Gastronomy and the City. Some might argue that this perfect match is as exquisite a pairing as wine and cheese. Where better to practice the art of good eating than in the city. Conversely, where other than the city is there a greater opportunity to partake in good eating. Is it the food, then, that makes the city? Or the city that makes the food?
Earlier in March, I attended the Southeast Asian premiere of Noma, My Perfect Storm. Presented in Singapore by Anonymous, the screening of Noma, My Perfect Storm was the launch to an upcoming film festival themed entirely on food (FoodCine.ma).
Noma, My Perfect Storm is a documentary film that explores the intellectual faculty of René Redzepi who is the Head Chef and culinary creative behind Noma, a two-Michelin star restaurant and four-time winner of ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ accolade. The other central figure in the film, besides the seductive food concoctions, is place. In this instance, two contrasting places: the Nordic wilderness (where the bulk of Noma‘s ingredients are sourced) and the Danish city of Copenhagen (where Noma is located). While the dominating narrative in the film is that of Redzepi’s compelling rise-to-fame story, there is also the more subtle but equally captivating narrative of food and place.
Noma‘s food philosophy is premised on the concepts of time (seasonality) and place (regionality), thereby creating a demanding and rigorous ‘just-in-time’ methodology of food sourcing, food preparation, and food plating (imagine, live ants on crème fraîche). Positioned as a reinvention of Nordic cuisine, Noma is a champion of Nordic cottage industries on the one hand and a provocateur of Nordic culinary traditions on the other. This deliberate dissension and discord—where place is simultaneously formed and transformed through gastronomic ingenuity—is perhaps Noma‘s raison d’être and the source of its éclat. Furthermore, the transposition of raw ingredients from the rural to the urban highlights the very real and complex nature of the food trail, which begs the question: To what extent does local food foster greater (or fewer) ethical relations between producers and consumers in today’s global food economy?
In order to gain another perspective of the local/global relationship between food and place, one simply needs to Google search ‘Noma’ and the results bring a worldwide audience to Copenhagen. Indeed, Noma‘s well-acclaimed awards and recognition have elevated Copenhagen on the world map (if not, certainly, the food connoisseur’s list of travel destinations). It comes as no surprise that the gastronomy sector is being cultivated more and more within cities as an urban strategy to promote tourism and attract/retain talent. Some of the highly-sought after facets underpinning the culinary domain are ‘creativity’, ‘innovation’, ‘experience’, and ‘authenticity’—all of which are significant branding terms for cities competing in today’s modern rendition of the cultural industry. A state-of-the-art foodscape, therefore, can play a significant role in shaping a city’s branding and identity.
Perhaps, then, it is the food that makes the city.