Rene Redzepi was born in Copenhagen to a Macedonian-Albanian father and a Danish mother. Life in a small apartment in Copenhagen was for a five headed family on low income not really great, so parents have soon decided to move to Macedonia. Life there in a rural environment with the entire family was much kinder to them. They remained in Macedonia till the Balkan war when they returned to Copenhagen.
How have these two very different experiences influenced Rene?
My years spent in Macedonia have left a much deeper impact on me than the Danish years which were not that great. I was not enjoying my life captured in a small flat in a bad neighbourhood without any real life outside the home. My parents were always working to earn money for us and to help our family in Macedonia. I remember the evenings when I was sitting with my brothers in an empty office waiting for our mother to finish cleaning. Life in Macedonia was very different. There was a large family house where all the generations were living under the same roof. We had a yard, fields, gardens, animals, we were cultivating our vegetables and fruits – all this has strongly influenced my approach at Noma. I created connections with farmers, I started foraging which was in Macedonia very common – everybody was foraging for mushrooms, chestnuts, forest fruits … Also my personal life was influenced by Macedonian traditions – my mother-in law lives with us – this is not a Danish habit, but it is great seeing the girls growing up with more adults in the household. The oldest two daughters are also every Saturday helping at Noma in service. They love it! No birthday party or anything else is dissuading them from that pleasure. But of course there is also a Danish influence which is visible mostly in my management, my team leadership and in the concept of open space restaurant. Leadership here is more egalitarian, more flat – people have more freedom but with that also more personal responsibility.
And where does his love from food come from?
This is my Macedonian part. At the time of my childhood people in Denmark ate fast-food and microwave food. I don’t have any good food memories from my Danish childhood. In Macedonia it was different. There was real food – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I remember breakfasts when my grandmother prepared bread, baked by my uncle, fried in home made butter and eggs from our henhouse. We never drank Coke but home made rose water. We cooked every day real lunches. I became spoiled in the sense that I got used to great real food and I missed it a lot when we returned to Denmark. I simply couldn’t get used to hot dogs and other types of fast food. You know, somebody would think that we were poor in Macedonia. We lived in a house above the stall, without all the goods of civilisation, but for me life there was really rich and full. We were happy.
In his dairy Rene wrote that he grew up eating mostly vegetables. They had meat only for special occasions, not more than once a week, because they simply could not afford it. He still loves vegetables, he is not one of those who feel the need to have now what they couldn’t afford in the past.
I must say I could easily give up meat. Isn’t it already a bit boring that in most cases when you go to a restaurant you know there will be some steak or chop as the main dish? I understand that guests often expect that and that it will be very difficult to change their habits, but I really love the vegetal food! The wealth of flavours, colours and forms is so much greater in the vegetal world and it allows you much greater diversity.
I interviewed Rene in August 2015. The entire interview was published in the Dolce Vita magazine, here I am publishing it in chapters. This is chapter 1. Go to Chapter 2. Read also introduction here.
by Andreja Lajh