‘We have to rethink the industry’: fine dining’s future in doubt as Noma calls it a day – The Guardian

Closure of ‘world’s best restaurant’ raises questions over future of such rarefied – and expensive — fine dining establishments

by Jon Henley Europe correspondent

I f what tickles your tastebuds for supper is duck brain served in the skull, edible pine cones, sweetbreads in reindeer moss plus dried plum and pheasant heart followed by a berry-leather and black-garlic beetle, you’d better get a move on.

Noma, the fine-dining restaurant in Copenhagen on whose winter “game and forest” menu (it also does vegetable in addition to seafood seasons) those delicacies feature, is closing at the end of next year , and the waiting list for tables is very long.

Opened in 2003 and judged the world’s best cafe in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and – after reopening in a new building : in 2021 , the year it also won its third Michelin star, chef René Redzepi’s temple of Nordic gastronomy is to become a food lab.

Exactly what that means in practice no one knows, but the move has sent shock waves through the world of haute cuisine and even raised queries about the way forward for the wildly innovative ~ and hugely expensive – style of gourmet dining exemplified by Noma.

“We want to focus more on creativity, ” Redzepi, 45, told Denmark’s Berlingske newspaper. “I love our guests at Noma, ” he said : as well he might, at 3, 500 Danish kroner (£420) a head, plus 1, 800 kroner more for the wine pairing. “But it hinders us to spend so much time on producing dishes for them. ”

Hailed as one of the planets most influential and visionary chefs, Redzepi said this individual and Noma’s nearly 100 staff spent “10% of our time on innovation, together with 90% upon production”, adding: “I’d like to reverse that, so we spend most of our time challenging ourselves and the food, thinking new thoughts. ”

King crab and egg yolk sauce, a dish on one of Noma’s menus

To achieve that, Redzepi said, Noma 3. 0 – as the new project will be known – needed “a brand new financial foundation”. That is to be Noma Projects , a Noma product line launched last year with smoked mushroom garum, described as a versatile, umami-rich sauce of organic mushrooms fermented with Koji rice.

At €25. 95 for a 250ml bottle, this reportedly flew off the shelves, to be swiftly followed by the wild rose vinegar (“Danish summer in a bottle” at €30. ninety five for 250ml) and forager’s vinaigrette (the same wild rose vinegar combined with an innovative blackcurrant wood oil, €32. 95).

Noma’s smoked mushroom garum.

Redzepi offers spoken of the lab’s potential as a “mini-factory”, saying he or she sees “almost unlimited possibilities” for Noma-branded products from more than two decades of experimentation in fermenting and foraging.

A Noma spokesperson said the move was aimed at building “a lasting organisation” in which “our team can thrive”. Noma Projects would expand with “many a lot more products and larger volumes over the coming years”, she stated, backed up simply by “a pioneering test kitchen and lab dedicated to groundbreaking work in food”.

If there is little certainty yet about what products will be forthcoming, or how many of them may be sold, one thing is clear: apart from the occasional limited season and additionally sporadic pop-ups, in Copenhagen or elsewhere around the world, Noma will close indefinitely as a restaurant in late 2024.

The unexpected move comes amid growing awareness of the immense stresses not to mention strains ~ financial and also human – of running an ultra-fine-dining restaurant, highlighted by recent films as well as series such as Boiling Point, The Menu and The Bear.

Food critics, too, have begun to question the particular model, which Frank Bruni, the New York Times’ former restaurant writer, described as “forever trying to dazzle self-regarding epicures with new stunts, novel sensations, modes of presentation we hadn’t imagined, flora and fauna rarely pinned down on a new plate”.

Had the world’s leading establishments, Bruni wondered , gone so far beyond “the fundamentals of dining … that will they’ve ceased to be restaurants in any conventional and sustainable sense? Are they performing such a rococo act, for this type of rarefied audience, that they’re on borrowed time? ”

Workers in the kitchen at Noma in 2021.

Noma’s spokesperson insisted Redzepi’s decision was not financially motivated. But exacting standards, constant innovation, long working hours and more staff than diners : after media criticism, Noma recently started paying its 20 interns a €2, 600 monthly salary, further increasing the already sky-high running costs – all added up to an unappetising recipe, typically the chef told the New You are able to Times .

“We have to completely re-think the industry, ” Redzepi mentioned. “This is simply too hard; we have to work in a different way … It’s unsustainable. As an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work. ”

That, he was adamant, was what Noma a few. 0 was about. “If we succeed, it might also become a restaurant model that is even more sustainable in the longer term, ” he informed Berlingske , comparing running a fine eating restaurant to a high-performance sport.

“Otherwise, I think more and more premium restaurants will be taken over by simply people who have so much money that they can afford to run them like premier league football clubs … Personally, I prefer my independence. ”

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