Sunday, May 12, 2013

The New York Times: Restaurant NOMA in Copenhagen

In July 6, 2010, The New York Times published an article by Frank Bruni about the amazing and world-renowned restaurant NOMA in Copenhagen and the foraging of food products from wild plants by its chef, René Redzepi.  

The well-written article was accompanied by a slideshow named "In Copenhagen, Cooking without Rules", showing some of the nature-provided ingredients in chef Redzepi's food. Unfortunately the text accompanying some of the images were incorrect. The New York Times was notified about these errors, but has not yet corrected the information.

Screenshot from NY Times article, by
Image text: "Axel berry shoots are among the various petals, leaves and shoots Mr. Redzepi integrates into his food."

The problem and its correction:  This appears to be whitebeam flower buds from a small tree named 'oxel' in Swedish, 'whitebeam' in English, and its scientific genus is Sorbus (in the rose family Rosaceae).  The flower buds on this photo are probably from either Sorbus aria (akselrøn in Danish, common Whitebeam in English) or Sorbus intermedia (seljerøn; Swedish whitebeam).  
     The rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia, rönn in Swedish, almindelig røn in Danish) is closely related to these, but in my experience that never has white-hairy flower buds. I have found no record that this species has ever been called 'axel berry' or 'axel', in English, Danish, or Swedish for that matter.  
     I think the photographer misheard the Danish name 'akselrøn' or the Swedish name 'oxel' when he took notes and then never checked the typed up name with the source. The seeds in the fruits might contain cyanide, just like many other plants of this family, but the photo shows young flower buds.
Screenshot from NY Times article, by
Image text: "Thuja cone"'

The problem:  This is not a Thuja (arborvitae) cone, it is a cone from a pine tree, most likely Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris (Pinaceae), the pine species that is native to Denmark.  The photo shows an immature pine cone, before the seeds have formed inside it.  Pines are edible plants, even if they often have strong resin flavor.  Thuja is a member of the juniper family Cupressaceae, and it contains the chemical thujone, which you don't want to ingest too much of since it can be highly toxic.  The cones of the commonly cultivated arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) look totally different, so there is no easy way to explain this inaccuracy in the information provided by The New York Times.

  (Both images are screenshots from the NY Times website used under fair use, photos © The New York Times.)

This post was updated with new information on 28 January 2014. Thanks MF for sending new information!