“My stay on the Faroe Islands really triggered my imagination, but above all, it gave me the confidence to open my restaurant.” Recently announcing the opening of noma 2.0 from the place that inspired the original, René Redzepi admits to having been seduced –“it’s like Hawaii, only with bad weather” – by the tiny archipelago that lies between Scotland and Iceland. The rich set of ingredients that occupy and surround the rocky and remote islands are a source of inspiration for many of the Nordic new wave.
Signing the famous New Nordic Manifesto alongside Redzepi in 2004, Leif Sørensen later left Michelin-starred kitchens in Copenhagen behind to return to his homeland and make his mark at the Hotel Føroyar’s restaurant, Koks, single-handedly bringing fine dining to the Faroes in the process. Seven years on, and now under the guidance of young chef Poul Andrias Ziska, Koks has won the islands their first Michelin-star, confirming the significance of an unlikely food scene.
“Most restaurants in the Faroes were serving steaks with béarnaise sauce, so Leif inspired young chefs to explore the amazing wild and home-grown foods in which the islands excel”, explains Ziska, describing the restaurant scene in the Faroes when Koks opened. “He got us all foraging and working with wild plants, from nettles and grasses to seaweeds.” Encapsulating the bracing Nordic cuisine that has made Copenhagen one of the world’s leading culinary destinations, the Faroe Islands are now an offbeat alternative for food fanatics looking beyond the established names for new and immersive experiences.
The breathtaking scenery, as exquisite as the weather, can be brutal. The Faroes are a place of staunch tradition; of fermentation and pickling; of air-drying meat and fish in the salty and bracing fresh air. The rising regard of its culinary scene, though, means that not all remains bleak and old-fashioned – hip Copenhagen craft beer deities, Mikkeller, recently opened a 16-tap bar in a half-a-century-old wooden house in the islands’ tiny capital city, Tórshavn. The style-conscious interiors are representative of the Faroes’ position at the cutting-edge of Nordic cuisine.
Somewhat of a forebear to the New Nordic Manifesto, Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food organisation quickly grew from a protest against the 1986 opening of a McDonald’s in Rome to an international movement that celebrates the land, locality and traditions in regional cuisine. “When you talk about Slow Food, you talk about the normal life of a common person in Macedonia”, says Tefik Tefikoski, who founded the organisation’s Macedonian branch in 2009. “It doesn’t just represent just the food: it also represents the lives of the people who live here and their passion for tradition.”
Partially growing up in the republic, René Redzepi cites Macedonia as a formative influence on his culinary journey. “There were no refrigerators there, no freezers”, he explains. “If you wanted milk, somebody went and milked a cow. If you wanted cream, then you skimmed the milk for cream and then you churned it. Three times a day, home-cooked meals.” There is little doubt that Macedonia has, like the Faroe Islands, had a significant impact upon the new Nordic style that Redzepi pioneered – and it is similarly unsung as a destination for food tourism. Mediterranean flavours inflected by centuries of Turkish occupation, Macedonian cuisine is deeply entrenched in locality and the reverence of produce.
Organic by default (thanks to a lack of knowledge of modern techniques, the nation’s farmers are now ironically ahead of the international curve in chemical-free farming), the republic’s farms occupy mountainous topology and varying climates, meaning that Macedonia can produce an impressive array of ingredients just as nature intended. “They were fat and juicy and heavy”, says Redzepi of the tomatoes of his youth. “I would just bite into them and just drink all of the juices and seeds first – that was a big thing for me. They were so sweet and always so oddly shaped. I remember that when my family immigrated to Denmark, it was weird to always have these perfect rock hard tomatoes.”
“While the world is still intensely seeking to bring back organic food to gastronomy, the rural areas of Macedonia and the households here have been doing this for decades”, explains Goran Mickoski, owner of a homestay and restaurant in the small village of Kuratica. “This ‘old-school’ concept gives our agricultural products the full flavour. It makes every vegetable and fruit juicier, the meat fresher and more tender. Some of our dishes may not be pretty – but they’re tasty and healthy.”
As modern travellers increasingly crave original experiences, oft-overlooked culinary hotspots are revelling in newfound attention – from the shared principles of the Faroe Islands and Macedonia to Far Eastern cities like Chengdu and Seoul, those with incurably curious palates are cutting through the forest of Copenhagens and Tuscanys, Bangkoks and Tokyos, in search of new, invigorating epicurean escapades.
Inducted as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy in 2010, Chengdu’s culinary scene fuses heritage with an increasingly contemporary lean; André Chiang, former head chef of the three Michelin-star French restaurant Le Jardin des Sens, set to close his eponymous Singapore restaurant (currently number two on the esteemed list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants) as he readies the imminent opening of a new flagship restaurant for the city.
“I’m sincerely thrilled to work on The Bridge”, gushed Chiang at a recent press conference, “This project is not simply a restaurant, but a rediscovery journey of my own Chinese roots. We need to follow the way in which nature guides us and brings out the best flavour from the produce. I wish to render experiences for all senses and dimensions, the intrinsic elements of Sichuan flavour.” And some flavour that is. The largest city in China’s Sichuan province, Chengdu is famed for its fiery cuisine, its abundant use of chillies, and incredible depth of taste.
“No trip to Chengdu is complete without a hot pot feast”, says Tracy Young, chef and co-owner of Brooklyn’s much-lauded modern Chinese restaurant, Kings County Imperial, “and there are literally hundreds of places to choose from. Some can be a bit intimidating to step into, with hundreds of locals all hollering for food and beer. You can choose from a super high-end experience to an alfresco down-and-dirty joint. But for an experience with helpful, friendly staff who will give you tips if you need it, seek out Shu Jiu Xiang Hotpot. You can choose your own ingredients, as well as the spice level of your hotpot.”
Famously forward-thinking, the South Korean capital is another Asian city with a rising food scene; Seoul’s culinary renaissance was impacted by the ‘kyopo effect’ – a Korean term for those who are ethnically Korean, but were born or raised elsewhere. The kyopos are transforming eclectic neighbourhoods like Itaewon, Hongdae and Seongsu-dong into Brooklyn-esque playgrounds for trendsetters and style-junkies – hip burger joints and taco bars rub shoulders with the city’s traditional restaurants and street food vendors, and its revered bibimbap, kimchi, and BBQ.
“People just didn’t know much about Korea or Korean food before”, admits Jungsik Yim, who has pioneered ‘new Korean cuisine’ with his two Michelin-star Jungsik in New York. “Korean music, drama, sports, culture… It’s all become far more widely known over the past few years. And, of course, with this has come the growing popularity of Korean cuisine. Korean food is unique; different from other countries in Asia. People can’t help but be interested.” With his Seoul offshoot entering the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2014 at number 20, the star chef defines the kyopo influence that is changing the face of the world’s 16th largest city.
Like Jungsik, Momofuku’s David Chang and Roy Choi, the food truck ‘godfather’ who rose to prominence with LA’s Kogi Korean BBQ, epitomise the impact that kyopos have had on new Korean cuisine; but their operations also reflect America’s long-standing rule of east and west coast food scenes stealing the plaudits. Traditionally, lauding the scenes from cities like New York and Los Angeles was with good reason, but Chicago has just been named by Bon Appétit magazine America’s ‘Restaurant City of the Year’, and a host of once-unfashionable names have recently found their way on to the tongue-tips of those-in-the-knows: Charleston, Detroit, Boston, St. Louis, Tucson, San Antonio… Second cities are having their moment in the sun.
Named by National Geographic as one of ‘Six Unexpected Cities for the Food Lover’, Detroit’s freewheeling to free-falling story of rags-to-riches-and-back-again has been much documented. But the city is on the up again, and its restaurant scene has become one to envy. Rockbottom property prices would only last so long, and as tech brands and their employees have begun revitalising the city’s downtown, culinary projects have lured top chefs from the United States’ more established scenes to feed its new breed of creative residents; urban farming projects adding an authenticity René Redzepi would admire.
“It feels like you can create something new here compared to an overly saturated New York. And you can make a great difference”, says wine shop owner Yi Ping Ho, who moved to Detroit in 2015 after quitting a corporate job in Manhattan. “The entry point is lower, but it has a good narrative going for it. People here believe in the city.”
Similar stories can be heard through the US, as high rents, prices and pressure are pushing people out of the cities who have long since held the positions of America’s culinary destinations of note; emerging scenes in overlooked cities and states benefitting as a result. From St. Louis – whose food is ‘seriously good right now’ according to Food & Wine magazine – to Tuscon, Arizona, and San Antonio, Texas, the country’s only two cities to have received UNESCO’s Creative City of Gastronomy designation, big city emigrants and restless travellers in search of new experiences are putting once unheralded spots on the international food map.
“It’s a city whose food heritage is a big part of its identity”, says Gary Nabhan, director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Regional Food Studies of Tuscon. “Yes, we have award-winning chefs, but the vitality of our farm-to-table food system is a key reason why we were recognised”; a reminder of the significance that increasingly savvy diners are placing on authenticity and traceability as they munch their way around the globe.
Indeed, if you make yourself blind to the places who’ve long clutched on to fine reputations for their culinary output, lesser-considered gems are in supreme shape. Look at South America and the impact of the Peruvian capital on international cuisine: Lima’s influence is evident in top restaurants in the world’s most famous cities; and then look to Chile and its frequently overlooked capital, Santiago – a city at the edge of the earth where rising talents like Rodolfo Guzmán are making their mark in a country with unrivalled biodiversity.
Having worked at the Basque country’s celebrated Mugaritz, Guzmán now helms Santiago’s Boragó; currently the 42nd best restaurant in the world. “The indigenous Mapuchas are one of the oldest native cultures in South America, having been around 12,400 years or so before the Spaniards or the Incas”, explains the chef. “In 2006, we started our work at Boragó by concentrating on products growing in specific areas of Chile, a part of our Mapuche heritage. Most of our recipes are based on native ingredients, so we are looking back in time while moving forward. We want to say we are Chileans, and we have a diversity of ingredients with a lot of possibility behind them. We started doing a tasting menu based only on the ingredients and ancient cooking methods of Mapuches, real Chilean preparations.”
Like Redzepi has done with Nordic cuisine and his ancestors have for thousands of years in Macedonia, like Chengdu or Seoul, Guzmán’s cooking is founded upon heritage and tradition, native ingredients with contemporary flair. Travellers are rediscovering their desire for unorthodox experiences, and any unsung scene could be unearthed next. As authenticity and experience dictate the route today’s excursionists take, why leave any stone unturned?
James Davidson is Editor-In-Chief of We Heart, an online design and lifestyle magazine that he founded in 2009 as a personal blog and now receives over half a million monthly views.