By Jens Martin Skibsted and Bo Lindegaard
A new culinary movement has arrived to the world's top kitchens. Originating from Copenhagen, the style of cooking is called "New Nordic," as coined by René Redzepi, chef and owner of the "Best Restaurant in the World," Noma.
Last year global food stars like David Chang, Andoni Aduriz, Jordan Kahn and Michel Bras travelled to René Redzepi's MAD FoodCamp in Copenhagen, a public food festival and professional symposium.
The success of New Nordic cuisine in kitchens around the world is evidence in a list of fashionable ingredients like Icelandic skyr (a yogurt-like cultured milk product), truffles from Gotland, radish leaves, turnip tails, crispy cod skin, musk ox from Greenland, pickled elderberries and nasturtium. New Nordic explores the region's relatively overlooked fish, game and produce—from the Arctic tundra to the Norwegian fjords—as well as utilizing more contemporary approaches to cooking.
It is said that Nordic food culture is old, but the restaurant culture is new—dinner used to be home cooked. This is only partly true; there never was a Nordic food, but plenty of Nordic foods. These vernacular home cooking traditions are very different from the extravagant New Nordic movement and a part of Nordic cuisine actually has a fairly old restaurant culture.
Because New Nordic style did not exist before this movement, its food is as such designed.
The idea of food as a design product is not new. Pasta is an example of a designed food, manufactured in countless shapes, each one designed to interact with the sauce and ingredients differently. Philippe Starck and Giorgetto Giugiaro both designed new pasta shapes in the '80s.
We don't necessarily think of food as design, but we love it when celebrity chefs like Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal treat it as design. Food is curiously under-designed; it is an essentially conservative medium. Future food shortages are likely to push designers to rethink what we eat. For example, insects and in vitro meat might become commercially viable and will have to be designed into our kitchens.
Strangely New Nordic rarely revisits the tradition of "smørrebrød" and "smorgasbord." These open-faced sandwiches might be the main Scandinavian contribution to culinary excellence and has its roots in restaurants—not home cooking. Marcus Samuelsson, chef at President Obama's inaugural dinner, and more recently Adam Aamann-Christensen have been introducing these sandwiches to New Yorkers.
We believe the truly exportable part of Nordic cuisine lies in this tradition. It is a tradition that is surprisingly similar to that of sushi: It consists of a small square-ish carbohydrate base with raw fish and other meat and highly decorative toppings including horseradish. They are served in a multitude of versions and often in a sparse setting. Beer and aquavit (not Sake) is served with smørrebrød. Like with sushi chefs the smørrebrødsjomfruer are specialized and not ordinary chefs. It took most by surprise that Japanese raw fish could be a global export. It shouldn't be a surprise that smørrebrød could do the same.
For a few years the two of us—a designer and a chef—have worked together to redesign smørrebrød. Our initial approach was to deconstruct the design to its base elements: Carbohydrates + meat + garnish = mouthful. Keywords were modular, aesthetic, innovative, fast and healthy.
This is an example of how a piece can look:
This dish focuses on the modular base. Rye bread is made into paper-thin crisps shaped liked puzzle pieces to emphasize the importance of the carbohydrate base element.
We worked with different consistencies:
...rethinking colors and creating the feeling of a product; thus solving one of smørrebrød's technical problems: When smørrebrød is left on a shop counter, the bread goes soft due to the liquids escaping from the garnish. We imagined having a fridge full of varieties, all stored in plastic containers. When dumping the container of your choice over the bread, the contents (that have been assembled inversely) will be presented fresh and ready to eat. This would also give us a chance to work with a clearer visual expression like color codes.
We also "productized" by bringing in non-edible elements and using them as "plates" in the smørrebrød. In this case a Lego brick was our plate:
Below are two other examples of "productized" dishes:
Open-faced sandwiches are never served as dessert or a sweet. We played around with the smørrebrød as a dessert as well as the order in which sweet and salty is served.
Smørrebrød contain both sweet and salty sensations. It is an essential quality of the Nordic kitchen and smørrebrød is a great example. One of the things that make each mouthful exciting is the clear difference in flavors and textures that you get when eating. This below dish was about emphasizing those differences by mixing lumpfish roe with caramel sauce.
We also changed how the tools of eating were integrated. Sushi uses chopsticks and tapas often comes on a stick. We felt that we needed something other than a knife and a fork to take this further. These dishes equally work with tools and food. The first one is an edible ryebread attached to a fork, the second is jellied smørrebrød.
We played around with the consistency of the food. Some was sprayed on. To get a clearer understanding the importance of smørrebrøds traditional textures, we turned every element upside down trying to challenge the ritual. In the below cases the bread was sprayed on the plate and in the second example the potato was made into foam.
We integrated smoked elements and the "fresh is best" factor. We tried to emulate what happens when you admire the sushi chef's handicraft while sitting at the bar waiting for your food. The Japanese have beautiful knives and wear bandanas in the kitchen. We wanted try to have a go on making the building process more fun to watch. Smørrebrødsjomfruer (the chefs) are always hidden in the back kitchen. That's how it's always been, but we feel that we need to move this out into the open. In this case, we smoked (a very traditional flavor in smørrebrød) the food in front of the guests—leaving their mouths watering.
This is a work in progress and we've only shown a fragment of the experiments. We are still researching and exploring possibilities. And although we both have careers respectively as designers and chefs we have not sought to commercialize our cooperation and experiments yet.
Our next experiment will be when the Scandinavian Young Global Leaders of Davos World Economic Forum come to Copenhagen.
About Bo Lindegaard
Bo Lindegaard finished culinary school in 2003 after working in London and Copenhagen. He quickly became Head chef at Den Gule Cottage and later took over the kitchen across the road at Restaurant Jacobsen. In 2005 he also became head of the kitchen at Kokkeriet, but left before Lasse took over. In 2006 he was asked to part of the team who was to open the multisensory restaurant and food Theatre, Madeleines. After working as the Creative Chef at Madeleine's for a couple of years, he founded KomBo's, later to join forces with Lasses Marengs
About Jens Martin Skibsted
Jens Martin Skibsted is a design philosopher, and serial entrepreneur, who rose to celebrity status with the instantly iconic Biomega bike, which stood for an entirely new sort of urban mobility. For more than a decade, he has helped ambitious companies build products that redefine marketplaces. He's the founding partner of Biomega, a luxury bicycle manufacturer, and KiBiSi, a leading Scandinavian product design consultancy. His bicycle designs live in the permanent collections at the MoMA, Le Cnap and SFMoMA. A Young Global Leader who spoke at Davos 2011, he is a member of INDEX Award, World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Design Innovation, and the Danish Design Council. He is also a guest blogger for Fast Company. Jens Martin graduated from ESEC in Paris, UC Berkeley and Copenhagen University. Follow Skibsted on Twitter.