Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘A Taste of Sky,’ Sparking the Vision of the New Nordic Cuisine in Bolivia
Have you ever eaten at the number one restaurant in the world? For a number of years NOMA received the honor. Chef René Redzepi who runs the new NOMA in Copenhagen is working his way up to first world status again, after having moved and lost the former prestige. Chef Claus Meyer worked with Redzepi in helping to put New Nordic Cuisine and Copenhagen, Denmark, not normally known for sensational food, on the superior gastronomy map to win the title of “Best Restaurant in the World” four times.
A Taste of Sky by Michael Y. Lei features Claus Meyer’s groundbreaking cooking school and fine-dining restaurant GUSTU and chronicles how and why Meyer decided to open the school in La Paz, Bolivia. The film presents two students from GUSTU who are among the best of the best for they have evolved from humble beginnings to become fine chefs who will most probably one day gain the title of helping to be a part of the restaurant team who will have achieved the title of “Best Restaurant in the World.”
Yei’s documentary is a beautifully shot film for foodies and a great way to become acquainted with those who dedicate their lives to superior gastronomy like Claus Meyer. Meyer is culinary entrepreneur, food activist, cookbook author, professor and TV host. Though others assisted in helping Meyer establish the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy (12 chefs in 2004 wrote the New Nordic Food Manifesto to begin the movement, based on Claus Meyer’s initiative, inspirational draft and coordination) Meyer’s genius originated the concept. Over the years after the establishment of NOMA as a working laboratory and kitchen to foster the ideas of the New Nordic Cuisine, the restaurant became globally renowned and the philosophy spawned other iterations. Restaurants materialized similar approaches.
New Nordic Cuisine seeks to foster local agriculture, honor the region’s agrarian traditions, encourage environmentally friendly production, and establish food with a uniquely Nordic identity among the world’s great cuisines. An activist who believes that gastronomy can improve lives and change xenophobic responses to disparate cultures, Meyer has worked on many projects over the years to realize his beliefs. One of these projects took him to La Paz, Bolivia where he opened GUSTU and proved that the concepts initiated in the philosophy of “New Nordic Cuisine” could be retrofitted to any area in the world which has a dynamic environment and varied cuisine.
Lei’s film cuts back and forth to his interview with Claus Meyer and his daughter, and two students trained at GUSTU: Kenzo, a hunter raised in the wild of the Bolivian Amazon and Maria Claudia, a native of the Andean altiplano. Both sacrificed to leave home and attempt to become familiar with another world entirely. Meyer’s hope to establish one of the poorest countries in the world, Bolivia, as a a fine dining destination, is a fascinating revelation and experiment in fostering cultural intersections, between cities and rural areas, between and among cultures, and families educated and not educated.
The filmmaker includes glorious shots of Kenzo’s Amazon rain forest as he delves into Kenzo’s background, familiarizes us with the terrain, visits Kenzo’s parent’s farm and home, interviews his parents and generally helps us get to know this amazing, forward-thinking young man with great ambition. Assimilating the concepts of the philosophy behind New Nordic Cuisine, Kenzo, who completed his training at GUSTU, has made it through a difficult program where his friend dropped out to pursue something else.
Kenzo is currently working as a chef at a fine dining restaurant far away from Bolivia. He hopes to return one day to establish his own restaurant creating dishes whose unique ingredients come from the rain forest, the place he knows best as he learned from his father what plants are edible, healthful and delicious. The cuisine he will create using the local ingredients promises to be incredible.
Lei gives a sensitive and caring portrait of Maria Claudia, revealing that her problems are the usual ones for women. She must launch out into a career, having left home and the ones she loves instead of getting married and bearing children. She is overthrowing centuries of gender folkways with her new beginnings. This has been emotionally painful for her. The power of Lei’s interviews with Maria Claudia are that he allows her to explore and express her feelings so we understand what she has given up for a dream that she herself must manifest.
Lei reveals that in their own way, seeking their dreams using gastronomy as the vehicle, Maria Claudia, Kenzo and Meyer have taken parallel paths, though they are completely different individuals from different countries and backgrounds. Yet, all were inspired by this dream of how food can change one’s life and world, expanding food culture to meld people together so they might appreciate each other.
In his interview with Meyer, Lei brings out the problems with establishing the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy as it might adapt to the cuisine and culture of La Paz, Bolivia. Lei includes interviews with Meyer’s critics who are eventually won over by what Meyer is doing. And Meyer discusses the idea that the obstacle of the perception of the “colonial” coming in to help the “little people” was something he had to overcome. During Lei’s interviews with Meyer, he allows the entrepreneur to discuss his childhood and personal life. From that we understand the forces that shaped Meyer to move in the direction of gastronomy in a world laboratory to change people’s lives for the better.
To his credit, once Meyer established the success of GUSTU and made sure the school was grounded and continuing without him, he gave it over to Bolivia. Meyer’s intellectual genius is in researching whether or not his hypothesis about food works anywhere in the world, in any setting in the world. Is food a vehicle to change lives and improve the lives of the most hurting, the most needy of individuals? In all of Meyer’s projects threads of this belief are present.
Credit goes to Lei’s vision and the perspective he captures in this sonorous, sensual, striking film. The title is ingenious in symbolizing not only the beauty of the sky in Bolivia and the skyward dreams that both Kenzo and Maria Claudia are reaching toward, as they fly up to meet them using their love of gastronomy to create their own unique dishes based upon their culture, background and training.
The film is seamless in its cinematography and editing. It should be seen especially if one is a foodie. Look for A Taste of Sky online.