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Star chefs journey to Lapland for 'Cook it Raw'

A group of 14 chefs from around the world were sent into the wild to find ingredients for a meal, writes Amy Serafin.

Rene Redzepi was crouched and using a sharp knife to scrape lichen from rocks. The tiny green tubes usually feed reindeer in this land above the Arctic Circle.

"If animals can eat it, we can," says Redzepi, who was among 14 of the world's most influential chefs at a gathering in Lapland earlier this month. The goal was to dig their hands in the soil and make a meal from whatever they could find in one of the last untouched places on Earth.

Called "Cook It Raw," the event marked the third time in just over a year that these chefs have hunted, fished and foraged together - each time in a new location - then prepared a meal while leaving the smallest possible footprint on the environment.

A pair of Italians, a restaurant consultant and a food writer, first organized "Cook It Raw" as a prelude to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last year.

At that gathering they asked the chefs to prepare dishes using little or no conventional energy, leading to memorable creations such as Redzepi's squirming live prawns, or Massimo Bottura's "pollution" soup, illustrating a projected future in which the oceans contain only squid and jellyfish. The group then came together again in January in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy, where the ingredients they used included raw venison and rare Rosa di Gorizia radicchio.

This time, they flew to Helsinki from as far afield as London, New York, Sao Paulo and Tokyo, took a 14-hour train ride north, then marveled at the bounty of a land where the northern lights shimmer like an electric green cloud and the indigenous people have 90 words for snow. But civilization is taking its toll here too, with global warming driving up temperatures and foreign companies mining for gold.

As the planet transforms, an increasing number of chefs are stepping out into the wild and creating food defined by a specific time and place - a way of cooking that has become the next big movement after the science projects of molecular gastronomy.

One of its pioneers, Redzepi, who is from Denmark, shot to first place on Restaurant Magazine's list of the world's 50 best restaurants this year with his Copenhagen restaurant, Noma. In Lapland, he saw a world of gastronomic possibilities in the fuzzy mosses and mushrooms of the forest floor. For dinner, he covered carrots with pine needles and steamed them so their essential oils impregnated the vegetables.

"We are showing others how to harvest in nature, because the things you find there taste better than anything grown," he says. "Try one of those blueberries, then a stupid one grown in a greenhouse. Your reference point for what a blueberry tastes like has changed forever."

Superstar chef David Chang of New York's Momofuku restaurants also participated. He was struck by the abundance of edible shoots and leaves. "To be able to forage everywhere, it's crazy," he exclaims.

He created a Lapland version of Japanese dashi soup, with spruce and reindeer milk.


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