John Brunton’s Nordaq Trail

As a food and wine writer travelling around the globe, I have to honestly admit that be it in London, New York or Singapore, I seldom pay attention to which kind of water the waiter proposes in a gastronomic restaurant – beyond sparkling or still – nor which brand is placed on the bedside table in my hotel. And like most people, I give little thought to where that bottled water came from in the first place, how many thousands of kilometres it may have travelled from its source, what polluting carbon footprint it leaves. That all changed though when I first heard about a very different kind of genuinely sustainable water produced by NORDAQ, a discrete Swedish company who may be little-known to the general public but have created a veritable revolution in the premium water industry. The person who opened the door of this secret world was Daniel Boulud, the greatest French chef to conquer America, when we were attending one of the world’s most eagerly-awaited foodie events, the Bocuse d’Or Awards, in Lyon.

Chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and NORDAQ at the Bocuse d’Or

I have followed Daniel’s stellar career since his early days in the New York fine dining scene, so it was no surprise to see him here rooting for Team USA in his role as Chairman of the Ment’Or Foundation, promoting culinary excellence of young American chefs. What did surprise me was when he introduced me to Johanna Mattsson , the dynamic CEO of another of the Foundation’s sponsors, Scandinavia’s under-the-radar eco-crusaders, NORDAQ.

Johanna Mattsson

Johanna is someone who comes straight to the point, telling me that, “people have to realise that it should be both easy and financially advantageous to be water sustainable and eco-responsible in today’s world, that to transport water over water is one of the most illogical things we can do. And we at NORDAQ have created that solution.

We provide the benefits of the highest quality, locally-sourced natural water, purified and bottled on the spot anywhere in the world, using refillable, recycled glass bottles, without the expense, hassle and pollution of shipping them halfway around the world. At a stroke, this eliminates the proliferation of single-use plastic, one of the greatest threats to the earth’s environment.

NORDAQ may not be on sale to the general public, sitting there on supermarket shelves, but our pure tasting, environmentally-sustainable water is present globally in over 100 Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury hotels, casinos and cruise lines in 63 countries across four continents.” Intrigued by Johanna’s claims, I decided to set out on the NORDAQ Trail to discover exactly what is this magical solution.

The first question to answer is how does NORDAQ miraculously transform common tap water from Dubai to Paris, Macao or New York into what some of the greatest chefs and sommeliers describe as the ‘purest tasting water’. The answer took decades of research and development in Sweden; a revolutionary water filtration system, protected today by patents and shrouded in secrecy against industrial espionage.

Tap water anywhere in the world enters NORDAQ’s mysterious purifier and passes through a series of ultrafilters, is chilled and can be carbonated, with impurities, chemicals and unwanted flavours removed, while retaining the natural salts and minerals needed for a neutral, balanced and rounded taste. The purified water is then bottled in one of NORDAQ’s elegantly-designed, decidedly Nordic-inspired carafes that include the functional Bistro bottle, Crystal decanter and a special Michelin edition.

Crucially, all bottles are reusable, made essentially from recycled glass to last forever; a customised ecologic system for each restaurant and hotel where right on-site, pure water is produced as wanted, everything is rewashed, refilled, saving storage space, eliminating waste and the carbon-burning logistics that can sometimes cover thousands of kilometres of transport. Instead, everything just goes round in an eternal circle – apart from when people steal the bottle from their hotel room!

Else Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

And while travelling on assignment in Kuala Lumpur, I see at first hand how all this works out in practice. I check in at the city’s chic, newly-opened boutique hotel, Else, and what is the sustainable bottled water in all the rooms but NORDAQ. Back in Paris for a wine tasting in the Michelin Guide La Condesa restaurant, and alongside the bottle of Côtes du Rhône is a stylish crystal NORDAQ decanter. Javier Perez, owner of Else, tells me that “obviously the sustainability and ecological impact of using NORDAQ is important for us and is what our new generation of eco-responsible guests is looking for. But for me, the real attraction is the unique quality of the water itself as soon as you taste it.”

La Condesa, Paris

La Condesa’s chef, Indra Carillo, stresses that “NORDAQ is perfectly neutral opening up the palate whereas other mineral waters have their own personality and character which ultimately have an impact when tasting. And NORDAQ has great practical advantages for our business – reducing wastage, freeing up storage space where crates of bottled water were stacked, letting us stock more wine instead! It also means we are not dependent on deliveries of water and I assure you that can be a huge problem here in the centre of Paris with disrupting strikes and demonstrations, not to mention the chaos of the Olympic Games. With NORDAQ we are autonomous, producing our own water when we want to.”

Chef Indra makes me ask the question – does the water we drink with our wine and food really matter? He certainly thinks so, insisting that, “the quality of the water we serve in both our restaurant and wine bar is crucial because that quality creates the palate of the customer, which must be perfect to appreciate our signature cuisine and carefully-selected wines.”

Well, the English have a saying that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and so we put NORDAQ to the test by cleansing our palates in comparison to France’s famed Evian mineral water, before tasting an elegant wine from the Loire valley. And there really was a difference in the sense that our perception of the expression of the wine was certainly heightened after preparing the palate by tasting the essentially neutral NORDAQ, compared to sipping the wine after a glass of Evian, whose distinctive minerality naturally has an impact first on the palate and then on the wine itself.

For the moment though, the reality in most restaurants around the world is that the premium water most diners choose is going to be an instantly recognisable global brand, a sophisticated lifestyle choice like San Pellegrino, Perrier, Evian. Right now, not enough people think about the environmental problems this causes, that for example Evian comes from a single spa source in France and has to be transported across oceans to be served at your table on the other side of the globe. NORDAQ are certainly trying to address this situation.

For the future, Johanna explains that, ”our prime target has to be the hotel industry, simply because the sheer size of water consumption in the hospitality business can be phenomenal. So if big hotels, casino resorts or cruise lines convert to the NORDAQ ecosystem and install our automated bottling machine, then there will be a huge increase in sustainability, a tangible impact on the planet’s environment. Water consumption in hotels extends to rooms, restaurants and bars, pools, spas and health clubs, so we are literally talking millions and millions of bottles.” This determined aim of eco-responsibility illustrates how NORDAQ are trying to influence opinion to look at the bigger picture of the world’s environmental issues, but there is still a long way to go before the general public – the restaurant diner, the hotel guest – begin to understand how dangerous a polluting carbon footprint, disposable plastic wastage, single-use glass bottles, really are to our future.

And while NORDAQ have made the first step of convincing hotels and restaurants to be eco-conscious, there are many more steps to climb in popular education, before people realise that having a NORDAQ bottle on their table can bring concrete eco-benefits to everyone’s lives.


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