Manifesto for the New Nordic Cuisine – A Primer

Identity is crucial in this era of globalisation. An awareness of who we are and where we come from is essential to our self-image and our sense of belonging. An appreciation of local culinary tradition is just one aspect of this, and is now more important than ever. – Einar Risvik, Chairman of the New Nordic Food program

New Nordic Cuisine, or Modern Nordic Cuisine, or whatever we are calling it these days, has dominated the global culinary landscape for nigh on a decade.  Rene Redzepi, and his famed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, along with a troupe of lesser known yet equally respected Nordic chefs, have brought the region’s cuisine sharply into focus in the 2st century. Nordic ideas about local sourcing and sustainability, once fringe notions, are now a prerequisite to be considered one of the best restaurants in the world. In just under a decade Nordic chefs have successfully created a new cuisine, grounded in a rich culinary tradition and supported by a multitude of microclimates and a unique biodiversity. Theirs is a cuisine to rival any in the world.

My question is: How did they do it?

In 2004, Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer, his NOMA cohort and Danish culinary icon, held a symposium in which they invited some of the region’s best chefs, food writers, and culinary culturalists to Copenhagen, the topic:  How to nurture the then infantile food movement grounded in their local cuisine.  The result of that meeting was the ten-point Manifesto for the New Nordic Cuisine, an outline of the principles and philosophies of their fledgling food revolution. The Manifesto, grounded in Nordic notions of sustainability, food purity, and ethics, reflected the values of the region’s citizens. The Manifesto was an attempt at expressing Nordic culture through Nordic food.  Much like the instructions for a new piece of slick Scandinavian furniture, the Manifesto clearly explained the tenets for this new way of cooking in a language that was concise and easy to understand.

It reads:

The aims of The New Nordic Cuisine are:

1) To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate to our region.

2) To reflect the changes of the seasons in the meals we make.

3) To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly in our climates, landscapes and waters.

4) To combine the demand for good taste with modern knowledge of health and well-being.

5) To promote Nordic products and the variety of Nordic producers – and to spread the word about their underlying cultures.

6) To promote animal welfare and a sound production process in our seas, on our farmland and in the wild.

7) To develop potentially new applications of traditional Nordic food products.

8) To combine the best in Nordic cookery and culinary traditions with impulses from abroad.

9) To combine local self-sufficiency with regional sharing of high-quality products.

10) To join forces with consumer representatives, other cooking craftsmen, agriculture, fishing, food, retail and wholesales industries, researchers, teachers, politicians and authorities on this project for the benefit and advantage of everyone in the Nordic countries.

And here’s the thing. They did it. These values and philosophies have shaped the restaurants of Scandinavia and helped them be counted among the best in the world. More importantly, they have exported these values to restaurants around the world, creating the foundation from which to erect ever more equitable and sustainable kitchens and communities.

After the Fresh Street pop-up, I had the chance to shoot the shit with some of Columbus’ best young chefs and cooks. Being a rather dour bunch,added to the fact that it was early on a Sunday, at least by food service standards, we eventually got to bitching. In their turn the usual complaints came up: not being able to find good help, a lack of mentors for young cooks, long hours, a lack of public enthusiasm for anything new, pretty run-of-the-mill griping for our lot. Then, we got on the big one, the one that always seems to come up:

What, exactly, is Columbus food? How can we make food that accurately represents our community and its values and traditions? How do our kitchens and restaurants contribute to what makes Columbus a great place to live and a memorable place to eat?

We draw our inspirations from the great cuisines of the world, and in our time in culinary history, much of that inspiration has been drawn from the chefs and restaurants of Scandinavia. I’m proposing that we don’t stop with what those chefs serve, but look deeper, examining how they serve.

The desire is here. The desire to be great. The desire to show the rest of the world what we already know:

Columbus, Ohio is a world class food city.

Now we just need a map to get us there. Luckily, much like our Northern counterparts across the ocean, we can chart our own course, draw our own map. A map that leads to a better understanding of our identity and our place in the wider world of food. All we need to do is the work.

Something is happening here. Momentum is building and a ground swell is rising on a new era in Columbus food. And I’m goddamn excited, and your should be to! It doesn’t have a name yet, and honestly, I’m a little afraid to even talk about it, for fear that, like some culinary Schrodinger’s cat, these just manifested notions should be swept away like crumbs from a tablecloth.

Nevertheless, I propose that we put some meat on these bones! Lets give these feelings a name. Let’s mark our territory and define our values. Let’s discover and celebrate our food history, its techniques, dishes, and ingredients. Let’s revel in our air, soil, and water and their bounty.  The time is now to stake our claim on the culinary landscape!

I’m ready. Who the hell is with me?