Nordic nuances

Around a table laden with local varieties of organically grown produce of Kerala — yellow and green pumpkins, cucumbers, kovaka, banana flower, jack fruit, uncured cardamom, pepper, lemongrass, coconut, pineapple and more — stands chef, food activist, culinary author and founder of the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy, Claus Meyer.

Meyer was interacting with the chefs of CGH group at its farm kitchen in Mararikulam, Alappuzha. For a brief moment, he looks challenged by the bounty in front of him.

“This looks like a lot of Nature, but the Indian buffet does not reflect that,” he says, toying with ways to transpose elements of his food philosophy — local, seasonal, cultural, natural — to an Indian meal. In the course of his 10-day trip to the hotel group’s different properties that are spread across Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, he noticed room for a salad in the South Indian meal. Then ideas began to take shape.

He snapped up a kovakka (ivy gourd), broke the little gherkin and was charmed by its pale orange insides. He bit it raw and savoured its crunchiness. “You can finely slice this vegetable, 50 slivers, and spread it on a plate, like an Indian carpaccio (a Venetian appetiser). Maybe add a mix of pineapple, mango, papaya, baby corn and drizzle some dressing on top; it will look like a Picasso painting,” he says, coming up with a possible dressing of vinegar made with equal parts of coconut oil, passion fruit juice, a hint of jiggery and coconut sap.

A fresh take

His exchange with the chefs was to usher in innovations in a cuisine that is rooted to tradition and has resisted change.

“It is because you have a rich food culture. But there is room for innovation and introduction of contemporary dishes,” he says, chewing on a green cinnamon leaf, and inhaling the scents of mango-ginger leaves commonly used to wrap pearl spots for grilling.

He recommends steps to help conceptualise a new line of thought: to work with gardeners and to come up with new flavours; to travel to culinary destinations and learn from the exchange; to look for simplicity and develop dishes with just one or two ingredients.

Though not a fan of the curry, sadya or the Indian thali and inept at eating with fingers, he is nevertheless touched by Indian cuisine — he speaks emotionally of the roasted eggplant, baigan bharta that drew him into its depths and of the rumali roti that found a way into the menu of his semi-Indian restaurant, Nam Nam in Copenhagen.

The bigger picture

The New Nordic Cuisine is a philosophy that expresses the ethics of the region. The meal would reflect the different seasons and foster local agriculture. It is about combining good taste with health aspects and strongly promotes Nordic produce, the knowledge and culture behind it.

For a highly successful chef and an entrepreneur, Meyer says that the philosophy that brought him to this height, is the thought of using all the resources that one has in life to create the most wonderful thing. “The Nordic cuisine was the result of this thinking.”

Raised on a diet of canned meat, frozen vegetables, bread crumbs, deep fried meats in margarine in childhood, Meyer’s food concept changed after he trained under a French master chef, his mentor Guy Sverzut. Meyer moved on to altruistic pursuits through food. He founded in 2010 The Melting Pot Foundation in Bolivia that trains thousands of children from the slums to engage with the food industry. “I am using the Nordic food Manifesto to fight poverty,” he says.

Based on Meyer’s philosophy, a group of chefs from the Nordic countries even brought out a New Nordic Food Manifesto in 2004 to initiate the movement.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 2:44:15 AM |

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