Chef René Redzepi and the transformation of Noma

Noma's chef Rene Redzepi

The Great Dane” is the perfect nickname for the chef of the restaurant many critics have proclaimed the finest in the world.
With Faith Salie we take a peek in the kitchen:

Flowers … moss … ants? Not exactly what you might expect to find on your plate, unless, of course, you’re at Noma.

Based in Copenhagen, this restaurant not only has two Michelin stars, but was named Best Restaurant in the World in 2010 … then again, in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

“Never did I expect or dream up that it would be what it is today. Never,” said chef René Redzepi.

The 38-year-old opened Noma in 2003 limiting himself strictly to ingredients found in the Nordic region.

Chefs at work at Noma, in Copenhagen. CBS News

Back then, it was considered a tall order. “If you were not cooking French or Italian, it was like, ‘Forget about it.’ Everything else was stupid, or not worth your time,’” he said.

So Noma (a portmanteau of “Nordic” and “mad,” the Danish word for food) looked for culinary inspiration from the land itself.

Foragers like Michael Larsen collect ingredients every day, rain or shine. “That might be the difference between fine dining and normal dining,” Larsen said. “So this is fine dining. We need to have the best every day.”

Michael Larsen forages for ingredients for the menu of Noma. CBS News

Back in the kitchen, Redzepi and his team get to work with some rhubarb. “It’s so beautiful,” Salie said.

“That’s cooked with seaweed and sorrel leaves,” Redzepi said.

Perhaps what’s most impressive about the kitchen, is just how fresh everything is, including the crabs.

And how much does it cost to dine at Noma? “A meal with drinks at Noma average is around $400 a person,” Redzepi said. “If you were to envision that everybody down the food chain had a pay that would enable them to have a nice home, a car, any meal would be very expensive, or more expensive.”

But the elegance and prestige of Noma is a world away from Redzepi’s childhood in rural Macedonia. “I mean, there’s no refrigerators,” he said. “You just go out and pick something out of the ground or from a tree, or you kill an animal. If you want a chicken, you have to actually go and grab a chicken and [slices neck].”

Redzepi immigrated to Denmark when he was 12 years old, dropped out of school by 15, and began working as a restaurant apprentice a year later, during a much different culinary scene.

“Food in the ‘80s here was like microwave food,” he said. “Seriously, it wasn’t anything amazing at all. Like, ready-made meals most of the time.”

Noma changed all that, turning Copenhagen into a foodie destination, and Redzepi into culinary royalty. ”It was as game-changer for Noma. It was a game-changer for Copenhagen as a city. It was a game-changer for the whole Nordic region.”

Correspondent Faith Salie with chef René Redzepi, whose Copenhagen restaurant Noma has been frequently named the best in the world. CBS News

But Noma’s story doesn’t end there. In a few months the restaurant will move to a new part of town. “We have the space to build a small urban farm, which is amazing for a cook, to actually be able and pick your parsley a minute before you need it,” he said. 

Until then, Redzepi will also open a pop-up restaurant in Mexico, using ingredients unique to that region.

It’s a full plate by any means. But then again, filling plates is exactly what this man does best.

“I understand this thing that it’s ‘just food,’ but food is so much more than that, as well,” Redzepi said. “To some, when they get a fine meal, it’s like a real transcendent moment. And to others, it’s just a vessel to enjoy the conversation better. And I’m perfectly fine with everything, as long as they enjoy their time with us.”

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