December 22, 2017
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For Nadine Levy Redzepi, Noma Is a Family Business

In a new cookbook, Nadine Levy Redzepi writes about what she and her husband cook for their family when they have downtime from running the world’s most famous restaurant.

Nadine Levy Redzepi rarely gets what most people think of as downtime. To her, it means that chaotic, golden hour when the members of her household—her three young daughters, her husband, and her mother—convene in the kitchen to sort groceries, chop, crack, mix, stir, chatter, and cook. So it follows that her new cookbook, Downtime: Deliciousness at Home, is as much about savoring the work as it is about what arrives on the table afterward.

Levy is married to the chef René Redzepi; their family business is the world-famous Copenhagen restaurant Noma. Ostensibly, Downtime is a cookbook about what Levy Redzepi’s husband eats—and by extension what great chefs eat—and many will buy her book for this reason. On that count, they won’t be disappointed: Downtime does include reflections on what life is like when you’re married to a chef. There are recipes for what René cooked on their first date (“Seal the Deal” pasta, a simple penne with tomato and beurre blanc), what Levy made that won his heart (chicken livers with chiles), and what René prefers after a long day on the line (something light, vegetarian, and often involving a runny egg, like kale and mushroom “carbonara”).

But the story underlying most of the book is about another kind of marriage: the one that comes from joining a lifelong love of cooking to the love you discover when you start a family.

Long before she married the guy she met in the elevator when she worked as a server at Noma, Levy was a girl in a small town in northern Denmark cooking for herself on lonely afternoons. After her parents’ divorce, her mother, Bente, had relocated the family from Portugal to start over. Their mother’s long hours required the children to cook for themselves; learning to make porridge and scrambled eggs early on was a necessity. Having deduced the basics, Levy eventually took first her mother’s recipes and later those of TV chefs as inspiration for multicourse projects. Food became her fascination and comfort.

These days, Levy is, in kitchen-speak, a tournant of sorts, filling in as needed at outcroppings of the Noma empire, including the MAD food symposium, but devoting most of her days to managing home life. Barring extenuating circumstances (like the time the family moved to Tokyo for one of Noma’s residencies and she had only a kettle and a bathroom sink to cook with), Levy cooks twice a day for her family, and her writing makes it clear that in this necessary chore she finds the sort of thorough satisfaction that is perhaps felt most deeply by a nurturing parent who is also an ambitious cook.

“Of course, I love cooking for René, because he spends all his time cooking for others,” Levy said recently in New York, where she was promoting her book. But, she added, make no mistake: On the many nights her husband can’t be home, “we don’t just eat pasta and tomato sauce.”

As such, Levy’s recipes are for ambitious home cooks; they’re exacting and at times demanding, but also readily adaptable for days when time is short. There are various ways to serve eggs for dinner and advice on how a roasted chicken and its subsequent incarnations can feed a family for several days. Not only does roasting fill the house with a delicious aroma, Levy writes, but it also creates time for helping with homework. Try pan frying because it’s delicious, she advises—and more importantly, it puts food on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Levy also writes about accommodating her children’s demands, and in doing so, she illustrates how heeding the clientele’s preferences has pushed many a cook to creative heights: When Arwen, her eldest daughter, asked for lasagna to feed her playgroup of nine-year-olds, Levy amped up the standard recipe with sausage and eight garlic cloves. When her six-year-old daughter, Genta, requested macarons for her birthday, she got a fantastically oversize pink macaron layer cake.

Although Levy keeps her children’s dietary restrictions in mind, “they don’t get to decide everything,” she admitted; one question she always asks herself is “How do I make this interesting to me?” It’s a confession not often spoken aloud by home cooks, perhaps because cooking has historically been viewed as a duty women owe to others, not necessarily to themselves.

But Levy is an unapologetically unburdened and joyful cook. She never connected with what she described as “a subconscious rebellion against getting stuck in the kitchen like their grandmothers” among her friends outside the food world; to her, cooking has always been a fundamental life skill, not a political statement.

That being said, Levy does include techniques from prominent chefs who also happen to be female. Rosio Sanchez, a former pastry chef at WD-50 and Noma who went on to open the Copenhagen restaurants Hija de Sanchez and Sanchez, offers a recipe for lemon pound cake, which in the book is stripped down to serve as a foundation for any sort of cake. Levy also includes a foolproof technique for poaching eggs in plastic wrap, made famous by Juan Mari Arzak at the eponymous San Sebastián restaurant now carried on by his daughter Elena.

This worldliness is reflected in Levy’s own kitchen, where she uses her downtime to teach her three girls where their roots began and may grow.  She and her husband talk about food as a way of experiencing the world, not in terms of what kind of cooking is more valid or rewarding. When the children visit Noma, they’re required to try at least a dozen new things, the idea being that tasting delicious and unusual things will help them be curious.

As a result, Levy said, Arwen has begun imagining new flavor combinations, adding chamomile tea to roasted steak and learning to cook her own version of ribollita, a Tuscan bean stew. Genta bakes bread. The children chop vegetables next to their mother—three-year-old Ro included (although, Levy admitted, “I’m right behind her biting my fingernails, pretending everything’s fine”).

Most of these stories didn’t make the pages of the cookbook, perhaps because mothers have fed their babies since the beginning of time. But Levy’s way offers an important lesson for everyone who enters a kitchen, both at home and in restaurants, where cooking is typically reduced to a masochistic exercise complete with slavish hours and brutish hierarchies. As Downtime demonstrates, the most difficult challenge of cooking is ultimately not sourcing the right ingredients or learning to balance flavor. It is learning how to nourish yourself while feeding everyone else.

Photographs by Ditte Isager


  • 3 large leeks
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons grapeseed or canola oil
  • 10 ounces bacon
  • Lemon Vinaigrette
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • To Taste
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

As long as I can remember, my mother has been making a version of this ultra-classical dish, a recipe she picked up as an au pair in Paris. She always served it cold as a salad course, but I prefer it warm as a starter—it’s so nice with a glass of Champagne. Basil is not traditional, but the slight licorice flavor works well with the leeks. Once you’ve made this a few times, you’ll see how versatile it is; I think it’s substantial enough to be an entrée with a piece of rye toast, especially for a summer evening, or a simple, elegant side if you leave off the bacon and pine nuts.

  1. Bring a medium pot of about 1 quart water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Clean the leeks well: Cut off the root end of the leek and about half of the pale green top. Split the leek lengthwise. Rinse the leeks well under cold running water, making sure to open up the layers and wash away any dirt between the layers while keeping each piece intact.
  3. Cut the leeks crosswise into pieces 2 to 3 inches long. When the water is boiling, add the butter and leeks to the water and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Gently simmer the leeks for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife but still hold their shape.
  4. Heat a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the pine nuts to the pan and cook, shaking the pan every 20 to 30 seconds, until they are lightly toasted. Pour the nuts out onto a plate. Don’t let the pine nuts stand in the skillet, or they will continue to toast and eventually burn.
  5. Wipe out the pan. Add the grapeseed oil and heat it over medium heat. Cut the bacon into strips about ¼ inch wide and 2 inches long. Add the bacon to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is crisp and brown, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan and put on paper towels to drain.
  6. Make the vinaigrette: Whisk the lemon juice and mustard in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in the olive oil a little at a time.
  7. Arrange the leeks on a platter. Pour the dressing over the leeks and season them with salt and pepper. Sprinkle them with the bacon and pine nuts and season with more salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 slices dark rye bread
  • 12 ounces chicken livers
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup veal demiglace
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 1 avocado
  • 25 fresh chives
  • 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

It’s fun to take something familiar from childhood and reinvent it as a sophisticated, grown-up appetizer. Dark sourdough rye bread topped with a thick slice of leverpastete—a cross between pâté and American liverwurst—is standard lunch-box fare for every Danish child. I’ve deconstructed that combination into a dish that’s a little lighter and a lot easier to make, without all the puréeing and molding. Danish guests always smile when they try this dressed-up version of a familiar old friend, but even if you didn’t grow up eating chicken livers, give this savory combination a try. Look for a good, chewy whole-kernel sourdough rye bread; otherwise, use any dense whole-grain bread. These can be eaten with a fork and knife or as a crostini.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter the bread on both sides and arrange the slices on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake, turning the bread over halfway during baking, until the bread is a bit darker around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  3. While the bread toasts, drain the chicken livers and pat them as dry as possible with paper towels. Trim the livers and cut them into large, bite-sized pieces. Handling raw livers takes some getting used to—hang in there! You may find small globs of fat or veins attached; just trim them off with a small sharp knife.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it is shimmering but not smoking. Add the livers in a single layer. Cook without moving them until they are caramel brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip the livers and brown the other side, about 2 minutes more. Don’t crowd the chicken livers in the center of the pan, or they won’t brown properly and will give off too much liquid.
  5. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Tilt the skillet so the broth pools on one side. Use a long-handled spoon to baste the livers a few times to give them a glaze, about 1 minute. Cut into a liver to be sure it is done—it should be pink, not red. Simmer 1 minute longer, if necessary. Season with salt and remove from the heat.
  6. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Twist the halves to separate them. Hold the half with the pit in one hand. Holding the knife in your other hand, rap the knife blade into the pit to lodge it there. Twist the knife to loosen and remove the pit. Use the tip of the knife to cut the avocado flesh lengthwise into thin slices. Use a large spoon to scoop out the flesh onto a plate. Repeat with the other half.
  7. To assemble the toasts, thinly slice the chives. Cut the rye toasts in half and arrange on a serving platter. Top with equal amounts of the avocado slices, followed by the chicken livers (cut the larger ones in half, as needed). Drizzle with the pan juices. Squeeze a little lemon juice over all. Season the toasts with pepper and flaky salt, sprinkle with the chives, and serve immediately.


  • 1¼ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 6 ounces spinach
  • 30 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 30 sprigs dill
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ½ cup coarsely crushed potato chips

Not every special-occasion dish requires a trip to the gourmet-foods store. You really can make this at a moment’s notice with ingredients you probably have on hand right now, which is a high-low approach to food that I really enjoy. The first time I made this, I was just looking for a way to use up the cooked potato I had left over from making fried potato skins. I thought about the way the Italians toss a raw egg with hot pasta in truffle season and then shower the dish with shaved truffle for a super rich, elegant dish. When I added the fresh element of the herbs and greens, it all came together for a starter that looks and feels very restaurant-y. It takes a few steps, but none of them are difficult. If you have a fresh truffle, by all means shave a bit on this as well, but even without it this is a showstopper.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Spread the potatoes on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until you can easily pierce them with a knife, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool.
  3. While the potatoes are baking, cure the egg yolks. One at a time, separate the eggs, working over a small bowl to catch the whites and carefully slipping each yolk from its shell half into a second small bowl. (You may want to add a couple of extra yolks as insurance against breakage later.) When you separate the eggs, hold them close to the bowl. The greater the distance the egg yolk falls, the more likely it is that the yolk will break.
  4. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons salt and simmer until the salt has dissolved. Pour the hot water into a deep heatproof bowl. Immediately slide the egg yolks into the salted water, holding the bowl as close to the surface of the salt bath as possible to minimize breakage. Let the yolks stand in the water while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
  5. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Mash the potatoes very well with a potato masher or fork. Set a sieve over a mixing bowl. A few tablespoons at a time, use a rubber spatula to press the potatoes through the sieve, scraping the bottom of the sieve now and then. Sieving the potatoes gives them a very fine, silky texture. Don’t use a food processor, as the potatoes will become gummy, not light and fluffy.
  6. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Put the mashed potatoes in a second saucepan over low heat. A few tablespoonfuls at a time, whisk in the melted butter, followed by the milk. Season with salt. Remove from the heat and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve, up to 2 hours. The mash will be quite heavy and at times may look like it can’t absorb any more butter, but it can, so keep going until it tastes like the richest, nuttiest, silkiest mash you have ever had.
  7. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Discard any tough stems from the spinach. Wash it well. Spinach can be very sandy, so to get off any grit, swish it in a sinkful of water, then lift the leaves out into a colander to drain.
  8. Coarsely chop the spinach, parsley, and dill. Add to the boiling water and cook just until the spinach and herbs turn a darker shade of green, about 30 seconds. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold running water, then spread on a tea towel or paper towels to drain and cool.
  9. Reheat the potatoes in their pot over very low heat, whisking often to keep them from scorching. While they slowly heat, put the greens in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat.
  10. Heat a pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the bread crumbs and fry until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bread crumbs onto a paper towel–lined plate.
  11. Divide the dressed greens among 4 soup bowls. Top with equal amounts of the potato mash. Use the back of a spoon to make an indentation in each mound of mash. Cupping your fingers, carefully remove one yolk at a time from the salted water, letting the water drip through your fingers, and nestle the yolk in the mash. Sprinkle with the crushed potato chips and bread crumbs. Serve immediately.

Tienlon Ho

Tienlon Ho writes about food, the environment, and where these intersect. She is based in San Francisco. Her favorite eggs don't have shells but come from animals with shells.

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