Anthropology Science Technology

10 January 2016

Nordic Food Lab: three-way gastronomic research

Nordic Food Lab: three-way gastronomic research

The revolution of Nordic cuisine led to, among its many achievements, a multidisciplinary centre to assess the Scandinavian pantry applying concepts and cooking techniques from around the world. Integrating a scientific, humanistic and culinary perspective, it provides knowledge which can later be used by the rest of the sector. Insects, seaweed, fermentation techniques are just some of its obsessions.

Seven years ago, the founders of Noma restaurant, René Redzepi and Claus Meyer, in their efforts to enhance Scandinavian gastronomic culture, took a step toward interdisciplinarity. They opened a laboratory that would be responsible for taking cooking techniques from around the world to explore the potential of regional products. They called it Nordic Food Lab and they integrated a further two perspectives: scientific and humanistic.

The Nordic Food Lab is a non-profit and open source institution. In November 2014, it moved its headquarters to a boat near the restaurant at the site of the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen. It remained an independent centre but this move has allowed them to expand their research tools and their exchange with the Academy. This freedom has given them funding from the government, private companies and independent foundations like The Velux or The Nordea Foundation.

"By taking inspiration from humanities, sciences and arts, we undertake work which other research facilities, rooted in one side of the arbitrary science/craft divide, might not attempt", says their manifesto. NFL's work revolves around the diversity "of autochthonous genetic material, of organisms, of cultural practices, of ideas" as they believing this is what keeps the world strong and robust.

All this without losing their focus on flavour as they acknowledge that research into what is edible, has to involve what is delicious. And therefore, they acknowledge and value as many perspectives as possible.

From the inside

“The NFL is a container. It is made of people and what each one brings with them from their past and their origin"

Roberto Flore (Head chef)

Participants

  •  René Redzepi (Founder-Chef)
  • Department of Food Science of the University of Copenhagen
  • Michael Bom (director)
  • Josh Evans (project manager)
  • Roberto Flore (Chef - Head of research and development)
  • Jonas Astrup Pedersen (product manager development)
  • Susanne Larsen (President of the Executive Board)

Context

As an institution, the Nordic Food Lab is the first research centre launched from haute cuisine, because, although it is not officially linked to Noma restaurant as they have two different objectives, its ideators (the chef René Redzepi and entrepreneur Claus Meyer) are two influential people in the sector, and their vision has permeated the character of the centre. With the move to the University of Copenhagen, the centre begins to rethink new objectives and to attempt to bring more elasticity and innovation to scientific academia.

Achievements

  •  The lab has played an important role in the dissemination of certain culinary trends, such as fermentation. To review the different cases they have followed, simply enter their blog on their website, which with a similar daily style, informs about the latest news and projects underway since February 2010, accompanied by photographs and a bibliography of sources consulted.
  • They have at least 24 articles published in magazines and websites.
  • Some of the projects have real application in the market. An example is the Anty Gin. A gin made from ants, in collaboration with The Cambridge Distillery. Only 99 bottles of the liquor were marketed, each of which contains about 62 red wood ants collected in England.
  • In their enthusiasm to connect to other research centres, only in 2015, they participated in 33 public events to disseminate their work. These appearances, include a workshop that they gave on 30th September 2015 in the European Parliament, called "What will we be eating in 2025?". There they demonstrated dishes with insects as an alternative that is more sustainable than the current European diet.

Goals

  • After bringing science to cuisine, the Nordic Food Lab is currently looking to change direction and take cuisine to science. Its collaboration with the University of Copenhagen allows them to contribute with the training of professionals who will work in the development of products for large industries. They aim to bring the concepts of quality and taste that they have developed over the years, to large-scale distribution so that it will offer quality products in the future.
  • The Nordic Food Lab seeks to invest in the future with the creation of programmes to reach out and educate children and young people living in places where there is no direct contact with food.
  • To continue collaborations they have established with other research centres. Their intention is not to open other laboratories under the same structure and organisation but to develop research concepts that can be applied elsewhere, as well as stimulating the creation of independent centres.

Basic facts

  • Name Nordic Food Lab
  • Country Denmark
  • City Copenhagen
  • Year it was launched 2008
  • Web nordicfoodlab.org

Claus Meyer

Claus Meyer

Nykøbing Falster, Denmark