Last night's "Tasting Culture" event at the New York Public Library was billed as a conversation with Ruth Reichl, David Chang, and "best chef in the world" René Redzepi, but by just a few minutes into the hour long pastiche of Q&A, video interludes, and paeans to locavore foraging, it was clear that this was the Redzepi show. The Danish chef — in New York as part of an exhausting book tour that's taken him to two Australian cities, San Francisco, and Seattle in the past week and a half, and on to Toronto after this — owned the stage. Pacing around the stage as he spoke, Redzepi explained how he had the idea to turn "a shitty, two-year-old carrot" into his famous Vintage Carrot and Chamomile by thinking about the braising methods that tenderize tough cuts of meat, the iPhone-based geotagging program he uses to share prime foraging spots with his chefs, and how he doesn't focus on making money so much as he does on turning out the highest-quality experiences for his guests. "Chefs are natural born martyrs," he said, drawing the night's biggest laugh: "We'd make the best terrorists in the world."
But what was more evident than Redzepi's formidable ability to hold the crowd was his — and Chang's — position in the somewhat incestuous genealogy of haute cuisine. The event was introduced with an animated video of a talk held two years earlier at the library featuring Ferran Adria (in a voiceover, host Bill Buford introduced the chef to the crowd as "God"), under whom Redzepi staged earlier in his career. Adria didn't just directly influence Redzepi's cooking, he opened up the next door: He was at El Bulli at the same time as Alinea chef Grant Achatz, "and he had brought the book The French Laundry," Redzepi said. "Here I was reading this book, an American chef incorporating some type of pop culture [into his food]. The 'coffee and donuts,' the 'macaroni and cheese,' [Thomas Keller was] embracing what many people just made fun of! I thought it was so inspiring to see that that I just told Grant — 'you need to get me [a job with Keller], you need to do it.'"
In conversation later, Redzepi explained that the Keller-Adria continuum was a catalyst for almost all the chefs of his generation. "For me, for David [Chang], for Wylie [Dufresne], for Grant, we all learned things from them," he told us. "No one was eating Spanish food before Ferran; seven years ago [when Noma opened] no one would have been eating Scandinavian food. But we are also all following our own philosophies."