Noma: My Perfect Storm
(UK, 95 min.)
Dir. Pierre Deschamps
Tuck in for Noma: My Perfect Storm. This scrumptious foodie flick offers a full course meal for doc fans. This new film from Pierre Deschamps, making his feature directorial debut, tickles all the taste buds. Deschamps tells the story of the Danish restaurant Noma as it follows chef and co-owner René Redzepi over the course of the restaurant’s most tumultuous year.
One at first expects Noma: My Perfect Storm to be a congratulatory affair as the film begins with an introductory montage that highlights the restaurant’s trifecta of wins for the title of Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The film then explains in detail the philosophy behind the restaurant that extends far beyond foodie culture and culinary tastes: it’s really about celebrating local culture and finding the right recipe to bring local flavours to the world.
The Macedonian-born Redzepi explains to the camera that his philosophy for Noma is to serve a meal that tells people who eat at the restaurant where they are in the world and what time of year it is. Noma’s menu highlights Nordic ingredients year-round. This emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients poses a tricky task for any restaurant, but it’s especially difficult when the place serving local grub finds itself way up north where veggies endure a winter season that lasts from December to March. The trick, however, is to find complementary flavours with picklings and spices. Noma shows the restaurant as a hub for culinary innovation as Redzepi and his crew try new approaches to fish, roots, eggs, and other staples. The haut-cuisine spins look positively delicious.
Deschamps offers oodles of close-up shots of the dishes on Noma’s menu. Noma highlights the pleasures of cooking and of dining with images so bright and savoury that one can taste each plate that Redzepi and company present before the screen. There’s really an art to their efforts and the images richly and fully spotlight the local ingredients.
The film asks how classic and familiar flavours hold an appeal when shiny new things change the pace of the marketplace and consumer demands favour foods that are trendy, rather than tried and true. The restaurant business is especially vulnerable to fluctuations in taste and there’s little room for error, so Noma’s strong stand on preserving the local in place of moving with the trends in the market is quite brave.
Noma presents conflict as the restaurant encounters difficulties that shake up its status as the best restaurant in the world. One nasty batch of bivalves spoils the restaurant’s reputation with a single serving. This chapter of the film shows how the restaurant business offers a slim margin for error. One fish dish sours the dynamic in the workplace more quickly than one can slurp on oyster. Similarly, the burden of reputation clearly strains the chefs as they continually rise to create new flavours and uphold their lofty reputation, while also struggling to reach a coveted three-star rating to boost their business at the local level.
The film doesn’t shy away from probing Noma’s emphasis on local produce, either. Deschamps invites Redzepi and the other chefs to elaborate on the subtle fusions of flavour on Noma’s menu. One may use a splash of olive oil from Italy, say, without reducing the Danishness of the dish. The chefs admit that the realities of supply and demand put ample pressure on the restaurant’s effort to stay local, for some providers (farmers, fishermen, etc.) simply don’t move at the same pace as the restaurant business, while others randomly ship in foreign ingredients, like strawberries from Spain, instead of plucking the local fruit. Noma doesn’t corner its subjects into the bitter aftertaste of hypocrisy, though, and it lets the chefs explain how the richness of the flavours and the integrity of the menu remain true.
So long as the core ingredients are local delicacies, then Noma does its job. There are practical realities to running a business, especially one that thrives on freshness and flavour, and working in tune with complementary ingredients in supporting roles actually lets the local content of each dish shine. A dish at Noma, really, is a lot like a Canadian film in the age of co-production: a strong local flavour shines through even if the support comes from elsewhere. In fact, the collaboration and innovation gives the product a wider reach and a greater platform than before. Go for the food, but stay for a warm meal that reminds moviegoers to enjoy the local riches at films like Noma.
Noma opens in Toronto at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and on iTunes on Friday, Dec. 18.