Regarded as one of the greatest dining experiences on Earth, Noma was named Restaurant Magazine’s top restaurant in the world in 2014, taking back its crown after coming second in the previous year. We look at the history of this restaurant and its Danish head chef René Redzepi, revealing the cultural impact of this culinary pioneer.
‘In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture, hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.’
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Opened in 2004, Copenhagen-based restaurant Noma could still be regarded as an infant in the global restaurant scene. Congruent with this theme of youth, head chef and co-founder René Redzepi was only 26 when he teamed up with Claus Meyer to open this gastronomic titan to be. The concept behind the restaurant was bold: to reinvent Nordic cuisine. Within one year Noma had already caught the attention of the culinary world; in 2005 it earned its first Michelin Star for its new approach to Nordic delicacies, and by 2007, it was the only restaurant in Denmark’s capital to hold two Michelin Stars. The following couple of years saw Noma climb the ranks of Restaurant Magazine’s top 50 until 2010, when Redzepi usurped El Bulli – the four-time winner and Redzepi’s previous employer – and Noma took the title of the best restaurant in the world.
What René Redzepi did with Noma isn’t the usual story of a young entrepreneur opening up a successful restaurant: Redzepi reinvented the Danish cultural identity through food. With all of the hype around this creation, Noma has become one of the first things to come to mind when thinking of contemporary Denmark. This is no mean feat considering the relative anonymity of Danish cuisine in comparison to Europe’s other culinary giants. However, perhaps it was this obscurity that gave Redzepi the creative freedom to create Noma. Before 2004, Redzepi had worked in some of the top kitchens in the world, including El Bulli in Spain, Jardin des Sens in France, and The French Laundry in the US. This experience, plus his own upbringing with a Danish Mother and Macedonian father, gave Redzepi the international knowledge required to scrutinize his own national dishes and to be able to reinvent tradition.
One aspect of Noma that makes it stand out from other culinary venues is its deep complexity, that sits hidden away behind an inviting and simple front. This concept can be seen in the exterior of the restaurant; set in a 19th century warehouse with the four lowercase letters placed on a somewhat plain façade, the aesthetics hold a natural, rustic quality that exude a welcoming aura. However, behind this seemly simple entrance is a list of connotations that have already enhanced the experience of the restaurant. The history of the warehouse, the natural look, the worn-out walls and the location right next to the water all combine to create the sensation of authentic Nordic life. Even the restaurant’s name works to build this subconscious anticipation: ‘nordisk’ (meaning Nordic) and ‘mad’ (meaning food). After entering, the interior follows this same rustic quality that is at once old yet modern, traditional yet cutting-edge, new yet comfortable, crafted yet designed. Before you have even seen the food, your senses are already stimulated, captivating visitors in this ancestral rebirth of Nordic culinary culture. However, these are but the peripheral elements of Noma; the restaurant’s true strength is, of course, its food.
Having won best restaurant three years in row, it is clear that René Redzepi is a master of creating flavors. How he reinvented the image of Nordic and Danish cuisine through Noma is a true accolade to his creativity, passion and skills. Redzepi combined the cutting-edge science of molecular gastronomy, his knowledge of working in some of the top restaurants in the world, and his own imagination, with the freshest local ingredients and Nordic history. The result of such a union is a seasonally changing menu that is based in tradition and yet at the forefront of contemporary gastronomy. Smoked quail egg presented on freshly burnt hay; wild Danish flowers arranged with rich fruits; arrangments of legumes and leaves creating pictures of insects in nature: the dishes artfully present scenes from Denmark’s natural beauty, with the flavors further adding to this imagery. The meats used never take over the flavor, but instead are used to intertwine with the other ingredients, giving unlimited potential to each creation. Founded in Danish culture yet truly international, each dish is an expression of outstanding innovation and as much an artwork as it is a meal.
More than just a restaurant, Noma provides a unique experience, and has paved a new path for Denmark’s culinary culture. Since its success, new restaurants have opened in Copenhagen that try to further explore national flavours and identity, and now the capital is home to 15 Michelin Stars. Noma truly has left its mark on Danish Culture.
To find out more please visit Noma’s Website.
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