Bacteria, yeast a diner's delight at Denmark's Noma

COPENHAGEN Fri Oct 26, 2012 11:31am EDT

1 of 8. Rene Redzepi, chef and co-owner of the restaurant Noma, talks with his employees in a test kitchen in his restaurant in Copenhagen October 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - While ant paste, milk curd and berry preserves make up the "Blueberries and ant" dish at Denmark's restaurant Noma, bacteria and yeast will soon be next for diners at the eatery which has been crowned world's best restaurant for three years.

Located on the ground floor of a renovated listed 18th Century warehouse in the old Christianshavn canal district of Copenhagen, Noma is run by 34-year-old chef Rene Redzepi.

"It changes the chemical composition of food," Redzepi told Reuters of his experiments with bacteria and yeast in the test kitchen. "After many months you get a magic process."

Redzepi is setting up a team of chefs and academics to run the project and is currently working to perfect a dish of grilled leek which has been marinated for 24 hours in fermented yellow split peas, a dark, thick aromatic paste resembling intense soy or bean sauce.

The experiment follows the introduction of three types of ants on the menu about four months ago, which after a rocky start, has been well accepted by diners.

Guests flock to the Copenhagen restaurant from all over the world to get a seat at one of the 11 tables in the restaurant which is furnished to embrace the Nordic spirit and atmosphere with smoked oak, stone, leather, water, glass and light.

Diners pay 4,900 Danish crowns ($850) for a 12-course set menu including appetizers, treats to finish, wine pairing and a tour of the kitchen to meet some of the 50 chefs.

That is, if they are lucky enough to book a table. On Monday at 0800 GMT, Noma will open for January bookings and the two-seater tables are usually snapped up in less than an hour.

THE ANTS AND GRASSHOPPERS

Redzepi spent two years studying whether eating ants is safe, where he could get them from, how to eat them and to build the courage to do it.

"It is a taboo. People were horrified," he said, referring to the beginning when Noma served the ants live.

"I was very surprised and we had to stop," he said. "I remember that I was very disappointed."

Today, the ants feature more modestly in one starter and one dessert while the grasshoppers feature in two of the starters.

The grasshoppers are fermented and made into a grasshopper sauce inspired by fish sauce. The three types of ants each have a distinct flavor. One has a strong coriander flavor, one a strong combination of lemon grass and lovage, while the third is very sour like lemon.

They are found in Danish forests, frozen, blended into a paste and feature in the "Blueberries and ants" dessert in a combination of milk curd and different types of berry preserves.

In April, Noma was crowned the world's best restaurant for the third year in a row in the annual S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna World's 50 Best Restaurants.

The Noma approach to cooking is concentrated on obtaining the best raw materials from the Nordic region such as Icelandic skyr curd, halibut, Greenland musk ox and berries.

The two Michelin star restaurant does its own smoking, salting, pickling, drying, grilling and baking, prepares its own vinegars and concocts its own distilled spirits.

Noma also makes systematic use of beers and ales, fruit juices and fruit-based vinegars for its sauces and soups, and allows vegetables, herbs, spices and wild plants in season to play a prominent role in its cooking.

While the first world's best restaurant nomination changed the life of Redzepi overnight, diners hoping for a Noma outside Christianshavn in Copenhagen will be waiting in vain.

"If I was to expand, I would have to share my work to an extent that I would not like," Redzepi said. "I do not want to be away from here, the work is far from finished," he said.

($1 = 5.7558 Danish crowns)

(Reporting by Mette Fraende, editing by Paul Casciato)