Excerpt from Hungry by Jeff Gordinier, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World

by Jeff Gordinier

Hungry by Jeff Gordinier X
Hungry by Jeff Gordinier
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 240 pages

    Jul 2020, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Inspiring stuff. Noble stuff, especially for a planet on the brink of ecological catastrophe caused, in part, by the industrial rapacity built into our food supply. I just wasn't in the mood. My marriage was falling apart. Two weeks earlier I had moved out of the house where my two children lived. Depression rolled into my days like a toxic fog. On a cold day in February I didn't think I had the patience to conjure up a rictus grin of pretend curiosity while I listened to a visionary from Copenhagen prattling on about his manifesto.

Making things even more complicated, I had sort of made fun of Redzepi's ethos in the pages of the Times, even though, up until that point, I had never spoken with the man or eaten his food. In the winter of 2014, Noma's influence was running rampant in New York City, with restaurants like Aska, Acme, Atera, and Luksus promulgating their own interpretations of the New Nordic ideas that were spreading outward from Copenhagen like invasive scurvy grass. Nordicness was the new hotness and that made it a ripe target for dismissal. Noma veterans had begun colonizing the city, smoking everything with hay and garlanding plates with kelp and edible side-walk sprigs. The chef at Acme, Mads Refslund, had even founded Noma with Redzepi—the two cooks had come up together in culinary school—while the chef at Luksus, a bearded Nova Scotian philosopher named Daniel Burns, had been the pastry chef at Noma for a few years. Merely having the name Noma on your résumé seemed to entice investors to throw money at you. Everybody wanted in—except me. Up until that winter, I had not eaten in any of those restaurants. I didn't want to. My life was a mess. I felt adrift and I sought comfort in hot bowls of cacio e pepe—starch and cheese. I wanted dumplings and bibimbap and shawarma. What did I not want? As I wrote then, "For months, I dodged the question. Now and then someone would tap me on the shoulder and ask for an opinion on the latest New York restaurant that embodied the spirit of the New Nordic movement. Had I nibbled on any lichen lately? Had I dunked my spoon into a brimming bowl of barley porridge speckled with globules of pig's blood, sea buckthorn and the fermented scales of a creature found in the deepest crevasses of a fjord? The answer was no, but I felt too much shame to admit that."

I was reluctant to rendezvous with this Redzepi character. My state of mind made me allergic to posturing of any sort, and I had snarked off the guy's precious movement in the world's most influential newspaper. I braced myself for a dressing-down akin to the notorious Ned Beatty scene in Network. I imagined Redzepi scowling as he leaned across some faux farmhouse picnic table at a Greenwich Village caffeine dispensary and yelling, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature!"

Nevertheless I said yes. It was better, I figured, than milling around the office. And saying yes to the primal forces of nature, as I would come to learn during the following four years, was what René Redzepi was all about.

Suffice it to say that the man who walked through that door in downtown Manhattan was not what I had expected. Of all the gifts that human beings are born with or learn to develop, charisma has to be the most mysterious. Several things about Redzepi struck me right away: (1) His command of English was better than that of most Americans. (That singular advantage had obviously helped him in getting across his message to British and American food media. Now if you told me that he actually spoke twenty-five languages, I would not be shocked. I'm guessing he could negotiate a meal in at least seven.) (2) He seemed to be personal friends with half the chefs in New York. (3) Like me, he didn't want to talk about his movement, or any movement, or at least he appeared to have grown weary enough of the topic that there would be no Moses-on-the-mountaintop soliloquies about the soul-nurturing ecstasies of foraging while I counted the minutes until I could catch the Metro-North express back to my sad, cramped, post-separation apartment in Westchester County.

Excerpted from Hungry by Jeff Gordinier. Copyright © 2019 by Jeff Gordinier. Excerpted by permission of Tim Duggan Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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