"Look, it's the colors of the Danish flag," René Redzepi said, spreading a spoonful of crème fraÎche over bright, reddish smoked salmon.
Redzepi, the extraordinarily talented chef at Copenhagen's justly revered Noma, was in New York for the publication of his book in three parts, A Work In Progress: Journals, Recipes and Snapshots ($60).
It was a gray, cold morning, and we'd gone foraging for drinks and nourishment at PDT. The subterranean bar on St. Marks isn't normally open during daylight hours, but Redzepi's nights were overscheduled, so barman Jim Meehan made an exception and laid out a breakfast spread of Lower East Side Jewish deli delights: bagels, caviar and enough Russ & Daughters smoked and cured fish to remind a traveling Dane of home.
"It's funny, we grew up eating stuff just like this," Redzepi said.
Meehan mixed Bloody Marys with dill aquavit and a spice mix he developed for La Boîte a Epice and announced, "It's 10 a.m. somewhere."
"I can't remember the last time I was in a bar having a drink like this," Redzepi said.
Noma celebrated its tenth anniversary last month. In terms of global influence and attention, it'd be fair to call Redzepi the most important chef of his generation. Happily though, the new book isn't a pompous look back at the restaurant's many triumphs but an honest, deeply personal--and, as you can tell from the bit he reads at the bar in the video, sometimes off-color--account of the creative process, the hard work and occasional highs of a life spent mostly in the kitchen.
The three volumes of A Work in Progress (cookbook, paperback journal and small collection of day-in-the-life iPhone snaps) are handsomely designed in muted shades of green and bound together by a big, cool rubberband. It's a great gift for anyone culinarily inclined--if only because it's so damned pretty.
But it also gets our pick for the best cookbook of the year because it's human, intimate and inspiring.