My father is an immigrant from Macedonia, a former state of communist Yugoslavia. Our family lived in the countryside of Macedonia before the Yugoslav Wars broke out in 1991. It was a close-knit community, where life was rustic but the land was bountiful. We ate healthy food at home, with plenty of natural ingredients sourced from nearby farms and forests. The only water supply was from outdoor streams. It was a simple and idyllic way of living – everybody was a natural born forager. In 1992, we relocated to Copenhagen, where we lived in a small flat overshadowed by nostalgic memories of the good old days. Little did I know that my childhood had already planted a seed in my mind.
My first foraging experience in Denmark took place in Bornholm Island when I was just 18. I was wandering around purposelessly with my friend Claus Meyer (who went on to found Noma with me) when suddenly a smell like shallots hit us like a ton of bricks.
‘What the hell is that?’ we murmured. We looked around and saw a plant that resembled a tulip leaf. As we lowered our heads to the ground, a pungent garlic scent rushed into our nostrils. We couldn’t help picking and munching on the plant – it tasted like garlic, too. We collected a bunch and took it to Claus’ mother – she took one glance and voila, the mystery was solved. The mysterious plant was called Ramsons, a wild, edible, flowering plant, rich in Vitamin C. ‘We have it quite often,’ Claus’ mum said. I was so amazed that I went back to pick some more for the restaurant I worked in. That was my first foraging experience as a chef, but I’ll never forget the sense of discovery and wonder – it continues to inspire me to this day.
René Redzepi is the culinary director and co-owner of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark