TORONTO - Rene Redzepi, an award-winning chef whose innovative and groundbreaking approach to cooking has earned his Copenhagen eatery Noma the designation of top restaurant in the world, is coming to Toronto to address a symposium for the hospitality industry.
Noma has taken the culinary world by storm, claiming the top spot three years in a row on Restaurant magazine's annual S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Redzepi will deliver the keynote address at Terroir, a food-service and hospitality conference that brings together the elite of Canada's industry.
Though Redzepi hadn't finalized his remarks for the April 8 event, he hopes to share some stories of how friendship shaped his restaurant, in keeping with this year's theme, which centres on the stories behind food.
When Redzepi was establishing Noma, which is a combination of the two Danish words "nordisk" (Nordic) and "mad" (food), one special friendship with a farmer unleashed many possibilities for the food he would base his kitchen on.
"A chef and a farmer forging a friendship, it sounds normal, but 10 years ago it wasn't that normal in these parts of the world," Redzepi said in an interview from Copenhagen.
"It showed me the path of a restaurant and what flavours we were looking for and the importance of fresh food and the importance of the restaurant trade, so the connecting directly to the people that grow the food and that make all the wonderful produce, the bond we have is probably the strongest motivation and factor for success as a restaurant."
The 40-seat establishment housed in an old warehouse on Copenhagen's waterfront has also earned two stars from the French dining guide Michelin since it opened in 2004. The reservation book opens three months in advance and "it books up very quickly," said the 35-year-old, who started in the business when he was 15.
Arlene Stein, who launched Terroir seven years ago with several colleagues, said the professional development day now attracts 500 delegates. She has been trying to get Redzepi to attend for three years.
"I'm a huge fan of what Rene Redzepi does, not so much in just the idea around foraging, which I know is what he's become known for, but a guy who's put Denmark on the map in terms of a food destination and has done so strategically and cleverly," the Toronto-based Stein said in an interview from Berlin.
Redzepi said what's available in nature that is delicious influences him throughout the year. One of his chefs is devoted to foraging for produce to serve in the restaurant.
"Slowly you realize that there is literally an edible world out there. What I saw as scenery before became a big larder," he explained.
"The weirdest, craziest, most delicious flavours you can imagine — beach coriander, a plant that looks like chives but tastes like cilantro growing through rotten seaweed on the coast around Denmark. I always looked at a tree and I saw a wooden floor. I didn't think of it as shoots of leaves, the delicious sap in early spring drinking that as ice water, the layer of gelatin between the bark and the wood, and so on and so on.
"It was just a whole new exploration of this edible world and in there we found a range of ingredients, a range of foodstuff that was just mind boggling, something I'd never been taught, something I didn't know about. It was just a new world opening to us."
Stein has eaten at Noma several times.
"Rene is one of the most hospitable, genuine, interested, passionate, caring people around this world. And it shows in everything that he does."
Redzepi and his staff try to find out something about guests before their arrival to make them feel special.
"We love to cook, but we also love to make people happy. We are in the business of making people happy," he said.
"The few seconds where with two hands forward you put the pot of food on the table and you give them something and in anticipation everybody looks up, right there, that is the essence of a restaurant. That sparkly sensation, that is what I love about running a restaurant, and that's the feeling that I would like to breathe and have as a sort of magical pixie dust sprinkled all over our restaurant."
There will be 25 other speakers from Canada and abroad at Terroir, including chefs, food writers and photographers, culinary activists, sommeliers and winemakers.
To celebrate professional excellence in the Canadian food and beverage industry, awards will be handed out in the categories of chef, beverage (sommelier or mixologist) and front of house. Nominations may be made online and winners will be announced at the event.
For more information, visit www.terroirsymposium.com.
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