Maurice Dekkers’ Ants on a Shrimp, a Berlin and Seattle International Film Festival selection, is an intriguing film created through the director’s sheer delight and appreciation for his subject, NOMA’S René Redzepi. Redzepi the maverick, genius inspired chef, gave birth to NOMA Copenhagen, Denmark’s premiere award-winning restaurant that you might have initially learned about in NOMA: My Perfect Storm, a film about Chef Redzepi’s trials and triumphs.
The magnificence of NOMA’s ambience and food creations have won the restaurant first place four times and this is among the 50 top restaurants in the world. NOMA’s notoriety has spurred on Scandinavian gastronomy and put it on the world map. NOMA’s success and attention has revolutionized how we perceive aesthetically and spiritually inspired cuisine.
Redzepi and his team evolved and solidified NOMA’s conceptualization to pursue greatness using an extraordinary theme unlike most other globally known restaurants: the one-of-a-kind encapsulation of time and place. In other words, the only place you can ever appreciate the dishes presented at NOMA are there in Copenhagen, Denmark at the time you are there. It is an ephemeral, spiritual referent because Redzepi and his team use only the freshest ingredients from the area. They do not import. And of course, the flavors, tastes, smells of the ingredients that ripen at a certain time are continually changing.
Redzepi and his mates use in season vegetables at various ripening stages. They forage for edible plants in the forest and adorn their plates with amazing, innovation. And unlike many lesser chefs, they tailor their faire to the diet necessities of their patrons: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. They don’t have a hissy fit about patrons “crashing down” their “fabulous” creations because they happily attune their menus to their patrons’ desires. This is a feat which indicates the level of their industry and their “insanely wild” willingness to please and encourage others’ enjoyment of their exceptional offerings.
Dekkers reveals in Ants on a Shrimp that Redzepi has found a balance at NOMA, but it is a terrible problem. How does one evolve to become more astounding? How does one not become tiresome, bogged down in routine? How does one always be at the cliff-edge of an incredible experience of transformation? Dekkers clarifies Redzepi cinematically; this chef must travel and learn to keep himself and his team’s talents astounding. He must visit another food capital of the world and attempt to pick up that area/country’s time and place.
Dekker travels with Redzepi and his team to Japan for over a month to investigate the NOMA experience in Tokyo where they will not play the tourists. They will imbibe the spirit, sense and atmosphere of the culture and create superb food at that time and place, 2015. This is at the crux of Dekker’s revelation of Ants on a Shrimp, a metaphor of what is Redzipi’s adventure inward and outward to discover something “out of this world,” by selecting the familiar and juxtaposing it in a remarkable way. Dekker distills how Redzepi, et. al. transform their technique, evolve and shift shape influenced by Japan’s natural soul, ambience, location, land and mise en scene to work their soulful evolution, revolutionize their menu and be a continual inspiration globally among professional chefs and amateurs alike.
Dekkers transmits his enjoyment capturing Rene Redzepi and his amazing culinary team at work. As a viewer you are captivated by the smells you cannot smell, yet somehow smell and the tastes you cannot taste but somehow savor in this enjoyable film about enticing foodie culture and exceptional and exquisite food that is always fresh because it is honed from the time and place where the ingredients evolve, in this instance Japan.
Dekkers’ cinematic approach thrills. From close-ups of the food preparation and mouthwatering shots of roasting, dribbling duck, to medium shots of the team’s food foraging discoveries in Okinawa and Nangano forest to thoughtful, intense close-ups of Redzepi, and contemplative shots of Dan Guisti, Lars Williams, Rosio Sanchez and Thomas Frebel and Kim Mikkola, all of whom assiduously work their minds and wills to the indefinable rhythms of the creative process, we become their intimates. And as intimates we share their understanding of the importance of eating as not only a function of living, but a vital and highly sensuous experience that we should savor, and remember and make peculiarly satisfying.
Even the director’s music selection is well-chosen as is the editing coupled with the interview commentary from the various team members and voice over narration by Redzepi. The melding of this tapestry of sights and sounds is more than visual and aural. The cinematographer strikes our empathy so that our senses are heightened, our imagination stirred. And thus, we evoke in our experience of the film, the smells, tastes and touches relating to the team as they smell, taste, touch. Together we are able to experience the life of the plants and the new life of the dishes they create with unusual intensity which helps give an appreciation of the quality and vibrance of living.
You will be engaged especially if you are a foodie who has visited NOMA and reviewed it on Yelp. But even if you have not flown to Denmark for his exceptionally styled menu (don’t be shocked, many do; 3000 booked reservations in Japan; many flew there to sample the faire at NOMA, Japan), and you are a middling foodie who enjoys Anthony Bourdain’s humorous quips and astute foodie commentary on his various global travels or occasionally enjoy the restaurants of top chefs in your city, or even if you are a whole foods, organic foods, vegetarian and vegan foodie fan, this movie is for you. If you chow down on processed foods daily, hate to cook and prefer a whole pizza to a smallish plate of ravioli stuffed with lobster in a light garlic and butter sauce kissed with cardamom and parsley, then this is not your film. You will not appreciate Dekker’s tribute to Redzepi and his team, nor will you appreciate the menu they painstakingly evoke with their finely tuned palates and four other senses which are sharpened to a crystalline point. Though the roast duck looks sumptuous, the shrimp explodes in your mouth for an interesting reason you might find “unreal.”
Dekkers’ is a master at delving into the intellect and artistic genius that is in play among Redzepi’s well selected intimates whom he carefully identifies. As he explains their integral and vital contribution to the conception of NOMA Japan, we understand how the synergy happens and why it happens. It is for the absolute fun of it and the freedom to fail and begin again and fail and begin again which is amazing to see and reminds us that there is nothing and everything to lose. That realization in itself is life affirming.
The exotic culinary adventures of Redzepi and his team will rub off on you whether you see them On Demand beginning on Friday July 29th, or live on the big screen at the NYC IFC also on July 29th. Ants on a Shrimp opens on August 12th in Los Angeles at the Monica Film Center.