4 surprising lessons for home cooks from the best restaurant in the world

As much as I love simplicity and comfort of home cooking, I also love eating out. Mostly I prefer casual places. Bistros and wine bars where the food is straightforward and delicious and there’s no pretense or snobbery.

But every now and then I like to treat myself to some world class fine dining.

If you’ve been reading Stonesoup for a while, you may remember a few years ago I managed to score a reservation at the Spanish restaurant el bulli – which held the title of best restaurant in the world (and most difficult to get a reservation for).

Eating at el bulli was an amazing experience. But to be honest, I enjoyed my recent lunch at Noma – the current holder of the ‘best restaurant’ crown, even more.

For starters, the Noma decor is more my style – Scandinavian minimalist with an emphasis on design. And I loved that they don’t have any wait staff. The chefs bring your food and describe each dish – perfect for asking questions.

Like el bulli, many of the dishes at Noma are quite conceptual. And at the same time, you can see that they’re having some fun.

But the thing that pushed Noma to the top for me was the obvious care they take with their ingredients. And that pretty much everything was just really delicious.

The biggest surprise about eating at Noma was that there were a number of times I thought to myself ‘That’s a brilliant idea – I could use that in my cooking’. So today I thought I’d share with you some lessons from Noma, that home cooks like you and me can use…

4 lessons for home cooks from Noma

1. Cook an ingredient on one side only.
There were three examples of this throughout our lunch. Cauliflower that was charred on one side and steamed so it was cooked through. Baby cucumbers that had been charred on one side and left crunchy on the other. And a dehydrated carrot dish that was also charred on one side.

The beauty of this idea is that it adds variety and complexity without using any more ingredients or taking any more time. I’ve tried it with chorizo (recipe below) but the possibilities are endless really.

2. Treat veg as the main event.
Vegetables featured heavily on the Noma menu. The closest we got to red meat was sweetbreads. One of the standout dishes was the cauliflower charred on one side and served with a horseradish sauce. At fist glance it looked like a piece of meat. Really delicious.

3. Use fermented foods to add complex flavours.

There were a couple of courses using fermented split peas that had the most wonderfully complex flavours. One of the chefs mentioned that the closest ingredient would be miso paste – if you aren’t up for some home split pea fermentation.

4. Explore your local ingredients.
I love how the guys at Noma champion their local produce – especially ingredients that are foraged in the wild. They even push the boundaries of what we consider to be food. Ants anyone? (For the record the ants were very tasty and quite tart).

It’s more than ‘making do’ with what you have. It’s about celebrating what’s unique and special about where you call home.

chorizo with kale-2

chorizo with kale
serves 2

Adapted from my favourite food writer, Nigel Slater in his latest book the Kitchen Diaries II.

When I say I ‘adapted’ this recipe, the only thing I really changed was adding in a splash of lemon juice for freshness. It’s not very often I find myself adding an ingredient to other people’s recipes!

This is now a firm favourite in our house and there has been much discussion on possible variations. See below for ideas…

2 chorizo, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
1 large bunch kale, finely sliced crosswise
1/2 lemon
handful roasted almonds

1. Heat a frying pan on a medium high heat. Add a little oil and the chorizo. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until well browned on the first side.

2. Turn and cook for a few seconds on the other side. Remove from the pan to a clean plate.

3. Add garlic and kale to the chorizo oil in the pan and stir fry for 2-3 minutes or until kale is wilted and tender.

4. Return chorizo to the pan to warm up. Taste and season with salt, pepper and a small squeeze of lemon.

5. Serve with almonds sprinkled over.

VARIATIONS
vegetarian – replace chorizo with sliced halloumi and add in a teaspoon smoked paprika with the kale.

vegan
– replace the chorizo with 2 large red onions or bell peppers (capsicum) chopped. Cook on a medium heat until soft. Add kale and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and continue to cook as per the recipe. Double the almonds to serve.

no chorizo? – use spec, chopped bacon, pancetta, salami or even ham.

different greens – most greens will work well here. Try cavolo nero, collard greens, spinach, silverbeet (chard), rainbow chard even baby spinach or defrosted frozen spinach. Cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, broccoli rabe can also be used but will need a little longer to cook.

nut-free – skip the almonds or replace with toasted bread crumbs.

budget / more substantial – make the chorizo go further – toss in a drained can of chickpeas or white beans with the kale.

sunday breakfast – serve topped with a poached or fried egg.

Video version of the recipe

With love,
Jules x

ps. If you’d like to see the photos of our Noma lunch, I’ve set up a slideshow over here. Be warned they’re from my phone so the quality isn’t very good.

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