Food for Free

Noma has reclaimed its place as the world’s best restaurant according to San Pellegrino’s recent list. In a list populated by some of the post-elBulli Spanish giants, what makes Noma number one? Coming in at number four, New York City’s Eleven Madison Park will dazzle you with stunning foie gras preparations, but people expecting such luxury ingredients at Noma are likely to be disappointed. The philosophy at Noma is one of hyper-locality: ingredients are foraged from the restaurants immediate surroundings, and dishes attempt to celebrate Danish cuisine. The mastermind behind the restaurant; René Redzepi eschews Spanish saffron and Italian truffles, instead offering dishes like ‘slivers of cod liver and crispy sweet milk’ and a ‘broth of ramson leaves’. He has inspired worldwide interest in foraging and making the absolute most of the food on offer to us.

Almost every restaurant in this country will claim that it is passionate about local and seasonal produce, but putting asparagus on your menu for two weeks in May is not a real relationship with the local ingredients, especially if you serve it with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. In England, for a true example of a restaurant proud of what our countryside has to offer, look at L’enclume. Simon Rogan’s restaurant in Cartmel scored 10/10 in this year’s ‘Good Food Guide’, and overtook The Fat Duck for the first place position. His passion for British products is admirable, and though not necessarily practical to entirely implement his philosophy at home, we should still be inspired by what he is doing.

What is it about Noma and L’enclume that continues to mesmerize critics and connoisseurs? In my mind it is their ability to reconsider and redefine what luxury is. Sensationally fresh and local ingredients should be part of our daily diet, but in a world where English supermarkets are filled with Spanish strawberries and Peruvian asparagus, good quality British ingredients shine through. Any good restaurant can impress you with well-cooked lobster, but there are very few chefs who can excite their customers with braised leeks or caramelised cauliflower. Perhaps their ability to treat every ingredient with the same high level of respect is what elevates chefs like René and Simon to the heights they achieve.

As students, we should be naturally predisposed to foraging for fresh ingredients, because they are free. There are several excellent ‘Edible York’ allotments dotted around campus and town, and we should make the most of the produce which grows there. By Vanbrugh College there are several purple sprouting broccoli plants, one of the tastiest (and most expensive) vegetables on offer at this time of the year. The leaves are also delicious, just cut them away from the stem and blanch before serving with a little butter. The broccoli plants are also beginning to flower, so pick the little yellow flowers and use them in a salad: they look incredible and have a subtle flavour. Opposite the Berrick Saul building is a thyme plant which I snip a few sprigs from two or three times a week, and a little further uphill you’ll find borage plants. The blue flowers have a delicate cucumber flavour, and when young enough the leaves can be used as well. Off campus there are a myriad of possibilities for people who want to forage. Try picking the top few leaves from nettle plants, which can be used to make a good soup or even nettle tea. Familiarise yourself with chickweed, it has a flavour somewhat similar to spinach and often grows in shady areas. There are countless other flowers and wild herbs growing in the area, and there is a still a staggering amount for me to learn, but living in an area with such beautiful countryside invites making the most of what grows around us.