Nadine Redzepi Of NOMA On Creating A Cookbook To Bring Great Food Home

Nadine Levy Redzepi wants you to cook really good food. At home. Every day. Her new cookbook Downtime is a treatise to the ease of cooking in your own kitchen. It’s not about the craft or art of cooking things. It’s about accessibility. The book is for the rest of us, who just want to make the best food we can with the tools and ingredients we can afford.

Redzepi’s cookbook sheds the mantle of haute cuisine — which made her husband world famous — and focuses in on what you can accomplish in your own kitchen with a pan, some heat, and the best ingredients you can find at the grocery store. It’s communal, open to interpretation, and inclusive.

We caught up with Redzepi in London recently to talk about what drove her to pen a recipe book about her home life. Although her husband is the head chef at one of the world’s most renowned restaurants, Redzepi is the head chef at their house, in Copenhagen. A maternity leave gave her the time and idea to start taking photos of the food she was cooking for her and the kids and the publishing world came knocking. In a way, it’s yet another example of Instagram paying off big. But, of course, Redzepi had the skills and recipes to back up every photo she posted. Now, those homemade meals are part of her new book and available for all of us to try.

Where did this all start?

So, in Denmark, we have a year’s maternity leave where we get full pay. So while I was on maternity leave with our youngest, I started an Instagram account and started posting our dinners and our breakfasts. Within six months I was contacted by two small Danish publishers, asking me if I wanted to do a book. So I decided instead of going back to work at Noma, I’d write my book instead.

Right. Noma is in a big transition period right now.

We’re reopening in February and I will definitely be going back to work then.

I love that the book is centered on your kitchen. It’s about eating really well at home without over-doing the craft or taking up so much time. What was your thought process behind the recipes when you started Instagramming?

When I started dating Rene [Redzepi], people were always like, “Oh, you must eat really well at home!” I always had to reply, “Well he’s not actually home for dinner, ever.” He’s always at work cooking for others, so I have to cook at home. But that’s always, always been something that I’ve wanted to do. Even when I was younger, my mom would have 24-hour shifts and she would buy frozen pizzas that we could just throw in the oven. I never wanted to do that. So I started cooking because I wanted better food.

And with that, it started writing down my favorite recipes. I wanted to start this tradition of passing on our favorite home recipes to our children. I started writing down my recipes and then Rene would say for fun, “Ha, one day you’ll write a book.” And after years passed, it was a more serious statement. He’d say, “You should do a book. People are always asking me to do a Noma at home cookbook, but I don’t cook like that at home. It’s bullshit. You should do a home book.” I thought, “Yeah, yeah, haha — that’s not gonna happen.”

So, I started posting photos on Instagram just to see what the reaction would be. I was cooking it anyway, so it was easy enough just to take a photo. Then, getting reactions from these two small publishers, that was enough to give me a push and think, ‘”Okay, maybe I should do this.”

I dig that the book takes on ingredients more than once. Because let’s face it, we use the foods we love more often than not.

Actually, I had to talk quite a bit with my publisher about that. She told me, “You already have a recipe with eggplant, so I don’t think you should have another one.” I remember saying, “Well, I think you’re really wrong. This is how it works. When I was making this one dish, I got the idea to make the other one. You know when you go grocery shopping for something, you’re always going to have something left over and you want to use it. We need to be about this. Maybe it seems like the same when you read off the recipe, but the outcome is very different.”

My publisher came over to my side and became very fond of the idea.

There’s a lot of great ideas in the book. I also really appreciate that there’s no extreme “one way” or the other. It’s not all about being fat-free or dairy-free but there are still vegan and vegetarian elements right alongside heavy cream and plenty of butter and pork chops.

Yeah, the theme was using different types of milk and using lots of butter so, for me, it’s all guided by the flavor of things. I’m not into all these restrictions for yourself, I’m more into getting things as close to their natural form as possible. To eat a food as close to the way it was made sounds better and I’m obsessed with cake. I love cake but I would not go to a store and buy a cake because I don’t know what’s in there. Where as if I make it myself with that cream, the sugar, all the best raw ingredients I feel like I can allow myself to eat as much cake as I possibly want.

And then, because I make it so rich I don’t really need that much of it.

That’s a really good point.

Yeah, I think so. I think it’s a good rule of thumb — if your food looks delicious, if it makes you want to eat it, that’s usually a pretty good pointer to, “Oh, it’s ready now!” Of course, there are always exceptions to this. Some things need to cook a little more. But when you’re cooking a steak or a piece of fish, when it has that beautiful caramelized color, that nice sear on it, on both sides. You’re generally ready to eat.

Cooking anything is a full sensory experience. You’re smelling, watching, listening, and tasting at the same time. You definitely hit that with every recipe.

Definitely and because of different stovetops, pans, even butter or oil, it all varies so much. Whether you’re in New York or in California, food changes so much and it’s much more important to look at the food rather than stick to a recipe. Recipes are amazing guidelines for sure but you need to observe the food rather than looking at the stopwatch.

It’s always shocking the first time you get a properly raised piece of meat that has real color to it and this massive taste. What do you think is important to look for when you’re looking for good food to cook at home?

Well, I feel the same way. If you see a pork chop from a supermarket that just has this like pale pink, it looks boring. Then, you go to a butcher and look at a pork chop from one of these pigs that lived properly and it almost looks like beef or like veal. Its a much darker color. It looks appetizing. I think going for raw ingredients that look appetizing in their raw form is a good way to go for it.

When you buy fish, I always ask the fishmonger, “what did you get today?” You always want fish that smells good. It’s a bad start if you’re kind of grossed out by your food before you start cooking it. It’s the same with this frozen white fish — I would not want to eat that before I even started cooking it. You know it’s just going to fall apart in the frying pan. It’s not going to be good.

Not to mention the way the fish is frozen with gels and additives is pretty off-putting.

Exactly. And, who knows, it probably was defrosted ten times on its travels. If things look delicious and inviting before they’re cooked, that’s a very good place to start.

I think with things like pork chops and cuts of meat, you don’t need to have a whole pork chop per person. A really good one, where you just get a few slices, is enough. You don’t need 300 grams (10.5 ounces) of meat per person when you’re eating. Another plus with buying proper meat is that it doesn’t shrink when you cook it.

Totally agree with you that our conception of portion sizes needs to change drastically. 50-100 grams (two to four ounces) is more than enough plus you have everything in the pan to draw out those flavors.

It really is. Every time I fry a piece of meat, I always take the meat out of the pan, pour some water into the pan, and add more butter. If I have any herbs, I put that in there and you get this super rich, delicious pan sauce that took you like three minutes to make while the meat was resting. You can use the sauce to scoop over the vegetable or even on top of the green salad with a vinegarette. You get all the richness that you want.

Absolutely. It’s so easy to do. I feel like a lot of your recipes don’t take very much time at all — which is a big hurdle for a lot of people cooking at home. They think, ‘Oh, I have to do this and this and this and it’s going to take all day.’ You really drive home that it doesn’t have to take all day. What’s your go-to cooking method these days?

It’s really hard to choose because it always depends on what mood I’m in. I think one of the reasons I go to something I can fry so often is because frying generally means that it’s going to be quick. It means that I’ll have dinner on the table within 30 minutes.

I work full time. I’ve got the kids. I need to pick them up. I need to do grocery shopping. Then obviously, there are weekends where we do these braised dishes that really don’t take more than ten minutes to get going and then they take care of themselves in the oven or while they simmer on the stovetop. I really wanted to keep the book completely honest, no fancy any this or that. This is what we eat on a daily basis at home on a workday.

You see a lot of recipes these days where you need about 20 different kitchen accessories just to execute one thing. That’s such a huge barrier. I think a lot of chefs are stuck in a kitchen all day with everything at their disposal and they kind of forget that the average person might only have a couple pans or pots. I think it’s really great the way you’re making recipes accessible and executable.

Amazing. That makes me very happy. I think there’s no point in going out and buying fancy equipment and machines and all this stuff. I guess it can help a little bit but it’s not going to make you a better cook. I think you need some basic skills. You need to be able to fry things and know how to cook vegetables. A lot of people cook vegetables to death and they don’t really like them. They’re always boiled for so long so they’re tough and so boring to eat.

I remember with my mom, the way they were taught to cook brussel sprouts was to cook them for like 40 minutes. I hated brussel sprouts when I was little. I love them now because I know you really don’t cook them very long. If you just cut them in half and fry them a little lard on the cut side and then toss them in lemon and olive oil and ginger or whatever, it’s so good. There are so many things to do with these things. You grow up thinking, ‘Ugh, not brussel sprouts again.’ But it was just cooked wrong. That’s what I want to show with my cookbook, you know. It’s very easy to make a lot of good food without it taking so much time while keeping everything tasting good.

You’re lucky that you live in Copenhagen which has great access to great food.

We are very lucky in Copenhagen. A lot of people are into what they eat so there’s a good amount of produce there. I think when you live somewhere, it’s good to go around and figure out, ‘okay, this butcher has the best duck but this other butcher has better pork.’ You need to know. So get to know your surroundings and where you need to buy stuff. Unfortunately, I have never been anywhere where they just had the best everything.