Northwest to Noma - A Dream Internship for a New Chef (Pt I)
by, Erin Peterson
If you would have told Jonathan Seaman-Cwick a year ago that he would have an internship at one of the world’s best restaurants, he would have laughed. Yet, this is exactly where he will rub shoulders with the most elite chefs, Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Its fame is the stuff of legend. It boasts two Michelin stars and has topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list four times. The restaurant features 20 course tasting menus with rotating themes, and lately it’s focused on being vegetable-forward with locally foraged, grown and fermented products. They aim to redefine each ingredient to make it an experience like no other. Just getting a reservation takes high-level research, months of planning and a fast computer. Specializing in creativity, fermentation (they just released a 456-page book on the subject), and fine dining technique pushed to its very limits, the restaurant is revered as a hotbed of innovation. Now, it will employ a deeply passionate young graduate of the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy.
Chef Jonathan has experimented with many unusual ingredients and processes, and he gets a strong desire for culinary experimentation from his family. For 25 years, they did a Hawaiian-style pig roast by digging a large pit underground and filling it with hot rocks, burying it and sharing the roast with friends and family. “I’ve eaten every part of the pig, ears, snout, tail, eyes, brain, tongue, kidneys, liver… everything. The brain is actually really good, we spread it on bread.” In his own time in the kitchen, he has fermented potato water, shrubs (drinking vinegar), black limes, and forages regularly for items he can use to elevate his cooking and give it a sense of place.
When we had the opportunity to meet Chef Jonathan, he was immediately warm, friendly, and thoughtful toward his presentation. He invited us to come to Dockside at the Coeur d’Alene Resort where he is currently a chef alongside his dad, Executive Chef Russ Seaman, to try a tasting menu of his design.
The dishes he prepared for his menu were simply named, though their flavor profiles were anything but simple. Each course - Carrots, Mushrooms, Salmon and Cherries had nuances that demonstrated his deft hand with bold and unique ingredients. The carrot course was made with local carrots poached in olive oil and then sautéed from Urban Eden Farms, elderberries that he harvested from his aunt’s garden, with a shug sauce with carrot tops, cilantro and parsley, spiced with cumin and coriander, and a nettle puree with lemon and olive oil. The dynamic balance of flavor was thoughtfully conceived and executed in every dish, showing off his emergent ability in crafting a dish that is both cohesive and interesting. After the mushroom course he offered us a small yellow flower called Spilanthes, which he explained would taste like “pop rocks” and render our tongue and throat numb. It was intended as a palate cleanser, and it left us breathless and flushed, but in the best way.
At culinary school, instructor Chef Martin said to Jonathan, “You belong at Noma. It fits your cooking style, and you should apply.” He emailed the program to see if an internship was even a possibility, and they responded with an application at the end of July. The application was fairly straightforward, except for one detail. The entire document was in Times New Roman size 12 font, and in tiny print, one detail said that all answers must be in Times New Roman size 13. “I said to myself, ‘That’s a test!’”. He was right, and his attention to detail gave him an edge in the field of applicants. He was not confident about the opportunity, however. “When I applied, I already knew I wasn’t going to get it, but when I was accepted…. I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking, ‘What is happening?!’”
Initially, he wondered if he would even get to meet Chef Redzepi, but was delighted to discover that he will not just meet him, but will get to forage with him every morning near Copenhagen. “Few people in the world have such an intense knowledge about where they live.” Chefs Redzepi, David Chang and Massimo Bottura often talk about “sameness”, and how so many people around the world eat the same thing. We all eat carrots, onion and celery, no matter where we are in the world.
He most looks forward to continuing to develop a variety of skills as he works at Noma. The value of biodiversity is what makes a region unique, and so few chefs take advantage of that. “It’s not just a forest anymore, it’s dinner,” he asserts.
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