The dishes you’ll see (and those you won’t) during the vegetable summer at Noma

The menu in the Danish restaurant is the result of a harsh selection. Riccardo Canella, a pillar in the test kitchen, tells us about it

01-06-2018

The test kitchen at Noma in Copenhagen, which opened in a new location last February. Third from the right, Renè Redzepi, 40, patron chef. Third from the left, Paduan Riccardo Canella, 33 (the photos for this piece are taken from the Instagram accounts of reneredzepinomacphmette_soberg,torstenvildgaard)

What does the creative process at Noma in Copenhagen look like? Who chooses the dishes in the menu, and the ones to be left out? What’s the logic behind the choice? We asked this to Riccardo Canella, the Italian pillar in the test kitchen, the creative lab of Rene Redzepi’s restaurant, the brand new glasshouse with the pitched roof right next to the new restaurant.

There’s the Italian palate of Canella behind one of the most acclaimed dishes in the first menu of the 2.0 era, focused on seafood: dried fruit and shrimpsseafood platter, horse mussels… He gave his contribution to many of the dishes in the 100% vegetables menu that is to debut in a few days’ time. And in the many dishes that failed – or aren’t ready yet – and stay in the lab. Dishes that most restaurants around the world would do anything to have.

What is the test kitchen exactly?
It’s the R&D department at Noma. All the dishes you find, in every menu, are born in the test kitchen.

Redzepi announces the Celeriac shawarma, the main dish in the vegetables menu at Noma, debuting on June 26th

Redzepi announces the Celeriac shawarma, the main dish in the vegetables menu at Noma, debuting on June 26th

Mushroom salad

Mushroom salad

Fresh juice of ants and herbs

Fresh juice of ants and herbs

How many people work there?
Six or seven. Four in the core team. Danish Mette Søberg is the manager. He took over after Thomas Frebel, who is soon to open a restaurant in Tokyo, Inua. I support Mette with Japanese Jun Takashi and Danish Torsten Vilgaard – who was Redzepi’s right arm and the author of Noma’s first two books, two milestones. He recently returned after a long experience at Studio. We have different and complimentary talents.

Is the current test kitchen any different from the previous one?
It’s much larger: today there’s much more work because the menu changes completely 3 times a year. We opened in mid-February with seafood. On June 26th the vegetables menu will debut. Early in the autumn, it will be time for the game and forest menu.

What are the steps before a dish is included in the menu?
It’s a long process. We started defining the vegetables menu a couple of months ago. Initially. chef Redzepi gives us guidelines. In this case he suggested we work on new techniques: ancestral techniques such as barbecue, clay, underground; techniques from Eastern Europe, his heritage [his father is Albanian, from Macedonia], to Turkey. He encouraged us to work on the use of starch, to make tofu without soy, but using pumpkin and sunflower seeds, to make liquid spices…

Noma foragers found out these pine gems

Noma foragers found out these pine gems

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

Mushrooms taken out of island Håøya, near Oslo

Mushrooms taken out of island Håøya, near Oslo

How do you translate the guidelines?
We work on a couple of ideas each, and start to draft them. We can work up to 16 hours on developing a dish. Every day we assess the results with a brain storming. Renè usually arrives early in the afternoon. He tastes and gives his ok, or he asks us to make adjustments, to improve the finishing. If a dish from the test kitchen fails, we keep it as a backup for the following menus. It may well be that it would pass in the future, with the necessary changes. There’s no waste.

Do you have to follow some aesthetic standards as well?
Renè’s standards, of course. Indeed, you can find our style in each dish, but they’re all his dishes. With the seafood menu you probably noticed the dishing out is becoming simpler, more linear, essential. Flavours will matter more and more, the tension of products changing every week. The poetry of serving a strawberry at its best, without it being kept in the fridge.

What is the vegetables menu going to be like?
Today [Friday June 1st, for our readers] we’re going to define every detail. I believe it will be made of 18 dishes. It will have a very friendly beginning, with lots of small tastings to be shared, each an explosion of flavours. There will be great use of barbecue, a vegetable bolognese sauce, made with a nice selection of spices. The main menu will be a vegetable shawarma, a sort of kebab but with an Italian and traditional touch. There will be ants and crickets cooked in butter. The menu won’t be always the same until September: we’re working hard on micro-seasons.

A closed up mushroom. After pouring a broth of mussels and hay, it will open up completely

A closed up mushroom. After pouring a broth of mussels and hay, it will open up completely

A disc made of fermented plum pulp with a vegetable “tartare” and aromatic spices

A disc made of fermented plum pulp with a vegetable “tartare” and aromatic spices

How many dishes did you test, to get to the 18 in the menu?
Around 60.

A huge number. What stayed in the test kitchen?
A Taco made with grilled mushrooms on a koji pancake was competing until the end with a vegetable shawarma. I worked at length on a toast made with bee larvae served with egg sauce in a silicon mould: very interesting but too hard-core due to the larvae’s appearance. I studied a snail stew, excellent but not suitable for the summer.

Does no longer working in the restaurant bother you?
A little. I miss the adrenalin of service. Spending 16 hours in the test kitchen burns you out, after a while. But if there’s a guest I know, I’m back cooking and serving.

You’ve been at Noma for almost 4 years. What are your plans?
I’d like to open my own restaurant in a couple of years. I’d like to offer Italian avant-garde cuisine. Work with our great ingredients, including pasta and rice. Make the best tomato salad in the world.

Butterburs, a plant belonging to sunflower family

Butterburs, a plant belonging to sunflower family

Semi-dried pumpkins in beeswax

Semi-dried pumpkins in beeswax

Riccardo Canella

Riccardo Canella

Would you open in Italy? 
It’s my dream, but I’m not sure it can come true: I’m not sure of Italians’ purchasing power. I’d like to find some investors who would support me out of love for my idea of cuisine, rather than as a way of investing their money.

Is your restaurant going to have a test kitchen? 
Of course, though smaller [he laughs]. First, however, there’s still plenty to do: the game menu is coming up, and I feel it’s in my style. I still have much to learn. Every day I try to memorise something Gualtiero Marchesi said: ‘Act as a master, think as an apprentice’

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

See also
Dossier Noma 2.0
Riccardo Canella, l'italiano che ha incantato Redzepi


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