Nobody had expected to witness a few handfuls of crickets meet their death, shoved into a blender and whizzed up with mold-inoculated barley. But that, according to Noma chef Rene Redzepi and Nordic Food Lab research director Lars Williams, is how to make one version of a sauce known as garum.
Along with cricket garum (which tastes like soy sauce) and fermented barley, Redzepi and Williams served seaweed ice cream, cucumber "spice" and carrot "vinegar" at a UCLA lecture titled “The Exploration of Deliciousness,” part of a course series on science and food. Deliciousness, Redzepi says, is the point of both Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant known as "the best restaurant in the world" thanks to an annual list published by S. Pellegrino, and the nonprofit research facility Nordic Food Lab.
But it is where and how Redzepi and Williams discover deliciousness that has drawn the attention of the culinary world -- amongst the sea arrowroot that grows along Danish beaches, the 125 types of horseradish in the Nordic region or its 263 varieties of seaweed, or ants that taste like kaffir lime leaf (yes, ants), for example.
"It's a difficult challenge to get excited about those ... so put it in something delicious," says Redzepi, who in fact does get excited about ingredients that are otherwise underutilized and overlooked. The man -- someone who mandates "the need to understand horseradish" -- waxes passionate about sea arrowroot: “I never would have dreamed that there was a plant that wasn’t coriander or even in the coriander family that tasted like coriander!”
Dried cucumber powder is an example of a variety of fruit and vegetable "spices" (the Nordic version of spice, anyway), dried at a certain temperature to achieve caramelization and heightened sweetness. "Vinegars" are made with kombucha -- "an extra live creature in the kitchen," notes Redzepi. Williams says microbes, including various fungi and bacteria, are big in the Noma kitchen. Lately, fermented peas have become "peas-o," their take on miso. "It's a working title," Redzepi says.
-- Betty Hallock
Photos: Betty Hallock/Los Angeles Times