“Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work,” he said.
Noma turned Copenhagen into a culinary destination, put New Nordic cooking in the world’s lexicon and made foraging the coolest pastime a chef could engage in. After opening its doors in 2003, it operated mostly under the radar until snagging the No. 1 spot on the World’s 50 Best in 2010. It has won that title five times in total, as recently as 2021.
Now Redzepi will focus on Noma Projects, the lab and fermentation studio that has begun selling products like their sold out smoked mushroom garum, a condiment made from mushrooms that have been cured with salt and the rice fungus koji and then cold-smoked. Redzepi and his team are expanding production of the facility.
The closing of Noma is another bad omen for fine-dining restaurants, where dinners routinely cost $US500 or more. At the end of 2022, the noted California chef David Kinch closed the doors of his three Michelin star Manresa in California. “Three-star restaurant dining is transitioning really hard,” Kinch said. “Chefs who were used to having armies of people have had to rethink their operating manual.”
The move comes three months after the restaurant began to pay its interns for the first time, which had added at least £40,000 to its monthly wage bill.
The shock news is certain to make tables at Noma even more sought after, but it has also drawn attention to the seedy underbelly of fine dining, which is often built on unpaid or cheap labour.
Trainee chefs used to work for no wages during three-month stints at Noma, just for the experience of working in celebrated kitchens with famous chefs. The practice is widespread in elite kitchens where the stagiaires spend long hours toiling to realise the vision of their often mercurial masters.
At Noma the work can be particularly intense with ingredients having to be found, harvested or, in the case of ants that taste like lemon grass, captured alive. In its kitchen interns work on highly detailed dishes such as a beetle made of berry leathers and black garlic.
“While our industry has been characterised by long working hours, this is something we at Noma constantly work to improve,” a spokesman for the restaurant told The New York Times.
Redzepi has admitted to having fulfilled the stereotype of a tyrannical chef when he first opened Noma in 2003.
In a 2015 essay, he confessed to having both verbally and physically bullied his staff.
Now 45, he has used therapy and walking meditation to control his temper and workaholic impulses, and has written books on leadership.
“In an ideal restaurant, employees could work four days a week, feel empowered and safe and creative,” he said. “The problem is how to pay them enough to afford children, a car and a house in the suburbs.”
He denied he was closing Noma because it had achieved its third Michelin star and topped the influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for a record-breaking fifth time, which means it can no longer be considered for the list.
While Noma will be stopping its regular service next year, the premises will become a food laboratory to develop dishes and products for its e-commerce business.
The dining rooms will be opened for only occasional pop-ups and Redzepi’s new role will be closer to chief creative officer rather than chef.
If you just can’t get a table at Noma, there are other opportunities to dine on Redzepi’s cooking. Noma Kyoto will operate at the Ace Hotel Kyoto this spring. And Redzepi also operates Popl, a burger bar he started during the pandemic that now has a permanent place in Christianshavn.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: BlOOMBERG
The Telegraph London