Crispy pork skin, fried moss, radishes with soil, carrot foam and toffee inside bone marrow? Sounds appetizing? Yet, it’s these ingredients, along with many other unique gastronomic elements, that come together to make the world’s best restaurant, Noma. A gem in Copenhagen, Denmark, chef René Redzepi has gone against cultural norms in Scandinavia to change the face of the culinary experience and earn worldwide recognition.
It seems an achievement like this would naturally cultivate pride within any community. The feeling of delight in one’s country through its people’s achievements brings citizens together. This is obvious when the achievements of top athletes, big companies, famous actors, and, of course, celebrity chefs are applauded and celebrated. In the States, making a name for oneself and standing out from the crowd are intrinsic features to the American culture. Thus, for an American, it would only seem normal for the Danes to boast about this global recognition and embrace the chef and innovator behind Noma. After all, they can say they have had the best restaurant in the world for the fourth time. However, in Scandinavia, it’s important to understand that standing out from the crowd has not always been something to generate public approval or praise.
Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown: Copenhagen episode features Noma’s, René Redzepi, and the man behind the world-class restaurant. If you are unfamiliar, Bourdain is an American chef, author, and television personality. He’s gained a culinary bad boy image by openly expressing his opinion and visiting places that most culinary celebrities wouldn’t dare. Bourdain constantly goes against the grain as he supports many chefs around the world who are taking a non-traditional approach. Bourdain gave a cultural glimpse into the world of Scandinavia when Redzepi, who seemed quite normal and humble in nature, highlighted the preliminary lack of support he felt from the Danish community.
The disapproval Redzepi experienced stems from a theory known as The Law of Jante. Also referred to as Jantelagen or Janteloven, it is a Scandinavian concept from the 1930’s, which expresses a group idea of disapproval and criticism towards individuals in the community that achieve personal success. In other words, doing something noteworthy was often unworthy and unbecoming. Don’t understand? Think of it like this: one person is no better than the other. Going against the grain, so to speak, means corrupting the preservation of harmony and uniformity.
Before you think Scandinavia a bad place, let me to explain. Upon contemplating this Scandinavian mindset, if practiced sincerely, Jantelagen would ask people to take a more humble approach in life. This might reduce some of the dualistic thought regarding merit as in “it’s mine or it’s others.” It’s not about diminishing the individual to nothingness either; it’s about eliminating arrogance and bringing humility to the center. Applying this age old mindset, could also petition people to consider those around them before directing a conversation to a discussion only about them. In this way, the Law of Jante could prove to be beneficial way to reduce the ego of the self and rather see others as one in the same.
Allow me not to downplay Noma’s achievements as the concepts really have altered Scandinavian food today. Despite having made a big name for him, Redzepi has maintained his modest and community focused approach and is known for actively sharing his knowledge with apprentices and other chefs.
To learn more, watch Anthony Bourdain’s episode, Parts Unknown: Copenhagen on iTunes. If you are planning a trip to Copenhagen, I definitely encourage taking a risk on this dining experience and booking a table at Noma. The fixed price menu without wine will set you back 1600 DKK or $270 US, but except a savory event incomparable to any other. As it is has now been ranked the best restaurant in the world for a fourth time, reservations need to be made four months in advance.