This Indian chef put butter chicken on noma’s menu in Copenhagen | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaMay 27, 2021
After Copenhagen’s two-Michelin-starred, fine-dining restaurant noma put burgers on the menu in May 2020, could India’s finest comfort food be far behind? Dal makhni, butter chicken, mint lachha paratha and gajar ka halwa were on Monday’s takeaway menu at the Danish restaurant co-founded by Claus Meyer and René Redzepi, which is usually booked out months in advance for its pioneering New Nordic cuisine. While the Indian menu was a hit, selling out in a few hours, it was a fundraiser for COVID-19 relief in India, spearheaded by Dhriti Arora, who has been interning as a chef at the restaurant since 2019.
Butter chicken in Copenhagen
Last Saturday, noma posted on Instagram: “Dhriti is from New Delhi, India and proposed this fundraiser as a small effort to be of some help during a time when India is dealing with such great hardships. For her, this meal is so reminiscent of home and no trip back to India is complete without the ritual of seeking out these dishes.” The restaurant offered a hundred takeaway meals of the Indian four-course menu, for a minimum suggested donation of 125DKK/Rs1,500 per person to nonprofit Hemkunt Foundation. Donations far exceeded at 13,000DKK/Rs1,55,000, with some following up with recipe requests on Instagram.
‘It’s the first time Indian food has been served from noma, but it’s certainly not the first time it’s been cooked here,” Arora told Conde Nast Traveller, “We have a very diverse group of interns from all over the world. For the staff meal everyday, two interns (on rotation) cook in a dedicated separate kitchen. Interns are encouraged to cook foods from their home country and share what they know with the rest of the team, so we’ve eaten Indian food on multiple occasions.” Arora joined noma after working at Mumbai’s Qualia and Washington DC’s Michelin-starred Kinship following her graduation from The Culinary Institute of America.
The only ingredient Arora had to bring to the kitchen was asafoetida. “A lot of the spices were already at the restaurant; we have spice mixes, infusions for broths or juices, and even for dessert.” Arora made the menu based on a meal she’d eaten at her favourite Delhi restaurant Desi Vibes on her last trip home, and she reached out to the eatery for their dal makhni recipe to add to her mother’s and grandmother’s recipes.
Helping India, the best way they know
Arora had visited her parents at the peak of the second wave. “I witnessed some of the atrocities of the pandemic,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to have social media posts requesting for a hospital bed or oxygen. The news is devastating, and that is just what is being reported. I feel the fundraiser was a very small effort to make an economical contribution to the COVID relief efforts but moreover it’s had the impact of making people more conscious of the situation at a time when it’s so easy to be numb, because of all the terrible things happening around us.”
In June, noma reopens with indoor dining for its summer season menu with vegetables and seafood. Denmark went into a pandemic-related lockdown in December, shortly after noma relaunched its summer burger pop-up as the restaurant POPL Burger; eateries were allowed to reopen at the end of April. “The day the lockdown was announced, I tested positive for COVID,” Arora recalls, “The last six months have been mostly down-time with voluntary days in the kitchen to have the creative freedom to come up with dishes for the new menu. It essentially was a large-scale experiment where the entire team became the test kitchen with chef René heavily involved in discussing all the ideas. While a lot of the restaurant industry worldwide has suffered greatly, thanks to government support in Denmark, we’ve been fortunate enough to use this period rather fruitfully.”