Telling our Culture through Food

NOMA My Perfect Storm
What does it mean to tell the story of a place and a time through food?
Tasmania, with our burgeoning food industry, is all arms and legs, prepubescent, growing faster than our intellect. We’re caught in a space between what’s hip somewhere else and what we
want to be, and the seasonal and locavore instincts of our island home. Tasmania’s palate has risen out of an Aboriginal history that saved starving white settlers and has evolved with the stories of migration, yet we’re only scratching the surface of what it means to translate a cultural identity to a plate.
To tell a story of place and time through food is not for any ordinary life. Danish Chef, Rene Redzepi, set about to establish a cuisine anchored in place and time, and pioneered the Nordic cuisine. He is best known for foraging – an approach to eating as old as our oldest ancestors – and making it into art.
His restaurant in Copenhagen, Noma, has been serving 21 courses over four hours to 45 place settings twice a day, since 2003. And he’s written a new rule book. As it has been said about Redzepi, ‘[H]e’s not cooking supper anymore, he’s changing the world.’
Until 2 April 2016, Noma has a pop up restaurant in Darling Harbour, The $485 per person seating (excluding matching wines) is already booked out with people waiting for the waiting list.
If this seems extravagant then it’s worth considering the contribution Redzepi has made to gastronomy. French, Italian and perhaps, Chinese, cuisines now dominate Western cooking. In a little over a decade, Redzepi has sourced, experimented, defined and determined a new approach to cooking. It’s seasonal and locavore. You might gaffaw what seems a little old hat now, but he was there at the beginning. And it doesn’t stop there. He’s made another contribution, not as well recognised or understood, food that reflects and celebrates cultural identity.
Tasmania is fine-tuning it capacity to supply niche markets with quality produce. But how do we take the next step from producing a great product to preparing and presenting it rich in its cultural heritage? And what personal risk will we take in trying?
Coinciding with the Noma Australia stint is the screening of the Noma My Perfect Storm, a film about the rise and fall and rise of a Rene Redzepi.
Noma My Perfect Storm is a story of a pioneer. The film parallels the racism experienced by Redzepi, a Macedonian immigrant to Denmark, and the narrative that emerged in response to an outbreak of the Novovirus at Noma that threatened to end his career.
It’s no easy journey for a first mover. As a pioneer of a new approach, Redzepi felt his fare share of ridicule. The establishment said his Nordic focus would be limiting. When criticism turned to name-calling like ‘seal fucker’ and ‘whale penis’ it was another matter.
In Tasmania, we’re familiar enough with the pitfalls of the bivalve aka the teabag of the sea. A great delicacy you can’t consume without wondering just a little. We take warnings about oysters and mussel health seriously. This likely suspect was initially overlooked in Redzepi’s restaurant by food authorities with claims that the kitchen was dirty. My perfect storm tells us what it means to enjoy the calm seas and then experience tremendous terror. The xenophobia is palpable and the question that most resonates in the film, ‘who was he to tell the story of Nordic cuisine?’
If Noma My Perfect Storm does just one thing, it tells us a story that is more pervasive than the creation of a new approach to food. It is a story about what defines culture. In the business of food, this is not a birth rite. For Redzepi, it is going ‘deep into the ingredient’.
There is film porn a plenty in this flick too. It shows a great talent at work. Redzepi asks, ‘[i]s creativity luck or a second brain in your gut?’ His demand for something more than perfection, something extraordinary, is obvious in the strain on the silent faces of his key staff whose creations he proclaims are ‘beautiful pretty but hopeless’.
What makes Redzepi stand out is that he is looking for what connects you to the land and how this is celebrated through food. It’s not starched white shirts and silver cutlery.
‘The best chicken of my life I ate with my hands’ he says.
Noma My Perfect Storm is not a critical documentary piece. It’s more coffee table book. Although his critics are referenced, it’s more time-lapse footage of staff heading to their stations to fulfill their duty, and close ups of Redzepi as he plates up. And there’s no disputing, it’s excruciatingly gorgeous and vicariously enjoyable. Although I can’t help but think about Julia Childs, ‘It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.” Although with Redzepi’s fingers, you can be assured that it is a masterpiece.
If you like food and beautiful cinematography, you’ll enjoy Noma My Perfect Storm.
And if Tasmania can take anything from this film, it’s the drive and optimism to continue delving ‘deep into the ingredients’, and the confidence to know and explain our own culture heritage through the plate.
Noma My Perfect Storm played at the State Cinema, North Hobart. Check out their latest movies and session times here.
Here’s our post about the
State Cinema’s Roof top cinema.

 

Our take on a Tasmanian
cuisine – Our Food Challenge.
Thank you to film distributors, Umbrella Entertainment, for our courtesy tickets to the film.

One thought on “Telling our Culture through Food

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *