The origins of the movement
The Noma restaurant has changed the history of Scandinavian cuisine. In 2003, no one spoke of Nordic cooking, but with the help of Redzepi and his business partner Claus Meyer in 2004, Nordic chefs gathered in Copenhagen to discuss the creation of a new Nordic cuisine based on simplicity, freshness and seasonality. By highlighting the wild foods and primitive products of the region, he proposed a simple and minimalist approach to cooking.
After opening in 2003, Noma was voted No. 1 in the World’s 50 Best four times in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. After the doors of the Noma closed on New Year’s Eve in 2016, Redzepi opened pop-ups in Tokyo, Japan, Sydney, Australia, then Tulum, Mexico, where he returned last June full of ideas and inspiration for Noma 2.0.
The origins of the chef
René had a childhood during which his parents struggled to make ends meet. His father was a Macedonian of Albanian origin who immigrated to Denmark and worked as a taxi driver; his Danish mother worked as a cashier and housekeeper. He remembers sometimes going to bed hungry, having as dinner a toast of stale bread. In the homogenous Danish population he felt, along with his Muslim father, a permanent alien.
It is said that this story gave him the desire for revenge, and the aspects of determination and perfectionism of his personality.
Rene Redzepi 2.0 more relaxed
René is more relaxed according to his teams Everyone finds Rene more flexible and happy than the previous place.
During the discussion with the chef, René showed us an opening also in the discussions.
We talked about the lower profitability of lunches since the sale of alcohol is less important than at dinners. We also had a long discussion about the fact that he thought maybe we should close at lunch to allow more time and space for the staff and the creation.
There is therefore greater flexibility and more openness in the chef.
The self questioning
René doesn’t fear failures anymore.
« The fact is that we dare to fail again, whereas with the old Noma, it had to be perfect ». René does not hesitate to publish Stories on Instagram to record his “failures”: dishes that have been tested and have not reached the menu.
Closing Noma, and changing places to reopen a few miles further was risky.
On the one hand in financial terms, and on the other hand because René’s reputation as a leader of change was at stake. But reinventing Noma was part of the same approach as pop-ups abroad: he wanted to remain innovative and creative.
In addition, this resounding reopening had secondary benefits that he had evaluated: new media attention, renewed Michelin consideration, and the possibility of a restored first place on the World’s 50 Best list.
Finally, creating a new project promised a more inspiring work environment, new interactions within the team, and other creative opportunities for years to come.
The place and its architecture.
René found this abandoned bunker, burned and covered with graffiti.
It was on located on a secret path to the village of Christiana, the neighborhood of hippies and dealers in Copenhagen. That was where they delivered drugs at the time.
He decided that this place would become the new Noma and therefore raised 130 million investment to mount the new project.
René and his partners hired the renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to build the new structure. They were inspired by the layout of a classic Danish farmhouse, where they brought nature back with its huge windows and glass ceilings that make guests feel like they’re outside. The dining room and the kitchen are almost confused with the surrounding woods, and the waters. You could also see the birds nesting on the shore.
Even though the surroundings of the place were still under construction this Saturday during the lunch, the project is to surround Noma with gardens all around, including on the roof.
Interior and exterior design
In the dining room there is seaweed, dried fish, and herbs hanging from the wooden beams.
All the details of the table are finely realized, with handmade ceramics.
In the place, many things have been made to measure: the art of Tomás Saraceno made of mold, the long expanse of cupboards and aquariums where the royal crabs swim along the corridor towards the kitchen, wooden chairs wrapped in rope, lampshades in kelp …
David Thulstrup, the interior designer, says the biggest challenge has been to articulate Noma’s precise balance to make it modern and fresh, while retaining a rustic feel.
The kitchen also combines modernity and the sense of crafts with polished wood stations, large open spaces and walkways covered with glass ceilings.
Among the 4 kitchens, there is a main main open on the room, a preparatory kitchen, a staff room, and a new fermentation laboratory led by David Zilber.
The staff room has large tables of sharing and Mexican art on the walls. “We want to build the most creative space in the restaurant world,” says Redzepi, and René adds that Mexico has changed its vision of the teams, making it want to create a more convivial and relaxed atmosphere with an open kitchen, directly inspired by the one they had built in Tulum.
When I went to the staff kitchen, the various chefs cooked home ramen together under the direction of a Hokkaido student in Japan.
There is also a test kitchen in which René now imposes a team rotation.
The presence of symbols and art
René shows us on the ceiling a creation of the studio Olafur Eliasson, this Danish-Icelandic artist known for his sculptures and his art of large-scale installation using elementary materials such as light, water and air temperature.
The work is a huge tree trunk in suspension that points north, as it refers to his very first initiative before MAD called: Looking North.
In the dining room, there are dried seafood on the walls, and a piece of Malta Gormsen wood.
There is also in the kitchen a work of Tomás Saraceno made of mold on the side of the kitchen, and Mexican works.
The menu is in 3 steps
In his new vision, René chooses to divide the menu of his year into three seasons, during which the menu will change to reflect the available ingredients.
Noma will offer three separate menus throughout the year, each focused exclusively on the season:
1) spring and summer: vegetables
2) autumn: game and forest in autumn (mushrooms, nuts, berries)
3) winter: seafood
The served menu:
At the opening, the chef’s proposal focuses exclusively on crustaceans and fish. For several months the chef went looking for the rarest products of these cold seas of the north. He brought back exceptional products mainly from the Faroe Islands in Denmark.
A surprising approach:
René has always been the precursor, demonstrating a form of anticonformism in his kitchen to shake up the mores.
I felt this time a completely different process: an opening and a softening.
There was an opening to the influences of his travels – certainly calculated but nevertheless pronounced -, and a form of greater accessibility in the tastes.
From the need to create an experience and to bring about change, he gave way to emotion and taste, which I really liked.
There were also a lot of umami flavors, gluttony and roundness in the tastes.
While previously his approach was very committed, wishing to shake the pre-established orders, and to highlight unusual and new products, here the tastes were softened and understandable for all.
The flavors were “clean” inspired by a more Asian approach in my opinion. some herbs were finely chopped as in Asia, and I could taste aromatic seasonings sometimes flower-based like rose, kind of often. There was also a lot of whole pumpkin seeds or oil, and kelp.
The plate of mussels, oysters and sea urchins was extraordinarily fine and fresh, highlighting the nobility and emotion that can be felt in the face of such spectacular products brought directly from the nature to the plate. The seafood was mainly served raw, with some light and subtle seasonings, such as rose oil spikes, and herbs or plankton or seaweed, some pickles or even pumpkin seeds.
Details in pictures:
The welcome to the Danish
On arrival at the Noma, you are asked to wait for your turn in front of the door. Thus, once entered the premises, the teams wish you together (60 people) hello and welcome. It’s interesting in terms of emotion, and proximity. The feeling is powerful and strong.
Another highlight: during the whole site visit, the staff makes a point of honor to thank you for being present and for coming.
The involvement of the teams.
René says “we” in all his sentences, involving his team. In the kitchen we meet Ali, who is the legendary diver described by René Redzepi as “the heart and soul” of the Noma, who became one of the partners. Walking in the kitchen, we meet Torsten Vildgaard who decided to return to the Noma project after his experience as a chef at the Studio restaurant.
And at the table, we are served by Rene’s daughter who “helps her father on Saturday”.
The delays in the works
As the work progressed, the chief feared he would have to wait 1-2 weeks late. A week before the opening date, the dining room had no ceiling, the lounges did not have their windows and all this even if the teams of construction workers were working day and night. In the kitchen, a large part of the equipment recorded many delays in delivery.
They were announced with 2 months late.
As a result, the Noma teams entered the site a week before the opening and lent a hand to put everything in place. 30 minutes before the arrival of the first customers, the workers were still building a footbridge leading to the front door of the restaurant. The guests arrived when the chef was still raking the gravel outside or was busy cleaning the premises.
“There was so much pressure,” said Rene. “But in a strange way it’s normal. The point of the whole Noma mind is that crazy things happen. We need adrenaline like a mackerel must keep moving – or die. “
René has 110 employees at Noma.
There was real solidarity and solidarity in the teams. There was excitement and solidarity throughout the process until it felt on arrival at the venue. We could feel the apprehension and common stress of the team in these first days of opening. They were involved in an adventure, where everyone took his important place to heart.
Both in the dining room and in the kitchen, we notice the youth of the people present and the diversity of languages: we hear Spanish, Italian, Japanese or English in all its Australian, American and Irish variants.
Later, when we see the teams relax at Barabba (restaurant and bar) after the service, we still see this youth, multiculturalism, and the vibrant excitement of solidarity and related teams.
“Adrenaline is Noma’s heartbeat,” said waiter Kirsty Marchant. “You want some order, you work at Eleven Madison Park.” Being involved in an exciting project and hired them.
Redzepi closed the original Noma in February 2017.
René says that the year 2017 has been very difficult, as rents in Copenhagen have increased for two and a half years by 43 percent.
In September 2016, the chef had warned that if the new restaurant did not open until December of this year, it would go bankrupt. Provisional measures prevented such a disaster, but between the costs of space planning and retention over a longer period of time when there was no income, the Noma doubled its original construction budget (130 million euros).
“We are about as financially rushed as we could be,” says Rene. The extraordinarily high rent on the new space and the cost of a research trip across the Nordic region did not help. The prices of the new restaurant, although high, will not enrich anyone; the tasting menu alone, without drinks, costs $ 375 per person, but a quarter of that amount simply covers food costs. To make ends meet, the new Noma must sell all seats. Reservations are released in blocks of several weeks, and must be paid in advance.
They also have an intelligent valuation and network system to promote René’s restaurants. They offer booking assistance when booking at Noma: they offer to make your reservation at Barr or 108 for example.
René offers several novelties for the moment in the operation of his restaurant: