Mads Refslund on Nordic Cuisine, Foraging and his Favorite NYC Spot
Chef Mads Refslund’s “New Nordic” approach reflects his quest to explore the origin of every element behind each dish he creates. Refslund was one of the original co-founders of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, which went on to receive two Michelin Stars and has been ranked the best restaurant in the world four times.
After leaving Noma, Refslund opened MR in Copenhagen, an intimate Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant which beautifully expressed his locavore ethos. During that time, he coined the term “bonding rawness,” a celebration of the natural, inherent flavors of ingredients unmasked by excessive preparation or cooking. Eventually, the process of spreading the New Nordic philosophy around the world brought him to New York City where he joined restaurateur Jean-Marc Houmard of Indochine and Jon Neidich to open ACME in 2012.
Under his guidance, ACME received critical acclaim, including a two star review from Pete Wells at the New York Times. After four great years, Mads is leaving ACME at the end of 2015 to pursue other projects including finishing his cookbook with forager Tama Matsuoka Wong. Exciting things are in the future!
There seems to be a lot of attention being paid to New Nordic Cuisine these days. Any ideas on the reasons behind the trend?
The trendiness of New Nordic cuisine has passed, but New Nordic is really more of a philosophy than an ethnic cuisine, anyway. This philosophy means that anywhere in the world you can use your backyard as your own kitchen — it’s really about terroir. It’s about attention to sourcing and using often unexpected ingredients to do great things. This philosophy goes hand in hand with sustainability because often off-cuts, weeds and other things that are considered “trash” can actually be delicious. Opening one’s mind to this means wasting less and getting more out of everything, which should be trendy because it’s essential.
How would you explain the concept of foraging?
Foraging technically is another way of saying hunting or searching, but it applies to naturally occurring ingredients (those that haven’t been farmed or planted). We are always looking for new delicious things that inspire us to incorporate into our food. It’s very important when you cook that you can find as many things as possible and explore the things that are naturally occurring around you. We have to keep an open mind. We are foraging for ideas as much as for ingredients.
You spent a year traveling the world after you left Noma. Did that experience influence you, the choices you've made or what you’re doing now?
Yes, of course. Seeing how expansive the world is inevitably has an effect. So much of what we did at Noma was about what we could find nearby, so traveling naturally inspired me to explore and then to grow roots somewhere new and use the tools I developed in Denmark and apply them to another terroir.
In what ways have you seen technology affect your business and the hospitality industry at large?
The most obvious way is communication. The sharing of ideas through images has become instantaneous with Instagram. This means that there is even more give and take of ideas between chefs all over the world. Someone might be plating something a certain way in NYC and then suddenly a cook in Melbourne gets inspired by that and does it there.
Are there any surprising lessons you've learned from being a restaurateur?
They aren’t really surprises, but some lessons (in no particular order) are: you don’t get a lot of sleep. There are more decisions than there are moments in the day. Having a great team is essential to create the space necessary to stay creative.
Do you have a go-to NYC haunt?
New York is always changing, so my favorite places change constantly. Right now Via Carota is my favorite.