The book: In this rich, vibrant memoir, Jeff Gordinier ’88 offers an intimate perspective on world-renowned chef and owner of Noma restaurant and culinary extraordinaire René Redzepi. During four years of whirlwind traveling from Copenhagen to Sydney to the Yucatán Peninsula, Gordinier tags along for the Noma team’s global gustatory journey as Redzepi finds inspiration in local foods and revitalizes his creative flair.
Hungry: Eating, Road-Tripping, and Risking It All with the Greatest Chef in the World (Tim Duggan Books) is a stimulating account of Gordinier’s experience with Redzepi and Noma as their popularity exploded worldwide.
The author: Jeff Gordinier ’88 is the food and drinks editor at Esquire and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, where he was previously a reporter. He is the author of X Saves the World and co-editor of the essay collection Here She Comes Now. He lives north of New York City with his wife, Lauren Fonda, and his four children.
Opening lines: Mexico
I wake up with sand in my mouth and a glare in my eyes. A man is speaking Spanish and waving a flashlight. I try to remember where I am and the details wobble into place, like a wraith making its form more visible. I hear the lapping of waves. I grope around for my backpack and my shoes. I arise from slumber on a dark beach in Tulum, the Mexican resort town. That body of water a few yards away is the Caribbean.
I have been dropped here in the middle of the night at a languorous caravansary called Nueva Vida. Unable to locate my cabana, and unable to find anyone who could provide me with a key to the cabana, lost in the darkness and bereft of a phone signal and exhausted by a day that has involved a morning flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca, lunch in Oaxaca, the tour of a sprawling marketplace in Oaxaca, dinner in Oaxaca, significant quantities of mezcal, a flight from Oaxaca back to Mexico City, another flight from Mexico City to Cancún, and then a three-hour drive through the Yucatán Peninsula to this yoga-matted magnet for man-bun-and-matcha devotees, I have surrendered to fatigue and fashioned an al fresco bed for myself in the dunes. I am within spitting distance of a sanctuary where sea turtles clamber up on shore to lay their eggs.
The man with the flashlight turns out to be merciful—at least as soon as he realizes I am not there to interfere with the sea turtles and their ancient rituals. I pour the sand out of my shoes and grab my backpack and the man leads me to a stark white room with a sea breeze ghosting the curtains and a canopy of mosquito netting over the bed. Never has a bed looked more inviting. I climb in and try to sleep, but it’s only a matter of minutes before sunlight starts asserting itself through the doorframe. The only choice I have is to greet the day.
I have landed here in Tulum because of the stubborn coaxing of a man named René Redzepi. Within the close-knit world of global gastronomy, Redzepi is a figure whose influence might be compared to that of David Bowie’s in music in the 1970s, or Steve Jobs’s in technology in the 1980s, or Beyoncé’s now. He is the chef behind Noma, a restaurant in Copenhagen that has—for those who follow and chronicle these things—changed the way people think about food. Writers have a habit of referring to Noma as the best restaurant on earth. That may or may not make Redzepi, by hyperbolic extension, the greatest chef alive.
Reviews: “Gordinier takes us into the fabulously obsessive realm of the world’s most fascinating chef—and he does it with the voice of a poet.” — Ruth Reichl, author of Save Me the Plums