You cook at home and each day you need to prepare meals for one of the world’s best chefs. Sometimes, he shows up with mates who are also culinary stars, like David Chang of Momofuku in New York. It’s a daunting prospect.
That’s the life of Nadine Levy Redzepi. Her husband, Rene, runs Noma in Copenhagen, which has won the title of World’s Best Restaurant four times. She says it doesn’t faze her at all.
“I don’t get nervous,” she says. “A lot of these chefs are very good friends of ours and have been for a long time. No chef would expect anyone whose house they go to would do crazy things, like with foams or whatever. When you work with that type of food every day, you almost look forward to getting home-cooked food.”
She has published a book of recipes that she cooks for her family and friends. “Downtime” is as down-to-earth as she is, featuring no-nonsense dishes such as baked salmon with thyme and potatoes, and apricot tart—rather different from Redzepi’s creations, such as a salad with live ants and a ceviche of clam with thinly sliced banana.
Levy Redzepi was born in Portugal to a Danish mother and a British father who traveled across Europe in a van, staying on campsites and playing the guitar to earn a crust.
“I was with my mom, who tried to provide the family with everything we’d eat,” she said. “We’d be in the fields harvesting beans or walking around the herbs. Without thinking about it, everything I did revolved around food.”
She learned to cook by watching TV shows with chefs such as Ainsley Harriott and Antonio Carluccio, but her breakthrough in the culinary world came when she got a job as a waitress in Noma.
Like other staff, she was issued a manual on how to behave, written by Redzepi. One of the stipulations was a rule against dating colleagues. Then she started dating Redzepi. Secretly.
“We’d meet at Rene’s place after work, going there separately,” she says. “It was a long time before we actually went out on a date. It was two or three months before he took a full day off. He had a delivery bike and I sat on the front and we rode around. We had a nice picnic in a very green area where you could see the water.” They bought a DVD player, rented a few movies and went out for dinner. A nice evening.
These days they have three daughters. Why go to the trouble of writing a cookbook?
“When I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, I started writing down my favorite dishes,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to this idea of a cookbook that was passed down like a family recipe collection, so I decided to make one. I wanted to give it to my daughters. It still is for them, but also it is for everybody.”
Does it bother her that people will think she only got a book deal because of who she is married to?
“I am very, very well aware that being Rene’s wife and having my last name is how I even got publishers to look at my proposal,” she said. “I am totally fine with it, because this is my book. I cooked everything in here. I wrote all the recipes. It is what I cook at home.”
Here are a couple of sample recipes from the book:
Baked Salmon with Thyme and Thin Potatoes
“Cooking salmon on a bed of paper-thin potato slices is both efficient and delicious: as the fish cooks, it infuses the potatoes with flavor. Make sure to buy the fish in one big piece, like a roast with the skin on; pre-portioned pieces of fish will cook too quickly and be done before the potatoes are tender. All you need to make this a meal is a green vegetable. Wild-caught salmon is always preferred to farmed fish, but in a simple preparation like this it really makes a difference.”
1¼ pounds baby potatoes,
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil,
1½ pounds skin-on salmon fillet in 1 piece, preferably wild
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Heat the oven to 320 degrees.
Scrub the potatoes well under cold running water, but don’t peel them. Using a mandolin or plastic V-slicer, cut the potatoes into paper-thin rounds. If you have good knife skills, you can slice the potatoes by hand, but using a slicer is a better way to get the thin, consistent slices you want here.
Cut the unpeeled garlic in half lengthwise. Put the potato slices and garlic on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with half of the oil, toss well with your hands, and spread out on the sheet as thinly as possible. Drizzle with the remaining oil and season with the salt.
Pat the salmon dry with kitchen towels. Run your fingers over the flesh side to detect the protruding ends of any thin white pin bones. Use your fingers or heavy tweezers to pull out and discard the bones. Season the flesh side with salt. Place the salmon on top of the potatoes. Scatter the thyme over the salmon and potatoes. Be sure to put the fish with the skin side up – the skin will help you determine when the fish is ready.
Roast the salmon until the skin comes off easily when pulled with kitchen tongs, about 20 minutes. Start checking for doneness after about 15 minutes, but do so at the thicker end of the fish because the thinner tail end will be done first. If the skin does not come off easily, just keep checking every few minutes until it does.
To serve, remove and discard the skin and cut the salmon into serving portions. Season with salt and serve with the potatoes.
Middle Eastern Beef with Lentils
1 pound boneless beef sirloin steak, cut 1-inch thick
6 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
4 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
5 sprigs fresh thyme sprigs
2 teaspoons rapeseed oil,
7 ounces Puy (green) lentils
2 bay leaves
8 ounces dry white wine
2 pints chicken broth
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 medium tomatoes
30 fresh cilantro leaves
“My family doesn’t eat meat every day, and when we do we don’t necessarily have enormous portions, so small bites of beef need to have a ton of great flavor. Marinating builds in more flavor notes, especially in meat that doesn’t cook very long. I often put meat to marinate in the fridge before I leave the house in the morning. When we are ready for dinner, I cook it quickly over high heat, just long enough to fry the spices without burning them. Cooking lentils slowly, as you would risotto, keeps them more separate, with a toothier texture. It’s another example of taking a humble ingredient and preparing it with the care you would use for a more valuable commodity.”
Marinate the beef. Cut the beef into ½-inch strips. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of your knife and discard the papery skins. Use a pestle and mortar or a spice mill to grind the coriander and fennel seeds to a powder. Add the garlic, coriander and fennel to a large bowl. Add the oil, paprika and thyme and mix well. Add the beef and massage the marinade into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. (If you don’t have a spice mill, use a coffee grinder. Whiz a bit of rice in the grinder before and after grinding the spices to clean it.)
To make the lentils: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Chop the onion and add it to the saucepan. Cook without stirring until it is lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Stir the onion and continue to cook until it is golden brown, about 3 minutes more.
Add the lentils and bay leaves and stir for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the wine. Let the wine simmer until only about 1 tablespoon remains. Stir in about ¾-pint of the broth to barely cover the lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer the lentils, stirring every 5 to 7 minutes and adding more broth in 4-ounce increments as needed to cover the lentils. After 15 minutes, taste a lentil, and stop adding broth when they still have a bit of snap, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
To core the tomatoes easily, slice downward next to but not through the stem. Make two angled cuts into the larger half to release the core and discard. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. Add them to the lentils, but don’t stir them in. Cover the saucepan and remove from the heat.
Now, to cook the beef: Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add half of the meat in a single layer. Cook the meat without moving it for 30 seconds, then use tongs to turn each piece. Cook on the second side for about 1½ minutes, then turn again. Cook for a final 30 seconds and transfer to a bowl. Reheat the frying pan, and cook the remaining beef. Season the meat strips with the salt. Chop half of the cilantro leaves and stir them into the beef. You will not need to add oil to the frying pan because of the beef marinade.
Give the lentils a quick stir to mix in the tomatoes. Spoon the lentils into bowls. Top with the beef, sprinkle with the reserved cilantro, and serve.
“Downtime” by Nadine Levy Redzepi is published by Ebury Press at $35.
(Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines.)