By Deanne Moskowitz
Danish chef Claus Meyer is lighting up the New York culinary landscape
World-renowned restaurateur, cookbook author and culinary entrepreneur Chef Claus Meyer, who seems to have successfully realized every conceivable culinary business opportunity in his native Denmark while working to forge social change through food, has brought his singular brand of ethical culinary entrepreneurship to our shores and is making great inroads.
Meyer is perhaps best known as co-founder of the Copenhagen-based, Michelin-starred dining destination Noma, which four times topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and he’s often credited with initiating the New Nordic movement, which celebrates the deliciousness inherent in seasonal Scandinavian ingredients and artisanal techniques. He has authored numerous cookbooks, hosted a Danish television series (New Scandinavian Cooking, broadcast here on PBS and in 50 other countries), and counts among his incredibly diverse Danish business interests bakeries and caterers, fruit and chocolate companies, a vinegar factory, an orchard, a salmon smoker, a coffee roastery and a cooking school. In 2014, Meyer made his move into the American market, enlivening New York’s restaurant scene with his fine dining spot Agern, and his Great Northern Food Hall, both located at the rim of the Upper East Side in Grand Central Terminal.
So it’s hard to imagine a better choice than Meyer to host Our Town’s Art of Food in Manhattan, which is where Catering Magazine recently caught up with him. The annual event, sponsored by New York-Presbyterian Hospital, showcases the ingenuity and excellence of chefs from some of the most esteemed East Side restaurants, among them Fred’s at Barneys New York, Garden Court Café, Magnolia Bakery, Maya, Sahib, Sen Sakana and T-Bar Steak. The brainchild of Jeanne Straus—president of Straus News, which publishes the Upper East Side newspaper Our Town—the event, held on February 10 at Sotheby’s for the third successful year, challenged more than 25 leading chefs to develop dishes inspired by great artwork curated by Sotheby’s. Moved by the color, composition or mood of the paintings, the chefs invented mouthwatering culinary masterpieces to delight food and art connoisseurs fortunate enough to snag one of the 700 tickets. A portion of the proceeds benefitted the Melting Pot Foundation, of which Meyer is founder and chief sponsor, which provides healthy cuisine to needy Brooklyn residents and helps train students in the foodservice industry.
Calling his organization “still a relative newcomer to New York and its vibrant culinary scene,” Meyer said that he felt “honored and excited to have been asked to co-host the event.” At Art of Food, his Food Hall presented artisanal Nordic Oland wheat bread spread with house-churned butter and sprinkled with black, edible “ash,” echoing the black-and-white palette and overall look of an untitled Christopher Wool painting.
Wine and spirit tastings, prize drawings, the signing of Meyer’s most recent cookbook (Meyer’s Bakery: Bread and Baking in the Nordic Kitchen, Octopus Books, 2017) as a gift for the first 50 VIP ticketholders, and live music enhanced the fun.
Catering Magazine asked Chef Meyer about New Nordic and its place in the American market, and for any advice he might give to American caterers.
CM: What inspired you to develop the concept of New Nordic cuisine, and how did you bring the idea to life?
MEYER: It was the simple idea to see if we could create an informal collaboration among a vast array of people and institutions in order to transform the food culture. It was the idea of bridging joy with responsibility toward nature and the next generation.
CM: Aside from putting New Nordic on the map, what made Noma worthy to be repeatedly named the number-one restaurant in the world?
MEYER: Noma redefined the concept of luxury. We said luxury could be about a perfect leaf of dandelion picked in the right place at the right moment and treated as carefully as you would treat foie gras. Suddenly, we were able to be part of the game.
CM: Which ingredients, flavors and techniques are most important to New Nordic, and how do they translate to the American market?
MEYER: New Nordic cuisine bases its cooking on raw materials, purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics. The idea of local products and seasons resonates well with modern American cuisine.
CM: What advice do you have for caterers who want to introduce New Nordic to their markets?
MEYER: To me, it has made a world of difference from the outset to be driven by a higher purpose. Going back to Denmark from my time in France, I wanted to change the food culture of my country. That simple idea guided the majority of my choices. I recommend that you spend [as much] time asking yourself what you can do for your community, your industry, the world as you spend on optimizing the short-term profitability of your endeavors. On a more basic level, learn from the best and get your groundwork right. And, of course, I also want to pass on Guy’s* wise words: Follow your heart, and try to live your life in such a way that you will have a smile on your face, so as you grow older you will keep that smile, thinking back about it all.
*French baker and chef Guy Sverut, a mentor to Meyer as a young man.