NEW YORK – Often credited as the founder of the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy, Claus Meyer and his innovative approach to fine dining have an impact that extends far beyond his award-winning restaurants. In 2003, Meyer co-founded Noma, which has claimed the title of best restaurant in the world no fewer than four times. Determined to drive social change through food, Meyer created the Melting Pot Foundation in 2010 and has since offered culinary and career opportunities to communities in need. His latest project is the Brownsville Community Culinary Center, providing tuition-free culinary training for residents in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which will also include a participant-run neighborhood eatery, opening this summer. The project follows Meyer’s 2016 launch of Great Northern Food Hall and Agern restaurant, both in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Now Meyer is coming to Sotheby’s, where he and Agern head chef Gunnar Gíslason will present multiple culinary experiences celebrating our May sales of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art. Clients will enjoy tasty bites during auctions and on Friday, 12 May, Meyer is giving a talk in Sotheby’s Preferred Lounge. Ahead of that event, we spoke with Meyer about his unique culinary and philanthropic vision.
CLAUS MEYER. PHOTO BY THOMAS GRØNDAHL.
Great Northern Food Hall and Agern opened recently at Grand Central Terminal in New York. How have those ventures been received?
Bringing new and somewhat unusual flavors from Scandinavia, we were anxious to see how our food would be received. But New Yorkers are curious and have really embraced our culinary concepts. From “smørrebrød” (a fresh take on the traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches on wholegrain rye bread) to our baked goods and porridges in the food hall to Icelandic Head Chef Gunnar Gíslason’s creative dishes at Agern, our fine dining restaurant that received three stars in the New York Times and a Michelin star.
As a new player coming from Scandinavia, setting up business in New York can be tough and overwhelming. There’s bureaucracy, and the competition is fierce. But New Yorkers also support each other, and there’s so much creativity and drive, it’s inspirational and contagious. We have quickly formed solid friendships and partnerships with a lot of talented people in the industry. You have to prove yourself every single day, yet I think we have confirmed that there’s a place here for us.
MEYER’S SMØRREBRØD OPEN-FACED SANDWICHES AT GREAT NORTHERN FOOD HALL. PHOTO BY SIGNE BIRCK.
How has New Nordic Cuisine evolved? Is it still “new?” Do you think there are misconceptions about the definition of Nordic Cuisine?
When we came up with the manifesto and the idea behind New Nordic Cuisine, it was as a reaction to the poor quality in Danish food and the “old Nordic cuisine” at that time, and the idea that fine dining could only be French or Italian. It was an attempt to create a cuisine that would unlock potential flavors of the region in a way that no one had done before. Later we found out that the philosophies behind the “New Nordic,” – the idea of sustainability, health, biodiversity and seasonality – are evergreen and as relevant as ever. Now we’re taking those same ideas and reimagining them in New York City.
What does it mean to be a culinary activist?
Selling a sandwich as a mere transaction is not interesting to me. But most importantly, if we want to preserve our planet for the next generation, we have to be smarter about the way we eat. It all begins with the choices we make as consumers. For the past 30 years, I have strived to not only increase the quality in food but also to use food as a tool in transforming people’s lives. The Melting Pot Foundation was a way for me to do my part when it comes to building a more equal world.
MEYER’S GREAT NORTHERN FOOD HALL IN GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL.
Tell us about the Melting Pot Foundation and the objectives of the Brownsville project?
I started the Melting Pot Foundation in 2010. Our first project was a major resocialization project that came to life in collaboration with the Danish Prison Service. Since then we have run cooking schools in Danish prisons, training incarcerated people to develop culinary skills in order for them to change their career and path in life.
In 2013, we established the fine dining restaurant Gustu and its food school in La Paz, Bolivia, the poorest capital of Latin America. Now, four years later, we also run eleven micro schools in the slums of La Paz. These schools have graduated more than 2000 young Bolivians. Gustu has been voted fourteenth best restaurant on the continent, and five of the 52 students who have graduated from Gustu’s intensive apprentice-ship model, have started their own restaurants.
When I was offered the huge and humbling opportunity to come to New York and Grand Central, it was integral to me to find a way to give back. So for the past two years, we have been collaborating with the Brownsville community on identifying the needs of the neighborhood regarding food, employment and public health, with the result that mid-June we will open the Brownsville Community Culinary Center. The center will provide tuition-free culinary training to neighborhood residents and will include a participant-run neighborhood eatery and bakery that will serve food from the African diaspora cooked by the students.
Lead Image: Meyer's restaurant Agern in Grand Central Terminal.