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Hartman Group field notes: New Nordic Cuisine in Copenhagen

Outdoor cafe in NorwayIntrepid explorers, Hartman Group ethnographers often travel to the far corners of the globe for both business and fun. One such trip to Copenhagen yielded interesting field notes on how leading-edge Scandinavian cuisine (often described as “New Nordic Cuisine”) is currently playing out at one of the world’s leading restaurants, Relae, whose chef, Christian Puglisi, was mentored at Noma by the two developers of New Nordic Cuisine, René Redzepi and Claus Meyer.

When dining at Relae the influence of Noma is clear, but Chef Puglisi is not constrained by New Nordic principles. Relae has a flexible approach to cuisine, with an emphasis on local and seasonal Scandinavian ingredients while also sourcing from places such as Italy (our olive oil was Italian).

Relae’s approach reflects the rise in consumer demand for fresh, local and organic ingredients, which on our shores continues to transform restaurant, CPG and retail segments. Both the commitment to sustainability measures adhered to by Relae and the commonality of organics as well as local and sustainable ingredients in the Danish marketplace combined to impress us with how deeply involved Europeans are in terms of progressive, sustainable food culture. To illustrate how seriously Relae (which has won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top award two years in a row) sees the intersection of sustainability and cuisine, we quote from their 2016 Sustainability Report:

“We source our products directly from organic, local and small scale farms. Some of these farms include Birkemosegård, Skytte, Kysøko, Ventegodtgård, Kiselgården, Svanholm, Griseri and Bisserup Fisk. All these farms practice organic or biodynamic farming and are all certified organic.

“We are certified organic at the highest level of 90-100% with a gold mark. This means that 90-100% of everything we buy and serve comes from farms that work in an environmentally positive manner, without the use of pesticides and other chemicals and this is regulated every three months by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.

“Our beverage program is included in our certification, meaning that all of the wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks come from vineyards, breweries and farms who are also certified organic. Our wines are all natural, and from vineyards who farm organically and use little to no sulphur in their vinification process. Most of our beer is from a local brewery called Kølster, which is just 35 kilometers north of Copenhagen. The founder, Per Kølster, not only brews organic beer, but he also farms his own grains, makes his own malt.” (Source: Relae Sustainabilty Report, 2016)

Juice pairingsAccording to its sustainability report, Relae is also “bringing back to life” a farm outside of Copenhagen that it currently uses to source fresh vegetables and greens that would not “normally reach a restaurant kitchen.” To put it mildly, all of this attention to purity, freshness and simplicity carries through memorably at the table, where diners can choose from either natural alcohol beverage or non-alcohol juice pairings with their meals. We chose the non-alcohol pairings route and were amazed by combinations as the image to the right depicts.

We highlight the linkages Relae is making between sustainability and cuisine because The Hartman Group has long championed the position that fresh and less processed is but one part of a larger cultural trend toward the redefinition of food quality, which includes drivers like more distinctive ingredients and global flavors, local, seasonal, artisanal and so forth.

As an emerging cuisine, New Nordic Cuisine has already taken hold here in the States. The television show New Scandinavian Cooking has run for over 12 seasons on public television, and recently Noma’s Claus Meyer (who is largely credited with the launch of the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto in 2004) announced a family of food projects in New York including Agern, “a casual fine-dining restaurant and bar with Nordic roots taking inspiration from the seasons and what’s available from farmers and suppliers in the Tri State region.”

Needless to say, as we transition from the more traditional production economies of the recent past to the globalized economies of a postmodern world, perspectives like Puglisi’s Relae on sustainability and cuisine are evolving in lockstep. As reflects his training under René Redzepi, they are reimagining “local” from the literal to the metaphoric, a local that pragmatically recognizes the realities of a globalized way of life.

What We Can Learn from Emerging Cuisines

A few key takeaways from our cultural food trek to Copehagen:

  • Stop Pendulum-Shift Thinking. Avoid the common tendency toward a revolutionary perspective on trends — the idea that new trends must, by definition, refute previous or current trends.
  • Don’t Abandon Fresh and Quality. As professional chefs — and increasingly consumers — begin to tinker with the application of food science and agriculture to provide higher-quality food experiences, do not mistakenly assume that the trend toward “all things fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal” will subside. The trend toward higher-quality ingredients — and, by proxy, food experiences — will continue unabated.
  • Rethink Technology. If you are in the CPG, restaurant or retail business, consider how current technologies can be used to create the “highest-quality food experience” possible. So rather than settling on now-dated notions of technology as a driver of efficiency, predictability or homogeneity (or a tool for scalability), why not reconceptualize technology as a tool useful for creating unique, compelling, customized food experiences?
  • Redefine Quality. The sum total of ideas, preferences, desires, techniques and “ways of doing” that have characterized trends in the food world for the past 30 years (be they about all things fresh, local and sustainable) points to one inescapable conclusion: the overriding impulse is toward a redefinition of quality — and foundational restructurings of what it means to enjoy quality food experience.

To learn more about how we explore and make sense of today’s evolving culture of food and beverage: Hartman Retainer Services


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As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


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