Noma and the emperor’s new clothes

Yesterday one Article came out in the Times of London, where Farrah Storr described her latest trip to Noma. She hated it.

In 2021, Noma again won the award for the world’s best restaurant. The establishment, led by the ever-foraging René Redzepi, has gone from strength to strength since it opened in 2003.

People swoon at the thought of going to Noma. It has gradually become difficult to get on the waiting list. When you do that, and if you survive the waiting period, you have to come out with around 5,000 kroner per

For many, it’s a month’s rent gone in one night, but surely it’s worth it? The experience of a lifetime can’t be counted in everyday food, can it?

Big problems
According to Farrah Storr, the experience at Noma isn’t just disappointing, it’s downright awful. She describes being led into the inner sanctum on the restaurant’s current site near the Opera House in Copenhagen.

“The unsettling feeling picked up as we moved further inside. At first, every server looked the same: dull individuals with wide, scowling eyes and the haughty attitude of a newly elected local councillor. The chefs also looked identical, with thick muscular arms covered in tattoos of flora and fauna,” she wrote.

“Then there was the eerie soundtrack: the sound of a dozen different chefs shouting ‘Yes’ in unison every time a dish was ready to go out – it was fun at first, but an hour into lunch it felt like aural torture.”

This sounds suspiciously similar to the acclaimed 2022 film ‘The Menu’, where the wealthy patrons of a luxury restaurant soon find out that they are more involved in the menu than they might think. The kitchen staff, all dressed identically, shout “Yes Chef!” in unison every time the head chef played by Ralph Fiennes – whose character bears similarities to Redzepi – claps his hands.

Among other things, the film explores the clear class divide between the guests and the staff at the restaurant. Like Storr’s article, ‘The Menu’ draws attention to the cult-like feeling that Noma and other restaurants can cultivate.

I am sending it back…
In addition to the slightly unsettling atmosphere of the place, Storr painted an unflattering picture of the food: “When I left some of my reindeer brain cream inside the skull in which it was served (as was the table behind us) – not because it was essentially brain juice, but because it was chalky and unpleasant—the waitress looked pissed off as she went to pick up my plate. “Not comfortable with giblets?” she asked.”

When Storr left a cup of tea (the taste of which she compared to an ashtray) unfinished, she again incurred the wrath of the waitress: ‘Well . . .’ she exhaled. ‘Could you at least Appreciate it?’ I think it was a rhetorical question. Not for the first time, we were made to feel like we just didn’t ‘get’ Noma.”

The idea of ​​’getting’ food on an intellectual level is a hallmark of the new style of luxury restaurants. It is no longer enough that food is exquisite: it must also be food for thought.

How much is too much?
This is taken to another level at Alchemist, another Copenhagen restaurant with two Michelin stars, which has menus from 6,700 to 14,900 kroner.

Courses, which include a chicken claw inside a metal cage and a pigeon hanging from a noose, are accompanied by moralistic speeches about animal abuse, so your food comes with an accompanying sense of guilt.

Surely there are better places to campaign for animal rights than an astronomically expensive restaurant with only enough room for 15 people.

After all, these restaurants are status symbols more than anything else, and as such they follow the same capitalist principles that make the horrific treatment of animals acceptable.

The new guard
Noma’s ethics of using local ingredients is not only commendable, it has also been revolutionary in fine dining. Indeed, the restaurant has made such an impact that one could point to it as the prime mover in the change of guard that has taken place in haute cuisine since the beginning of the new millennium.

As the new century approached, France had a total monopoly on fine dining. French cuisine was imitated worldwide, and most restaurants with a Michelin star were based on the French model. Complexity and luxury were seen as positive.

Today, all this has changed: good, local ingredients and simplicity are the cornerstones of pioneering restaurants. More traditional ‘French style’ restaurants have been seen as stuffy and retrograde.

However, a certain snobbery seems to have crept back into the fine dining experience, albeit in a different way than the old one. In any normal restaurant worth its salt, a customer leaving food unfinished is a cause for concern. At Noma, if you leave a little reindeer brain uneaten, it’s your own pathetically unsophisticated palate to blame.

There is also something profoundly hypocritical about a restaurant that the vast majority of the world’s population will never be able to access charging crazy prices for food that you can find in a hedgerow down the road.

Coda to Noma?
At the beginning of this fine dining revolution, you could have argued that Noma helped make food more democratic: something everyone could potentially do at home. The real effect has been the opposite.

Noma has influenced other restaurants to be more expensive and pretentious while turning people away from traditional food.

In light of parodies in movies like ‘The Menu’ and reports of a gloomy atmosphere from customers, along with the announcement that the restaurant will close at the end of 2024, will we see a new reincarnation of Rene Redzepi’s life’s work? Or are people starting to see through the emperor’s new clothes?

Source: The Nordic Page




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