Talk to anybody in the know about Europe's next "big thing" and they'll all shoot one name back at you: Denmark's René Redzepi.
The chef-patron of Copenhagen's two-Michelin-starred Noma restaurant is famous for his modern cooking techniques and use of many long-forgotten Scandinavian ingredients - particularly foraged food. So luring him over to London to do his first UK culinary demonstration at the Chef Conference was something of a coup.
"Everybody thought Scandinavian cuisine was a joke when we started," explained Redzepi in flawless English to his 250-strong audience of chefs. That was five years ago. Now his "rooted to the natural", seasonal cuisine is held up as a standard-bearer for the renaissance in Danish fine dining.
Redzepi explained that many wild herbs and plants that he uses are also common to the UK and he urged British chefs to explore their use. Underlining how easy it is to do so, he invited Miles Irving - one of the UK's leading foragers (www.forager.org.uk) on to the stage with him, to run through a dizzying array of wild leaves, roots and herbs from the British Isles - while he got on and cooked four signature dishes from the Noma menu.
Poached leg of king crab was served with leek stems rolled in "woodland ashes" (a powder created from delicately charred woodland plants), a mini-vegetable concoction warmed in an oyster emulsion, sprinkled with "soil" (a mixture of cooked grains) and finished off with "Kent weeds".
A piece of turbot rolled in celery ashes was served with celery purée and sea kale, an emulsion made with the stems of wild watercress and finished with wild herbs including cowslip, jack-by-the-hedge (garlic mustard), ransoms and ransoms flowers. Pickled and puréed Gotland truffles (above) came with caramelised salsify, milk skin and a bread salad inspired by a traditional Danish dish and was finished with rapeseed oil and "Miles's herbs" (including Norway spruce shoots - "we use 30-40kg of them a week").
At one point during the masterclass, Redzepi paused, held up a long, peeled leek-like bulb and asked nonplussed delegates what it was: a few brave souls suggested galangal or artichoke. "It's a bulrush. It tastes fantastic - cucumber with a peppery flavour. I've just discovered it." His audience might have been nonplussed, but they were fascinated and inspired, too. "I'll definitely be getting over to Copenhagen," said one - a certain Marcus Wareing.
Also from the Chef Conference
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