Earlier than I went to Noma, Noma got here to me.
René Redzepi’s pioneering restaurant in Copenhagen deliberate to announce Monday that 2024 can be the ultimate 12 months it will likely be open for normal enterprise, because it transforms itself into a unique type of enterprise, Noma 3.0. Tables for farewell meals at Noma 2.0 will little doubt be subsequent to unimaginable to guide, however that’s been the story for years. I piggybacked on an previous colleague’s reservation when I wrote about Noma in 2018, two months after the restaurant assumed its present form and site.
By that point, although, Noma had already been in New York Metropolis for years.
It was right here within the one-bite appetizers of reindeer lichen and puffed fish pores and skin, though they weren’t known as appetizers, or amuses, both — out of the blue they had been “snacks.”
Noma was right here within the signal-orange berries of untamed sea buckthorn that had begun turning up in cocktails, jams, sauces and cheese programs. It was right here within the bitter, heart-shaped leaves of wooden sorrel and different vegetation that Mr. Redzepi and his cooks picked, snipped and dug up of their seek for the constructing blocks of a strictly regional delicacies following the rules of the New Nordic manifesto.
It was right here within the burning hay that perfumed particular person substances and at instances complete eating rooms. It was right here within the keening acidity of pickled and fermented substances served within the early a part of the meal, and within the light sweetness of parsnips and different greens that took the place of fruit in desserts.
It was right here within the slates, rocks, seashells, logs and rustic items of hand-thrown pottery that had began to switch delicate French porcelain as the popular objects for transporting meals from the kitchen to the desk.
It was right here within the bony, opaque, angular, off-center, unpredictable, odd-smelling wines made within the Jura and the Loire and elsewhere by pure and biodynamic strategies — bottles that had been cult gadgets in France for years however had rocketed to international prominence when Pontus Elofsson, Noma’s first wine director, made them the near-exclusive focus of his record.
These and different Noma-isms started washing up on New York Metropolis’s shores not lengthy after 2010, when the restaurant was voted finest on the earth by a British journal utilizing a technique that was itself pretty opaque, off-center and odd-smelling.
Different eating places — El Bulli, for instance, and Chez Panisse — have been extensively imitated. However I don’t assume any restaurant got here up with so many concepts that had been shoplifted by so many different locations in so many different cities fairly so shortly. Noma invented a variety of bits, and so they bought round. At instances these bits might appear to be mannerisms seeking a way.
Early on, particularly from 2012 to 2015, cooks had been copying issues Mr. Redzepi did with out understanding why he did them within the first place. For some time, if you walked right into a brand-new eating room in New York with a contemporary Scandinavian look, you possibly can predict with confidence that you weren’t going to be consuming any tomatoes that night time. The rationale? They don’t develop nicely in Denmark, so Noma doesn’t serve them.
Forming an thought of the true Noma from all these distant echoes, I used to be like any person who had by no means seen Michael Jackson, attempting to think about what his concert events had been like based mostly on seeing a subway performer moonwalk.
After which I went to Copenhagen and, by the tip of a two- or three-hour lunch, all of the Noma-isms match collectively like puzzle items to type one entire image. The restaurant that had impressed so many imitators was fluid, it was swish, it was coherent.
Two issues stunned me most. One was how unique Noma nonetheless appeared, despite the fact that I’d basically been watching its sizzle reel for a decade. The opposite was how pleasant it was.
Few of the eating places influenced by Noma captured this. Every time each out there employee ran to the entrance door to greet an arriving group, I believed, “How corny” — then watched because the newcomers broke out in smiles, the way in which I had.
Like anybody who has spent greater than 10 minutes on Instagram, I knew that the meals can be strikingly, painstakingly organized with out wanting synthetic — a homage to pure types was the reigning visible motif. Nonetheless, I wasn’t ready for the shimmering great thing about what got here to the desk, just like the iridescent silhouette of a starfish brushed on a plate with edible paint and coated with the glowing roe of untamed Danish trout.
And I found the flavors of Noma. Some unprepossessing liquid that appeared as if it had merely seeped out of a clam or mussel would grow to be a sauce full of enjoyment and complexity that will come at you in rolling waves. The following course would do it once more, however in a unique key at one other quantity. Feats like that, repeated in variations that by no means change into boring, are what make Mr. Redzepi an amazing chef and never only a sculptor working with supplies that go dangerous after just a few days.
I ate that day with Jeff Gordinier, a former Instances reporter who was ending a guide about his adventures with Mr. Redzepi (“Hungry: Consuming, Highway-Tripping and Risking It All With the Best Chef within the World”). On the finish of lunch we got a tour of the compound. The fermentation suite was filled with jars of grains and yeasts and fruits whose molecules had been breaking down and rearranging. The analysis and improvement laboratory was prepared for brand spanking new discoveries. The greenhouse was below building.
Mr. Redzepi defined that the structure was modular. Any constructing, any room, may very well be repurposed sooner or later. Even the kitchen.
“We’re in right here for all times,” he informed Mr. Gordinier. “However we’re not in right here for one factor. It could possibly change.”
I didn’t guess that Mr. Redzepi would at some point resolve to reinvent Noma as one thing aside from a restaurant. However I can’t fairly say I’ll be sorry when it’s gone, both. In some ways, its excellence had change into inseparable from the tradition of overkill that now defines the windswept excessive peaks of superb eating.
The competitors to be “the world’s finest restaurant” — a meaningless title, however one which has an irresistible pull for cooks and headline writers — has distorted cooking, warped service, inflated examine totals, padded menus and stolen hours from prospects’ lives and lots of, many extra hours from the lives of cooks and their staff, whether or not paid or unpaid. Many of the overkill eating places couldn’t final per week with out free labor.
As soon as he removes these pesky diners, Mr. Redzepi apparently means to focus Noma on analysis and improvement of recent merchandise that he might promote. Possibly he might ask a small crew of scientists to look into methods to shrink nice eating experiences, just like the one Noma offers its fortunate diners, all the way down to a dimension that’s each extra human and extra humane.