This world-fa­mous chef wants to help you for­age for your food

Cast aside the rus­tic charms of the out­doors for the find-it-fast edge of new tech­nol­ogy

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - JA­SON TESAURO

“THE BA­SIC PREMISE IS SIM­PLE: ev­ery­one in the world should grow up as a for­ager,” said Rene Redzepi, founder of Noma and pos­si­bly the world’s most in­flu­en­tial chef.

“Know­ing your ABCs in na­ture, the flora and fauna, the pat­terns of the land­scape and the rhythm of the sea­sons is as im­por­tant as learn­ing how to read and write.”

Re­cently, at the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants’ 15th an­niver­sary event in Barcelona, Redzepi an­nounced the launch of an in­ter­na­tional pro­gram that aims to con­nect peo­ple to na­ture and the land­scape. The cen­tre­piece of Vild Mad (“Wild Food”) is a free mo­bile app that ex­plains how to read a land­scape and un­lock its culi­nary po­ten­tial.

“If they see how much we de­pend upon it, and if they grow up lov­ing it,” he said at the event, “then they will fight to take care of it.”

Redzepi’s rep­u­ta­tion was forged in Copen­hagen, where Noma em­ployed pro­fes­sional for­agers to fill the restau­rant’s larder. De­spite Den­mark’s limited bounty com­pared to more southerly re­gions, for­ag­ing and pre­serv­ing are foun­da­tions of Nordic cul­ture.

Noma estab­lished the culi­nary im­por­tance of wild food not just for sur­vival, but for flavour and the ex­pe­ri­en­tial thrill of dis­cov­ery.

“The sur­prises we’ve had,” said Redzepi, in­clude “pluck­ing grass from rot­ten seaweed to find it tastes like co­rian­der, har­vest­ing pineap­ple weed from cracks in the side­walks, or bit­ing into an ant to find it tastes just like le­mon.”

AF­TER FIG­UR­ING IT OUT IN CHILLY Scan­di­navia, Redzepi be­gan imag­in­ing what’s pos­si­ble in tem­per­ate ar­eas. This spring, Redzepi opened a Noma pop-up in Tu­lum, Mex­ico, and de­signed the menu around what could be har­vested lo­cally. Wash­ing­ton Post food critic Tom Si­et­sema called it “food that makes you laugh and think and brace your­self for the next course.”

Lang­don Cook, a Seat­tle for­ager and author, says the sur­prise-and-re­ward as­pect touted by Redzepi is one rea­son for­ag­ing is trend­ing.

“It’s the trea­sure hunt, which is in­cred­i­bly pri­mal,” he said. “Peo­ple are re­dis­cov­er­ing these an­ces­tral mo­ti­va­tions that they didn’t even know they had. Look at Poké­mon ‘Go.’ That’s a kind of trea­sure hunt, too.”

For­ag­ing re­quires time, pa­tience, cu­rios­ity and keen use of the senses. The vast ma­jor­ity of work has tra­di­tion­ally been for botan­i­cal or medic­i­nal pur­poses, but Vild Mad and other con­tem­po­rary for­agers look to the ground as a gro­cer.

At home, wild food en­cour­ages chil­dren to try things they wouldn’t oth­er­wise eat. Bit­ter greens and herbs, for in­stance, can be ex­cit­ing when kids col­lect them them­selves. Think of

For­ag­ing re­quires time, pa­tience, cu­rios­ity and keen use of the senses.

Vild Mad as Ed­i­ble School­yard 2.0. More than iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, the app in­cor­po­rates ed­u­ca­tion, re­flec­tions and ex­pla­na­tions by Redzepi him­self. Via text, video and au­dio files, users are out­fit­ted with a dig­i­tal tool bag.

“The old-fash­ioned charms of the out­doors are com­pet­ing with the new­fan­gled baubles of tech,” said Cook. “Kids are so com­fort­able with de­vices that the abil­ity to marry it with analogue tech — your two feet — and pro­pel you out the door and into the wild is a nice con­fla­tion of old and new.”

Avail­able in English and Dan­ish, the app and web­site house an en­cy­clo­pe­dia of for­ag­ing and culi­nary in­for­ma­tion on 105 wild plants found in the Nordic re­gion and guide users through the land­scape to iden­tify, har­vest and cook with wild plants.

“HOW MIGHT THE WORLD

look dif­fer­ent, if we all were for­agers?” Redzepi asked in a phone in­ter­view from Copen­hagen. “We hope that our pro­gram can be an in­spi­ra­tion for oth­ers to do the same in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cul­tures.”

For the ini­tial launch, the app and en­cy­clo­pe­dia were pri­mar­ily pop­u­lated with Nordic-cen­tric data, but up­dates will in­clude flora from around the globe. The in­tel on land­scapes and ecosys­tems are univer­sal, how­ever, mak­ing the app in­stantly use­ful wher­ever you find your­self.

“It puts species into con­text,” said Cook, “so that you can see eco­log­i­cal com­pan­ion­ship first­hand. If you want to know your chanterelles, for ex­am­ple, you need to learn your trees. This app helps users make those larger link­ages.”

The pri­mary tool, des­ig­nated with a com­pass icon, starts with rec­og­niz­ing ecosys­tems: wa­ter­ways, open land, forests, cities and towns. Within each, sub­cat­e­gories (such as salt marshes, lakes, beaches) are de­fined and ex­plained ac­cord­ing to terroir and sea­son­al­ity. The app doesn’t merely iden­tify this leaf or that berry you’ve stum­bled upon, but aims to help users become land­scape-lit­er­ate enough to know where to look.

There’s also an in­gre­di­ents list. Search­able al­pha­bet­i­cally or sea­son­ally, it’s bro­ken down into na­ture (where, when, how to find it), sen­sory (on the palate, aroma) and kitchen (preparation, uses, stor­age, sub­sti­tu­tions). And there are recipes. Later this sum­mer, Vild Mad will up­date the app with more recipes from 80 in­flu­en­tial chefs in­clud­ing Daniel Humm, Mag­nus Nils­son and Redzepi.

“Not com­pli­cated, fancy food,” said Mad project man­ager Mikkel Wester­gaard, “but dishes that a nonchef would cook with a 10-year-old.”

And the app al­lows you to pho­to­graph, geo­tag and note what you’ve found.

“Here,” he added in a phone in­ter­view, “you know to for­age for only as much as you can fit into a hat. It’s not just tra­di­tion, it’s the law.”

The app draws from Dan­ish statutes to spell out in­ter­na­tional for­ag­ing rules and eti­quette so that neo­phytes learn, for in­stance, not to dec­i­mate the plants and to leave enough for oth­ers.

The app is funded by a Dan­ish foun­da­tion that in­vested $1.25 mil­lion and was de­vel­oped by Mad, Redzepi’s non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, which started in 2011 to pro­duce an epony­mous in­ter­na­tional food sym­po­sium. The cur­ricu­lum has been de­vel­oped for Dan­ish school­teach­ers of fourth- to 10th-graders to in­cor­po­rate wild food into their class plans — in­de­pen­dently or with Vild Mad rangers.

And word is al­ready spread­ing like wild bit­ter­cress. More than 11,000 peo­ple re­acted to the an­nounce­ment via Facebook in the first few hours, and 1,000 down­loaded the app be­fore it was of­fi­cially an­nounced.

“We’ve trained 50 rangers from cor­ner to cor­ner of Den­mark,” said Redzepi. “The rangers of­fer work­shops on how to iden­tify what is ed­i­ble, how to take care of na­ture while for­ag­ing, and how to cook with what you find.”

On Aug. 27, Redzepi will host a gath­er­ing out­side of Copen­hagen with mu­sic, for­ag­ing trips and hands-on sem­i­nars about cook­ing with wild foods.

“It is an amaz­ing feel­ing to dis­till 14 years of knowl­edge and en­ergy into some­thing that is open to the pub­lic,” he said. “We sim­ply can’t wait to share all of this.”

BETTY HALLOCK, MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

Top: Noma chef Rene Redzepi ges­tures as he speaks about the ants used in his menu at the pop up restau­rant “A Taste of Noma at the Clar­idges” at the London May­fair ho­tel in 2012. Above: Rene Redzepi, cen­tre, talks to his Noma staff in Copen­hagen.

EL­IZ­A­BETH DALZIEL PHOTO

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF KRISTOFFER MELSON

For­ag­ing for el­der flower in Den­mark.

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