Ballymaloe welcomes world’s best chef from Noma

René Redzepi’s presence in Cork is a coup for the Litfest food festival

Darina Allen and René Redzepi at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest food festival in Co Cork yesterday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Darina Allen and René Redzepi at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest food festival in Co Cork yesterday. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Sat, May 17, 2014, 12:41

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René Redzepi was impressed. “This is the most organised farm I’ve ever seen,” he told Darina Allen yesterday afternoon, arriving wide-eyed out to the sunny kitchen garden at Ballymaloe.

The Dane, who was renamed world’s best chef last month, was giving his eldest daughter Arwen a piggy-back, her foot in a cast after a bicycle accident.

Redzepi’s presence in Cork is a coup for the Litfest food festival. He was booked to appear at Ballymaloe before the surprise announcement that Noma had been voted back into the top slot as the world’s best restaurant. After dropping his daughter off to watch a movie on an iPad, he settled into a garden chair to talk.


Discovery journey
How could an Irish restaurant do what Noma did? “I think that Noma has done so well because we managed to sort of cook our place,” he said.

“We managed to look at it and fall in love again with the place we were in and the ingredients, and we were on this discovery journey. If you have a few of the right people, a few of the right minds who really put it together in a clever way, then I think it’s going to be there. It’s very difficult and yet it’s right there in front of you.”

The announcement that Noma won best restaurant was a complete surprise, he said. He expected Brazilian chef Alex Atala or Italian chef Massimo Bottura to win it.

When Atala was named number seven, Redzepi spotted a handler pointing him out to a cameraman. He caught the eye of his sous chef Lars and asked him if he could get access to an electronic copy of the speech he wrote for the first award, in 2010. Lars, “a quiet American guy who never says anything”, reached into an inside pocket and handed him a print-out of the speech.

“He picks it out. Our jaws drop and [Lars] says, ‘I always believed in it.’ ”


Edgy and jumpy
Two of the four Irish chefs who have worked in Noma have become sous chefs, he said, the highest rank in the kitchen.

“Most people from over here [Ireland], they’re extremely hard workers . . . With the Irish there’s no layers to peel off that person. It’s very direct what you get, which I really enjoy. So there’s a lot of honesty paired with a lot of hard work.

“Most of the Irish chefs I have, they always look at you in their eyes like they’ve just done something wrong. And of course they haven’t – they’re just sort of edgy and jumpy. And I really enjoy that.”

Kitchen life has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, he said. Kitchens were once the domain of tough men, some of them former criminals. Now Noma’s staff includes graduates of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. One of their chefs speaks seven languages.

“It’s just a whole different environment today and it’s changing so fast, for the better.”


New flavour
When it comes to his drive, nurturing talent is part of the thrill, he said. “And it’s extremely gratifying to be part of the change we’re seeing in our region.”

Sea buckthorn, for example, a berry he tasted as an exotic wild ingredient for the first time on the Faroe Islands, is now on Danish supermarket shelves in yoghurt. “That’s pretty cool,” he said, grinning. “It’s a new flavour people have in their lives and that my kids are going to grow up with.”

Asked if local seasonal cooking has become a trite talking point, he said: “To truly have that farm to table ethos: where you go to a farm and you work with that farm and whatever that farmer gives you, that’s what you cook, that’s a different level – very, very difficult, but ultimately very gratifying.”