This film is one of a series in which I explore my interest for people. I avoid taking a strictly journalistic approach in my work, with data and factual analysis at the forefront. Rather, in my films, all of this detail remains vague, the unspoken evidence behind the human content that typically takes centre stage. I tend to focus on the aesthetic, visual side of my subjects, which lends my work a particularly poetic quality. This, I believe, is the unique strength of my documentary style; I am straddling the line between classic documentary and cinematographic essay, in which the image is paramount.
When it comes to René Redzepi, my personal interest in his story is amplified by certain things the two of us have in common including that I myself have a CAP (Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle) in classic French cuisine.
In terms of exploring personality, I am particularly interested in discovering the inner workings of René Redzepi – the intimate details that reveal who he truly is. In terms of his professional side, I am interested in studying this entrepreneur who makes his decisions based on intuition, with all the risks such an approach entails.
The film is inspired by two books written by Redzepi. In the first, Time and Place, he discusses his preliminary adventures in the restaurant business and the establishment’s relationship with its suppliers. In A Work in Progress, he recounts a single year of his life at Noma.
Another dimension of the film relates to the research I conducted across more than two years at Noma and my various conversations with René and several members of his entourage, stationed in Denmark and abroad. I had the opportunity to share in the daily life of René Redzepi and his team, and to discover over many weeks the constant efforts necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of Noma, by way of a machine-like system of operation comparable to that of a Formula 1 team.
The apex of highbrow culinary technology: 45 place settings that must be served to perfection for four hours, twice a day. There is no room for error. René Redzepi is the engine fuelling Formula 1, Noma, and without that engine, Noma would not be able to continue existing.
I wanted to make a film that is not simply a film about a chef at the stove, but the story of a man in tune with the times, able to pick up on and respond to the prevailing feelings, sentiments, and desires. A tale based on the cultural duality of a character; a story of human relationships, in which joy and sorrow blend to give birth to complex and vibrant meals; a story in which differences between people become an asset; a story in which old wounds resurface. It is also the story of a revelation.
What interests me is the impressive franchise built by this young man who still does not seem to understand why we wish to make a film about him, who ignores or toys with celebrity, and who neither considers cooking an art, nor chefs artists.
I like the idea that René Redzepi represents the antithesis of a feudal culinary system, in his embodiment of the possibility that a young man who comes from nothing can break with tradition and the age-old stereotypes passed down through the generations by such old gastronomic titans as France and Italy.
Through the simplicity of his dishes and his unusual methods of thinking, he succeeded in intellectualizing the kitchen. In spite of being at the top of his profession, he refrains from any form of self-congratulation over his enviable position in the world of gourmet cooking.
When he was frustrated by the institutional dictates requiring that servers wear suits and ties, he sent out his tattooed cooks to greet the restaurant’s customers. Where most elite Michelin restaurants offers and requires the use of silverware, he pushes his customers to eat with their hands. Foie gras is not on Noma’s menu; instead, there are ants and live shrimp.
René Redzepi researches tirelessly to make each new meal more delicious than the last, with the simple aim of bringing pleasure to others.
The aim of Noma, which signifies Nordic cuisine in Danish, is to promote the culture, nature, history, and environment of a region by way of a dish. The genius of René Redzepi is that he is constantly reinventing himself as a chef through the discovery of innovative techniques that permit him to introduce people to a new world of culinary delights.
But he is also certain to remain the little boy from Macedonia who ran through the fields and woods picking berries and hazelnuts, someone who does not always take himself too seriously.