When you’re offered the opportunity to dine at Noma in Sydney, the latest pop up incarnation of the Copenhagen restaurant named best in the world by Restaurant magazine 4 times since 2010, you don’t have to think too hard about saying yes.
When it comes accompanied with the opportunity to spend the day on Sydney harbour with founder Rene Redzepi and his team, hearing about the philosophy behind the restaurant and joining them on a foraging expedition that decision gets even easier.
Stuart and I were particularly interested to hear how the journey’s Rene and his team had taken into Australia’s indigenous communities had influenced the menu, and found this aspect of the day absolutely fascinating. Rene spoke about how it had been comparatively easy to construct menu’s at the previous temporary locations in London and Tokyo, but with Australian cuisine a melting pot of global influences, determining a uniquely Australian menu presented some initial challenges.
Inspiration came to them from the name of the restaurant precinct Barangaroo, which was named in honour of the aboriginal fishing woman and wife of Bennelong. The area was a place where tribes had come to hunt for seafood, particularly shellfish, so the decision was made that the menu would focus on seafood and ingredients gathered and eaten by aboriginal people.
Rene and his team visited many communities throughout Australia, talking to the local people about the foods that they gathered and how they ate them. They discovered that Aboriginal people rarely mixed their ingredients, keeping the flavours as nature had intended, with the exception of the people in Gove in the Northern Territory, where the influence of the Indonesian people has seen a local chili paste derived and commonly spread on kangaroo meat before it is barbequed.
We were taken on a ferry to the Taronga Zoo ferry terminal, where after a short walk we gained a completely new perspective on what lies in our backyards.
Noma’s philosophy is all about seasonal eating, and staying connected to the local landscape. Rene showed us that we were not just on a pretty beach on Sydney harbour, but we were effect in natures supermarket, where within 5m he and the team could source a minimum of 5 separate ingredients to prepare Michelin-star worthy cuisine. There were crabs, oysters, succulents and fruits, all freely available and readily accessible. It did come with an accompanying warning about the importance of knowing what you were doing though, as he showed us the asparagus fern in the mix which if eaten would give us all a 48hr dose of diarrhoea! Not to be confused with the sea asparagus, which was absolutely delicious.
Rene explained that the tradition of foraging is long held in Scandinavia, but after 10 000 years of industrialisation the refinement of the natural ingredients is substantial. He spoke of the absolute delight he and the team experienced in discovering what he called the taste of true wilderness here in Australia, with things literally still as nature made them.
As we ate New Zealand sea spinach leaves, salty and full of sea vitamins, marsh pennyworth whose flowers taste like a blend of celery and parsley, rambling dock with a crispy fresh taste reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple, it was easy to understand exactly what he was talking about.
We sailed away from that little beach with a totally different perception than the one we’d had when we arrived, and I can hardly wait to see how those foraged ingredients translate into tonight’s menu, which I’ll share in a coming post.