranberry, Lime & Dill
While the Dill Pickle is admittedly not a cocktail designed especially for spring, it has managed to maintain its status on Canoe's bar menu due to its fresh taste and ability to light up one's mouth with dill.
"This odd mixture of Dillon's gin, Grand Marnier, white cranberry, lime and dill leads one to believe that they are consuming a liquid dill pickle. It's been winning over guests and competitions since its conception in 2008."
Michael recommends pairing the Dill Pickle with seafood. Canoe's Mini Raw Bar, perhaps?
Now is the time to shake off those winter cobwebs and join us at the Canoe bar to try out these lively libations for yourself. So pull up a chair and raise a glass to above freezing temperatures and 7:30pm sunsets. It only gets better from here, folks.
Photos by Cindy La