It is hard to imagine the culinary world without Noma. When it opened in 2003, the idea was to challenge the Old World order of gastronomy and celebrate Nordic ingredients. The following year, New Nordic Cuisine was born with a focus on simplicity, freshness and seasonality. The concept of cooking according to season is now so common throughout the world it’s almost become hackneyed, but back then 25-year-old chef René Redzepi and restaurateur Claus Meyer were about to change everything.
Within a year of Noma’s opening, Redzepi had gained the confidence to move away from what he had learned from other high-end restaurants, including El Bulli and The French Laundry. He wanted to show the world it was possible to create something exceptional without foie gras or caviar, and that Nordic ingredients like cod liver and milk crisp could be just as special. The restaurant housed in a waterfront warehouse in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn neighbourhood soon won critical acclaim, making its debut onto The World’s 50 Best Restaurants at No.33 in 2006 and claiming the No.1 spot four times from 2010 to 2014 – a record only surpassed by El Bulli.
Noma’s name didn’t only come from its style of cuisine. It also came to represent a pared-back Scandinavian style and décor that dispensed with white tablecloths, silver cutlery and overly formal service in lieu of wooden tables and unpretentious staff. Redzepi pioneered the practice of having chefs cross the dining room rubicon and serve the guests themselves. He believed that if a chef looked a diner in the eye, it would help them to understand the true point of dishes such as the elegant Flower Pie.
After more than a decade of Noma, Redzepi felt that routine was killing his creativity, so he decided to close the restaurant for good – to “dare again to fail”. He shuttered it at the end of 2016 and soon relocated his entire team to Tulum, Mexico, for a pop-up that followed similar ones in Tokyo and Sydney. He finally unveiled a new Noma in February 2018 at a different location with its own farm and three completely distinct seasonal menus. The new restaurant makes its debut at No.2 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 and will undoubtedly continue to win accolades, but it was its predecessor that forever changed the path of gastronomic history.
Refshalevej 96 (current location)
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Watch the video interview with Redzepi: