Sunday, 14 April 2019

How to start a food revolution > revitalizing local food culture by fostering local agriculture, encouraging environmentally friendly production, and turning consumers into co-producers

Today's edition of the Food Programme on Radio 4 took us to Scandinavia, where there's been a food revolution:

How to Start a Food Revolution: The Food Adventures of Claus Meyer

Can you reinvent a food culture? Dan Saladino meets a man who did, Denmark's Claus Meyer, the co-founder of Noma, one of the world's most influential restaurants.

From there he went to Bolivia and set up a restaurant to rescue lost foods of the Andes and Amazon, and onto New York where he founded a cooking school in a neighbourhood with some of the worst levels of food related illness in America.

So what is he now doing in Newport, South Wales.

BBC Radio 4 - The Food Programme, How to Start a Food Revolution: The Food Adventures of Claus Meyer

Here he is talking about the 'Nordic Food Revolution':

Claus Meyer, Owner of The Meyers Group: The Nordic Food Revolution 

In this wonderful, personal and thought provoking talk the Danish gastronomic entrepreneur Claus Meyer shares his dream about revitalizing local food culture by fostering local agriculture, encouraging environmentally friendly production, and turning consumers into co-producers. Claus Meyer addresses the global challenge on how we can revitalize local foods.

Claus Meyer - The Nordic Food Revolution - YouTube

He has been all over the world:
Cooking up a revolution: The chef who wants to change the world | brunch | feature | Hindustan Times

Including Newport in Wales:
Top class speakers unveiled for Wales’s premier international food conference - Wales 247

He's doing great things in New York: 

Brownsville Community Culinary Center
is committed to offering healthy, accessible cuisine to neighborhood residents through our eatery.

The Foundation’s work is focused on the following areas:
to drive social change and to combat poverty through initiatives related to food and hospitality;
to use education in food and cooking and culinary craft as instruments to inspire people to pursue careers in hospitality and the culinary arts; and
to break picky eating habits of children and, from an early age, strengthen their ability to influence sustainable and healthy food choices.

Community – Agern Restaurant

And there is a manifesto:
The New Nordic Food Manifesto | Nordic cooperation
New Nordic Food |
New Danish cuisine - Wikipedia

Here's a piece from the Telegraph from a couple of years ago: 

Meet Noma founder Claus Meyer: the man behind the Nordic food revolution

Diana Henry, cookery journalist of the year
25 APRIL 2016 

Claus Meyer represents all that is good about Nordic living. He’s just got off a plane but looks as if he’s been for a walk on some wild beach. He is glowingly healthy, tall and energetic.

A fifty-year-old French man of a similar level of success - Meyer runs an empire that encompasses hotels, restaurants, bakeries, delis and a charitable foundation – would be suave and formal. But Meyer - sporting jeans, All Stars and a crumpled but expensive cotton jacket – bounds into the room with the warmth of a Labrador and smiles broadly.

It’s possible you won’t have heard of him – Rene Redzepi, with whom he set up Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant which has grabbed the top slot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list more than once – gets much more attention, but Meyer has brought about a revolution in Nordic food of which Noma is only a part.

The reasons for his dedication to improving the food of his country are obvious and painful, though he offers them without self-pity.

“I was a very unhappy child,” he says simply. “My mum and dad fought all the time and we ate food from the microwave. The vegetables were frozen and had been cooked a decade before in Eastern Europe. Everything was cheap, and most of it was dipped in melted margarine. People in Denmark believed it was a sin to put much time into cooking or into exploring the pleasures of eating. It was because of the Puritanism handed down from the past. I would say that ninety percent of the kids growing up in Denmark in the 1970s ate like I did."

This arid culinary landscape was also due, he believes, to the industrialisation of food production. "Denmark developed big cooperatives. These inhibited the kind of diversity you get in Italy and France.

"And in Denmark we gave ourselves the worst food, we had what was left after everything else had been exported. Never in the history of Denmark was there education about food."

His parents separated when he was fourteen. His father, who he says never loved him, left, and his mother became an alcoholic. Meyer went to France to work as an au-pair in his late teens and ended up living with a fourth generation baker and traiteur and his family in Gascony. It changed him for ever.

"In France I tasted food that could have been from another planet. Besides the flavours I saw a different way of life too, a capacity for enjoying the moment. That trip to France was huge for me."

Meyer was very overweight when he arrived in France, but there, as he puts it, he ate his way out of an eating disorder. "The food in France fed me in a different way: it was spiritually nourishing as well as delicious. I wasn’t just trying to fill a hole so I didn’t eat as much. When I went back to Denmark I wanted everyone to experience it."

He started to import French ingredients, foie gras, olive oil and truffles, and became a chef, applying French techniques and recipes to Danish produce. He became a TV star – twenty per cent of the Danish public watched his cooking programmes - but in 2001 he realised he’d got it all wrong.

‘I was down at the harbor in Copenhagen, near the site on which Noma eventually opened, where all the food arrives from the other Nordic countries. I liked the space and the smell. I suddenly thought that change had to come about with our produce, not the produce of France or Italy.’

He was struck by how fellow Danes and film makers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg had created the Dogme 95 Manifesto, an approach to film making that set Denmark apart, marking it out as different from Hollywood. Meyer realised this philosophy could be applied to food, too: the Nordic countries didn’t have to follow, they could lead.

He finally decided to start a restaurant that would show the potential of the ingredients that were in his own backyard. This restaurant was Noma. Meyer approached Danish chef Rene Redzepi - then a 25-year-old sous chef who had worked at El Bulli in Spain and The French Laundry in California - to head up this new venture.


Unfolding the potential of indigenous food cultures: Claus Meyer at TEDxCopenhagen 2012 - YouTube

Meyer knew he had to be political in order to effect real change: “To make a real cultural transformation I had to have stakeholders." So he contacted all the biggest chefs in Scandinavia, key figures in the food industry and politicians.

Working with fourteen chefs he developed the New Nordic Food Manifesto. It urges sustainability, seasonal cooking, the use of more vegetables as well as indigenous and local foods, sound animal welfare and a focus on health. It was a smart move.

"The manifesto was vague," he explains. "That way everyone would get on board and work towards change. And that change had to start with a great restaurant cooking with the food of our landscape. We had to show that beetroot could be as luxurious as truffles, that you can make a vinaigrette with buttermilk. Hundreds of restaurants took something from Noma. They realised they didn’t need to make beurre blanc or Hollandaise sauce, that there were things we could do with indigenous ingredients." There were Nordic culinary traditions – smoking, fermenting, curing – that could be built on and explored.

Meyer has been criticised for his ‘top-down’ approach, but all these years later he has had an effect, and not just in high-end dining. There is much more demand for Nordic produce in Denmark; cooking is now more vegetable-centric and sustainability very much to the fore.

Food lovers flock to eat the ‘new Nordic’ food that’s cooked in restaurants all over Scandinavia (so the tourist boards and politicians are happy) but the reach of Meyer and Redzepi has gone beyond their own back yard. There are Nordic-inspired restaurants with wooden tables, stoneware ceramics, ‘ferments’, minimalist menu speak ("beet, ash, liquorice") everywhere, from Volt in Stockholm to Septime in Paris and Lyle’s in London.

Meyer, putting food and philanthropy together, set up Gustu in Bolivia in 2013, where two Danish chefs are trying to create a kind of Andean Noma, using ingredients that are indigenous to the region while employing and training marginalized youth.

Meyer admits that his connection to Noma – he has now sold most of his share in it – has had disadvantages as well as advantages.

"People confuse the Manifesto with what Rene is doing. Rene has just taken the tenets of it. They think the manifesto laid down laws - like you can’t use tomatoes in a Nordic kitchen - but that wasn’t the case. That was something that they followed at Noma, but that was their decision - Rene’s. He is doing his own thing."

The home kitchen is what Meyer is focusing on right now, which, of course, is the whole point. If you ever wondered what the New Nordic Food Manifesto means when you’re cooking for your family, it’s in The Nordic Kitchen, his book of seasonal Scandinavian dishes. Mussel soup with barley and wild garlic, roast chicken with rhubarb: there’s no cheap bacon or marge here.

In Denmark, where they published a longer version, the book has become a culinary bible. "People use it every day," Meyer says. He smiles with pride. He is restless, a serial entrepreneur, driven, ambitious (he is about to open his first restaurant and a food hall in New York) a wealthy celebrity in a country that values humility so, despite the social programmes, he does get criticised.

But it’s hard to resent the joy he takes in what he’s achieved. No, not everyone in Scandinavia is eating mounds of vegetables they’ve dug up that morning, or fermenting their own Nordic miso. But Meyer knows what he’s done.

"A large number of important people, opinion formers with influence on people’s lives, have come to believe that the values in the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto aren’t a trend, that they’re now the new normal. Change takes time. But I think we’ve made a good start."

How many of us can say that?

Meet the man behind the Nordic food revolution

No comments: