Believe it or not, the task of dinner can actually be a joy, says Nadine Levy Redzepi. A world away from her husband’s famous restaurant, her own cooking, collated in a new cookbook, is reinventing the everyday.
Her husband is a chef extraordinaire but Nadine Levy Redzepi’s new cookbook celebrates the everyday.
Nadine Levy Redzepi’s cooking has been given some of the highest praise possible – chef René Redzepi says the five-course dinner she once surprised him with was the “greatest meal I’ve ever eaten”. And this is from the innovator who started Noma in Copenhagen, which held the title of best restaurant in the world for four years.
René also happens to be Nadine’s husband and he writes about that memorable meal in the foreword to his wife’s cookbook, Downtime – how the warmth and comfort of her home cooking is “a kind of electrical current that runs through the family and keeps it going and together”.
He, writes, too about how much chefs are lauded and given so much credit when these days he’s more impressed by the caregivers who tirelessly, “stroll up and down the supermarket aisles several times a week, trying to come up with something the children won’t reject after they put it in their mouths”. And he credits Nadine as the best he knows.
That’s what Downtime is about – making meal times magic again. And Nadine goes about that in a very personal way. She shares details of her fascinating upbringing– food being an ever-present thread – right through to her first time working front of house at Noma, meeting René and starting a family. The recipes within have largely been collected from their life together.
“When I was pregnant with our first daughter, Arwen, I was thinking about my own childhood, what type of mother I wanted to be,” says Nadine. “I had always loved the idea of a family cookbook being passed down to the next generation, so I started writing down my favourite recipes in a notebook with the intention of passing it on to our children. René would say with a smile on his face ‘who knows maybe one day you’ll write a cookbook’.”
Of her reasoning to include some of the more personal information, it was very important to her the book not be viewed as just that of a “famous chef’s wife – ‘ bet that’s a load of crap’”. Because, she says, “if I am completely honest, I would be the first person to roll my eyes and think exactly that. I was hesitant to add some of the darker parts to the book, but I decided it was a part of my story and I wanted to tell it the way it happened.”
Nadine’s fascination and love of cooking started a long time before she ever met René – she was born in Portugal to musician parents – her mother Danish, father English – and says all her favourite memories of her earliest years there are connected to food. After moving to Denmark, with her newly separated mother and her brother, she began to experiment with cooking, sometimes out of necessity as her mother worked long hours. A stint of glandular fever at home meant a new obsession with cooking shows – she still counts Ainsley Harriott, of Ready, Steady, Cook, as a food hero. That show “made my jaw drop completely – [it] for me was brilliant in the way it showed you could cook three dishes in 20 minutes”. The late Antonio Carluccio was also a significant influence with his “very warm approach to food”.
But having an “incredibly brilliant” chef as a husband inevitably has been what has also shaped Nadine’s attitude to food. “René likes to look at humble-looking produce and force his mind to look at it in a different way and pretend that a seemingly humble head of cauliflower is as ‘precious’ as the most expensive meat. For me, this is very inspiring and something I use all the time when cooking. Limitation somehow forces creative ideas to flow.”
Nadine’s own stance on making everyday cooking something other than a chore is what is so inspiring to us, as the reader – creating the right atmosphere, what the Danes call “hygge”, at meal times is key. Her older daughters, Arwen and Genta, are often involved in meal prep, while her mother changes the music continuously and her young daughter, Ro, plays on the floor. All parts of these daily routines can be made enjoyable with a new perspective, she asserts.
“People look at grocery shopping and cooking as a chore or some horrible task they just need to get done. I think trying to look at it in a different way can help a lot.
“I like to turn grocery shopping in to ‘me’ time. I make it something nice – I get a coffee to go while I do [it], get my head out of work and get ready to pick up the kids and have family time. [It’s] shopping and cooking that lead to my favourite part of the day – when we sit down at the table and spend time together while we eat,” she says.
These messages and how to realistically implement them permeate Downtime. The majority of its recipes are “simple, flavourful comfort food”. Luckily for us, too, working at Noma and being married to one of its chefs means she’s been able to learn and hone techniques and adapt them to cooking at home. So not only is her cookbook filled with delicious René Redzepi-approved fare, it’s also simple and practical and of it she is, rightly, “incredibly proud”.
“[It’s] shopping and cooking that lead to my favourite part of the day – when we sit down at the table and spend time together while we eat.”
Apricot Tart With Frangipane
Confession: Eating raw peaches and apricots has never been my thing. Somehow the furry skin just sets my teeth on edge. Cooked fruit, though, is an entirely different matter, and I think peaches, nectarines, plums and especially apricots are amazing in a nutty frangipane filling. As it bakes, the frangipane puffs up around the sweet, tangy fruit, making a very elegant-looking tart. Serve with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream, if you want.
110 grams cold salted butter ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt 210 grams plain flour 3 tablespoons iced water, as needed
110 grams raw almonds 125 grams sugar 75ml cream 2 large egg yolks pinch fine sea salt 6–8 apricots
Lightly butter a 23cm tart tin with a removable bottom. Tart dough: Cut the butter into small cubes. Put the butter and salt in a medium bowl, add the flour and toss to coat the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour – the mixture will look like coarse crumbs with some larger flakes. You can also pulse the flour and butter together in a food processor until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs with pea-sized bits of butter, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stirring with a fork, sprinkle in the water just until the mixture clumps together and can be gathered into a ball. It should feel something like modelling clay, but not wet. If it’s too dry, mix in more iced water by the half-teaspoon.
Break up the dough into walnut-sized chunks, and with your fingers press it evenly on to the bottom and up the sides of the tin, being sure it isn’t too thick where the bottom meets the sides. It should protrude about 3mm above the rim of the tin. Refrigerate while the oven preheats. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Pierce the dough all over with a fork. Place the tin on a baking sheet. Line the bottom and sides of the dough with a large piece of baking paper and fill it about halfway with dried beans to hold the paper in place. Weighting the crust will help keep the sides of your tart shell from slipping down as it bakes.
Bake until the visible edges of the dough look drier and set, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven. Lift off the baking paper with the beans and set them aside. Return the baking sheet and tin to the oven and bake until the crust is barely browned, 7–10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Frangipane filling: Process the almonds and sugar in a food processor until the mixture is finely ground. With the machine running, add the cream, egg yolks and salt and process until the frangipane is smooth.
Halve the apricots lengthwise and remove the stones. Spread the frangipane in the crust. Top with apricots, stoned sides down.
Bake until the filling is lightly puffed and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the sides of the tin, cut into wedges, and serve. Serves 8
LEFT: Nadine Levy Redzepi has three daughters with René, all of whom participate in some way with meal prep.
Extracted from Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi (Ebury Press, $60). Photography by Ditte Isager.