The days are ticking down to the opening of Claus Meyer's Agern restaurant in New York's Grand Central Terminal - the start of ambitious projects that include a food hall at the train station, a bakery and a cooking school.
The Danish restaurateur, who created the four-time winner of World's Best Restaurant Noma with chef Rene Redzepi, looks relaxed as he settles in for lunch at Hoppers in London to discuss also his new book, The Nordic Kitchen. The New York restaurant is planned for the end of the month, quickly followed by the 5,000 square-foot food Great Northern Food Hall at the station.
He's moved his family to New York and is planning five separate pavilions in the terminal's Vanderbilt Hall: Sweet and savory porridges at the Grain Bar; salads, juices and bites at Almanak; coffee from Brownsville Roasters; baked goods at Meyers Bageri; and Smørrebrød sandwiches at Open Rye.
Get a FREE Digital Subscription!Enjoy full access to Hospitality Ireland, our weekly email news digest, all website and app content, and every digital issue.
"The New York food scene is extremely vibrant," he says. "But it was my wife and my oldest daughter who convinced me to do it. I was having a good time in Denmark, and Copenhagen is very, very good for food these days. I never thought about going outside Denmark before but I'm drawn to projects that are spectacular."
While Grand Central is about as high-profile as it gets in New York, Meyer, 52, appears almost more excited by the philanthropic enterprise he's planning in the deprived Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. The culinary school will come with a local restaurant, echoing a project he founded in La Paz, where young Bolivians are trained to cook and serve their nation's produce at a restaurant called Gustu. Details on the cooking school are still under wraps.
"I was very happy with the way Bolivia worked out and I got the idea that maybe something down that alley could also work in New York," Meyer says. "I needed something that was larger than just building a food hall. We want to do something great in Brownsville. "
In his book, Meyer describes Denmark in the 1960s as a gastronomic wasteland. Religious traditions of austerity meant the nation was ripe for canned meatballs and powdered mashed potato when changes in society meant more women went out to work and spent less time cooking at home.
Meyer's eureka moment came as an au pair in Agen, France, where at 20 he discovered great food. He returned to Denmark as a champion of French cuisine, making hundreds of TV shows and becoming a celebrity. He opened Noma in 2003, with Redzepi in charge.
The two got together with other chefs the following year to develop the idea of New Nordic Cuisine, focusing on fish, meat, herbs and vegetables from across the region, while shunning olive oil, foie gras and other imports.
Noma has been at the forefront of that revolution, but Meyer later handed control to Redzepi to focus on other projects, including restaurants, bakeries, an orchard and even a vinegar factory.
"Rene wanted so much to be the only captain on the ship," Meyer says. "It felt the right thing to do. If you live your life according to the idea that you should own everything you've created, then a painter would own all his paintings."
The Nordic Kitchen contains seasonal recipes that Meyer developed for cooking at home. They are mostly simple, generally using ingredients you can obtain without foraging. Here are some recipes to try.
Article by Richard Vines, chief food critic at Bloomberg. Edited by Hospitality Ireland.