Denmark goes to Mexico: or when Mexico finds its Skraelings

João Grinspum Ferraz[1]

 

“Cajus hei de chupar, mangas espadas

Talvez pouco elegantes para um poeta

Mas peras e maçãs, deixo-as ao esteta

Que acredita no cromo das saladas". [2]

 

Mango, cocoa, green coconut and cashew. In the tropics and by the Atlantic coast, these fruits are part of the popular repertoire. Coming from the Americas or from Southeast Asia, they can be found in the street markets, in the diet and in the culture of the region's several populations, in Mexico, Belém do Pará or Bahia. Mango, being so common and prolific on the Atlantic coast, is thusoften commercialized in large, low-priced boxes. Cocoa, in turn, - originated in the Amazon Forest and spread throughout the Americas –is historically marked bythe Mayan people who inhabited Central America. The Mayas, one of the most complex classical civilizations of Mankind, used it in hot and spicy drinks. "Back a few millennia in Scandinavia, people were still walking up and down beating themselves with wooden sticks, while in here [in Mexico] they were building pyramids and grinding cocoa to make hot drinks with chili "[3] says Rene Redzepi, chef at the restaurant Noma of Copenhagen, which in April and May of 2017 was entirely settled in the Peninsula of Yucatan.

Cooks, waiters and dishwashers participated in a temporary migration involving about 150 people, transferring the awarded Danish restaurant to the city of Tulum, by the Caribbean Sea. Over there, with the support of hotel facilities, a totally new restaurantwas built from scratch, with its own equipment to carry out the inventive Redzepi cuisine and, at the same time, taking into consideration local methods based on cooking with fire. In Tulum, there seems tobe more technology regarding constructive solutions for wood stoves, ovens and grills than modern electronic devices that are notemployedby the locals. Showing respect toclimate and nature, the restaurant's architecture was adapted to the region's situation and constructive methods. For those reasons, the restaurantcould be seen as a contemporary gastronomy version of "L'Anse aux Meadows", which was the first European thorp to be settled by the Vikings on the American North coast, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbu's arrival, whose ruins were founded in 1960.

In a global and cosmopolitan era, where regional realities often suffer an imposition of apatternof consumption - and, ultimately, a way of life - thattramples human cultures, practices and realities, the Danish restaurant's temporary establishment in Mexican territory has the opposite purpose. The Noma is there to learn: to experience and to study. Redzepi faces the Herculean task of combining, on one side,the exploratory impetus of seventeenth and eighteenth-century European travelers, who went to the Americas looking for a new reality, its fauna and its flora,recordingand exhibiting them to the old continent's public; And, on the other side, the creative urge of modern artists, who, in face of what is different, of the perspective of human and natural alterity, sought to include those new elementsin their creations, assigning them the same value and importance attributed to their own signs. Through the discovery of ingredients and techniques, the Noma attempts to make an effort analogous to that of Picassotowards the African masks in "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" or the one made by Brancusi with his totemic sculptures, which assembled signs of African, Greek and Latin inspiration.

Lastly, there is one further fundamental element to betaken into consideration: the global market and the speed of communication in the contemporary society. Electronic social tangles, created by computers, telephone sets and similar mediums, immediately reproduce almost everything that happens in the other side of the globe. Additionally, the most important contemporary chefs have become characters that extrapolate the gastronomic universe to the world of social behavior and social media. If Ferran Adrià, with his restaurant El Bulli, became a phenomenon similar to the Beatles (with due proportions) by breaking barriers of his own world and becoming part of theimagery of people who little to nothing know about the universe of high cuisine, Rene Redzepi is one of the biggest stars in the constellation of chefs who populate documentaries, television shows, articles in the printed press and the entire virtual world.

The Noma itself is a point of gastronomic tourism, attracting tourists from the whole world, crowding the restaurant because of its food. Redzepi thus keeps this in mind for his Mexican enterprise, daring to think beyond his original idea in Noma Mexico by introducing local elements as alternatives to resist the global market and its logic of consumption. As such, the client is offered food that is rather unknown - or not well valued - around the world as much as fancy ingredients like a truffle or a slice offoiegras. In a dish with caviar, for instance, the "jelly" texture of green coconut's inside lining is introduced with astonishment and sophistication. If this important task has already been done by cookers as Alex Atala and Virgilio Martinez in their own countries, a second step in this path is fundamental, that is, the recognition and inclusion of these ingredients by a member of the highest circle of gastronomy in the old continent, respecting his creative process without, nonetheless, a folkloric or picturesque appeal.

In a world where uncontrolled consumption shapes citizenship, global luxury goods -  either big brands or famous ingredients of a restaurant - shape an ideal to be pursued by the entire population. In this way, to individuate value in different forms, in different things, is an attitude of resistance. On the one hand, it is resistance against the increasing waste production, against carbon dioxide emissions and against the predatory use of our environment, since there is no real possibility of maintaining the same level of consumption in the whole world without generating a serious impact on earth or even its destruction. Irresponsible extraction, plantations and animal husbandry–i. e.those that use chemicals and processed procedures- all cause impact on environment.

On the other hand, it is resistance against the pyramidal social model, which divides individuals in the whole world according to income and to the capacity of consumption of greater or lesser luxury goods, constituting a class-based society. Therefore, by valuing things within their regional expression, a brave attempt to expand the boundaries of contemporary culture is performed.

It is worth emphasizing the importance of the possibility of a cross-cultural resistance in a world more and more divided between the homogenizing and authoritative model of the global market and the focal points of regional, cultural and ethnic resistance. In other words, in spite of the great relevance of affirmative cultural movements, which contain regional, ethnic and racial expressions and seek out spaces of speech and existence in face of a global reality that tries to suffocate them, there must also be the possibility of mutual protection and valorization among distinct cultural groups through a synergistic cultural operation. In this sense, new dialog nets, cultural and even economic exchanges are created, constituting a third way between a combative isolationism and a homogenizing cosmopolitanism.

It is important to remember that Humanity as we know today was formed through large movements of cultural exchange: languages, science, food and even philosophy have circulated through most diverse hands throughout the centuries, from the Far East, passing through the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, composing a complex and multidirectional entanglement, whose results are infinite. The author Marcel Proust recalls these relations, remembering that "[…] the French words which we are so proud to pronounce correctly are nothing but mistakes made by Gallic mouths that mispronounced Latin or Saxon words, our language being nothing but the defective pronunciation of some other languages". [4]

However, it should be noted that Redzepi's journey to Mexico is a small gesture in the face of the overwhelming reality that marches in the opposite direction. Firstly, the cost of the dinner is high and reservations run out in a few minutes, being thus restricted to a small audience of certain financial condition. Beyond the restrictive scope, there is no attempt to save the planet from its hecatomb in this enterprise, nor to reform Mankind, that often walks toward barbarism. What is seen is an example of how to carry out a commercial activity within the gastronomy market - with all its defects and virtues - valuing ifferent realities and presenting alternatives. To that end, Redzepi has betting on the amplification power of social networks, not only in the sense of recording and publicizing the efforts in his endeavor, but also in the sense of showing the different products of the Mexican fauna and flora. The intention, therefore, is not to break with capitalist society, but to seek different solutions to the problems of the world.

Still, there is also the obvious commercial and marketing appeal, but this is a necessary part within the market society. What is fundamental in the gesture is its symbology; the importance of the symbolic plan sometimes extrapolates the dimension of the gesture itself. It is in this sense that Redzepi acts, that is, in the creation of a polyphony, the same sense deployed by Jean Starobinski to define the essence of modernity, as Marc Augé recalls: "The possibility of a polyphony where the virtually infinite intertwining of destinies, acts, thoughts and reminiscences can be based on a low march that sounds the hours of the earthly day and that tags the place once occupied (and that could still be occupied) by the ancient ritual ". [5]

No less important and striking is the fact that the food combines the complete creative and technical profile of Redzepi and his Noma, reproducing the creative logic and concepts developed in almost fifteenth years, rather than just adapt the already existing dishes to the local reality and ingredients. A significant research and a creative work were undertaken in the months preceding the opening of the restaurant in Mexico. The result was a fifteenth-step tasting menu whose creative and technical logic does not escape the essence of the Copenhagen's restaurant.

Moreover, there is no concession to folklore in approaching Mexican food and ingredients: if tacos and tostadas are prepared by the Mexican women who are specialized in it, this is due to the recognition of the intrinsic quality. The fillings are the result of the creativity of the Noma's cooks, profiting from the already existing instruments in the creation of new combinations. There is, for example, a certain dazzle with fruits which, if not uncommon for an inhabitant of the tropics, are almost unknown to anyone coming from Northern Europe. Still, in this case, there is also an encouragement: the way they are utilized may offer new forms of using ingredients that are sometimes restricted to popular and traditional cooking and, therefore, appear little in the creative contemporary cuisine. Everything is done with respect and beauty. The Noma proposes to us what Proust described as "The only true trip, the only Juventa bath, would be not to leave in search of new landscapes, but to have other eyes, to see the universe with someone else’s eyes, a hundred people, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, which each of them is".[6]

 

 

[1]Skraelings is a terminus used by the Viking populations to refer to the Greenland and North America's outlanders.Its meaning is analogous to "barbarian" or "foreigner".

[2]MORAES, Vinicius de (A Brazilian poet).In English, the translation would be: "Cashews I will eat, mangoes 'espada' [a kind of mango]/  Perhaps rather inelegant for a poet/ But pears and apples I leave to the aesthete/ Who believes in the chromatist in the salads".

[3]Interview made in 3 May 2017.

[4]PROUST, Marcel. Sodoma e Gomorra. São Paulo: Globo, 1998. p. 136.

[5] AUGE, Marc. Não-Lugares. Papirus. p. 71.

[6] PROUST, Marcel. A Prisioneira. São Paulo: Globo, 1998. p. 238.