Long before he co-founded Noma, the new Nordic restaurant that really put Copenhagen on the map as a gastronomic capital, Claus Meyer grew up in what he calls “the darkest period of Danish food history,” an era in the 1960s and 1970s when his country’s cuisine revolved around canned food, margarine, deep fried stuff, powdered food, and stale bread crumbs. “I didn’t realize it; I hadn’t tasted anything else,” he says.
His awakening came when he became an au pair boy in France — his employer taught him to cook certain staples — and then moved on to stay with a fourth generation baker and chef, who embraced him as a son and fed him constantly. “It changed my life,” he says. “I wanted to be someone who changed the food culture of my country.”
Meyer became a serial entrepreneur, “starting impossible food products in almost every corner of the industry,” he says. “I tried to become smarter and smarter and learn from my failures and successes to do greater things tomorrow.”
In the early 2000s, he was ready to launch a Nordic movement. He teamed up with Rene Redzepi and opened Noma, and the pair promised themselves they’d work only with local produce. “We wanted to prove that France shouldn’t have a monopoly on having a great food culture,” he says. So they set out to creating great food with Danish products, hoping that would lead to great cuisine.
“I was more efficient than I’d been in the previous 18 years in improving society,” Meyer says. “I’d been unhappy with my capacity for engaging people in this process, and I succeeded with Noma in creating a Nordic cuisine.”
Not content to rest on his laurels even after Noma was crowned best restaurant in the world, Meyer looked to replicate his success outside of Copenhagen. He did a charity project in Bolivia that aimed for the same effect. And it was during that period that Bloomberg wrote about him, prompting American investors to ask him to come here to do something, too.
Meyer began putting plans together for a food hall in Grand Central, a place that will celebrate new Nordic cuisine, but will also, Meyer hopes, “be much larger than just selling food in that train station.” He hopes to form partnerships that promote “higher levels of sustainability and healthiness without compromising deliciousness.” He wants to strengthen American cuisine, and tighten up the connection between cuisine and land.
And ultimately, he’d like to ingrain a new Nordic viewpoint here: “We insist on food being delicious, but we want it to matter beyond pleasure.”
Meyer insists that his plans aren’t yet concrete, but says that he’ll be working with local farmers to construct a hall with a very local supply chain. And it will have a new Nordic bent: “I’m sure people will expect to find something Scandinavian there, and the flavor profile of salads, sandwiches, dishes, and drinks is rooted in new Nordic flavor,” he says. “New Nordic is a metaphor for improving your food culture. New Nordic food on the plate is more vibrant, juicy, fresh, and bright, and has less fat when compared to classical American and European food.”
He’s also planning to erect an informal — “but not unambitious,” he says — brasserie behind the wall in Vanderbilt Hall, which will be able to accommodate 200 people.
And, he stresses, Grand Central is merely the first step — he’s here for the long haul, and he has more plans up his sleeve. “I’m married to a wonderful woman, and we have three daughters,” he says. “I will bring the whole bunch to New York, including the two dogs and maybe the pigs.” Look, perhaps, for a microbakery outside of Manhattan in the coming years, too.
As for the Grand Central project, it’s slated to open in January 2016.