No More Noma
No More Noma
Eating is a necessity and can be a great pleasure. It also has a symbolic dimension in every culture. In the long history of European civilization, going back at least to the Romans, it has been a form of status distinction, allowing the elites at the top to display their separation from the masses below.
For many centuries elite food was set apart by its ingredients, like caviar, choice cuts of meat, difficult to procure spices and rich dairy products. Restaurants in times past would announce their status appeal not only through their prices, but also menus that advertised rarity and bounty.
Today this emphasis on ingredients is not enough. A general increase in prosperity and the rise of a large middle-to-upper class that can afford them means that status distinction must now rest on much greater inputs of human labor, both the highly skilled labor of innovator-chefs and the line labor of dozens of underlings who precisely execute each minute twist of preparation or presentation. Add to this the aura of world-transforming inventiveness claimed by the tech industry, and you have Noma and restaurants like it.
There has always been a tension between elite appeal and nourishment in cuisine. The excessively rich foods of the uppermost stratum are unhealthy, which may be one reason the humbler fare of the peasantry was sometimes gussied up and given a place on the menus of the rich, like gustatory Eliza Doolittle’s. We will see whether the chem lab restaurant ethos can find a middle ground by absorbing some of the foods people used to eat before eating was “disrupted”.
January 9, 2023
Noma, Rated the World’s Best Restaurant, Is Closing Its Doors
The Copenhagen chef René Redzepi says fine dining at the highest level, with its grueling hours and intense workplace culture, has hit a breaking point: “It’s unsustainable.”
By Julia Moskin
Since opening two decades ago, Noma — the Copenhagen restaurant currently serving grilled reindeer heart on a bed of fresh pine, and saffron ice cream in a beeswax bowl — has transformed fine dining. A new global class of gastro tourists schedules first-class flights and entire vacations around the privilege of paying at least $500 per person for its multicourse tasting menu.
Noma has repeatedly topped lists of the world’s best restaurants, and its creator, René Redzepi, has been hailed as his era’s most brilliant and influential chef.
Nevertheless, Mr. Redzepi told The New York Times, the restaurant will close for regular service at the end of 2024.
Noma will become a full-time food laboratory, developing new dishes and products for its e-commerce operation, Noma Projects, and the dining rooms will be open only for periodic pop-ups. His role will become something closer to chief creative officer than chef.
This move is likely to send shock waves through the culinary world. To put it in soccer terms: Imagine that Manchester United decided to close Old Trafford stadium to fans, though the team would continue to play.
The decision comes as Noma and many other elite restaurants are facing scrutiny of their treatment of the workers, many of them paid poorly or not at all, who produce and serve these exquisite dishes. The style of fine dining that Noma helped create and promote around the globe — wildly innovative, labor-intensive and vastly expensive — may be undergoing a sustainability crisis….
We will see whether the chem lab restaurant ethos can find a middle ground by absorbing some of the foods people used to eat before eating was “disrupted”.
[ I have no sense of what this sentence means. ]
This will be a kind of neat experiment to assess whether the creation of unique dishes has a lot of value beyond selling some volume of those dishes (and the experience of going to the restaurant). Not sure what this laboratory approach will focus on. Might be a hard sell to get other very expensive restaurants to produce another chef’s recipes, no matter how unique and delicious, but would Noma get into the supermarket space along with Chi-Chi’s, PF Chang and Wolfgang Puck? That might exactly be the idea. Dump the stress of the restaurant, do some very elite catering and sell branded meals to consumers without serving those meals.
It is not just rich folk’s restaurants that serve unhealthy foods today. That is at least part of why I always eat at home (now widowed). I make my own seasoning mixes for blackening and curry as well as marinades for teriyaki and jerk. Particularly the commercial blackening seasonings are way to high in salt or low in everything else depending upon POV. Dried black and great northern beans and wild rice are my staples instead of bread and potatoes. The restaurant and prepared food industries exist because I am an anomaly.
But no, I do not make my own soy sauce or grow my own whole spices.
Ditto on the sodium content. Some varieties of high-end soup have almost a daily amount (which is too high) of sodium in it in one serving. BBQ and meat smoking spices can be similar in sodium content.
Just general and untargeted commentary
I like pizza and Chicago hot dogs. I have to watch my intake of sodium. How do you do so when . . .
– 3 ounces of rotisserie chicken from the supermarket has 2,000 mg sodium. Eat that and you’ve nearly met a healthy person’s limit for the day!
– 2 slices of a medium Chicago pizza has 2,000 mg of sodium – 500 mg more than the daily allowance for a low-sodium diet.
So how do you win the battle? Watch your intake.
Sodium additives such as sodium nitrite or plain salt are used in a variety of commercially made products. Salt is a preservative held over from the good old days. Sodium Nitrite is supposed to improve taste. Worked for a meat packer (Oscar Mayer) buying all the packaging. If you like hot dogs, I can tell you right now what meat is in them. It is not what many believe all though it could be. On the other side of the coin the sodium content is high even on the upscale ones. 600mg or more of sodium or sodium xxxx is not uncommon in a serving of a processed product.
Read the packaging to find the ingredients. Don’t salt commercial packaged processed foods.
Kellie loved hot dogs, so we had grilled CAB hot dogs regularly. Now the only hot dogs that I have are Hebrew National 97% fat free beef franks and I use them as sausages to make Italian sausage and rice stew rather than dogs on buns. Ironically I found that the cheapest diced tomatoes also had half the salt and less than half the sugar as the name brands (e.g., Del Monte). The taste of healthy substitutions has little effect on the end product thanks to my heavy handed use of a full spice rack.
I always eat at home (now widowed)….
[ I am very, very saddened to learn about this. Please, please take care. ]
Thanks. I had been single for 25 years when I met Kellie in the summer of 1999. From our second date up until she died on 10/27/2022 we had stuck together like glue supporting each other when her oldest sister, then her father, and finally in 2019 her best friend of 58 years passed. During that same period my father passed four months after hers and my best friend of 41 years passed two weeks before our wedding.
Everyone dies eventually. I am far better equipped than most for life alone for so long as it lasts. Thanks for your concern. The lesson that we should all take from death that I learned in Vietnam back in 1970 is that life is too short and precious beyond comprehension once the alternatives are understood. I will not waste what precious little life that remains for me. I hope that you do not either.
Thank you; I think and hope I understand.
Nitrites prevent botulism.
Was on the kick on sodium, more than nitrites. Since you brought it up, you are more than likely in the know about alternatives to Sodium Nitrites some of which are not recognized by the USDA/FDA (maybe both or just one). Sometimes, I had to have both agree on ingredient labeling.
I’m not going to miss Noma. There was a big trend towards cooking that was more like an academic lecture than a dinner. High end food used to be about making it taste good, so there were all sorts of labor intensive processes to make the flavors and aromas more balanced and intense. More recently it has been all about processing and transformations, extractions and alternatives. Since I do a lot of cooking, I looked at a few cookbooks. I even bought a kit to try some of the recipes. Honest to god, I felt like a circa 1975 food chemist adding lecithin, emulsifiers, xanthan gum and applying a range of industrial processes. It was fun at first, but nothing tasted all that great. Industrial food labs had been churning out stuff like for decades, and taking great ingredients and making them taste like microwave dinners just didn’t seem like a big step forward. I’m guessing one could get a good meal at Noma, but I’ve a number of surprisingly mediocre meals at high priced restaurants lately. Bring back haute cuisine. It may be labor intensive and expensive, but at least the food tasted good.
Food made not to offend the tastes of the majority must necessarily have limited range. E.g., the majority is offended by fennel, so little or none is found today in the most popular brands of Italian sausage and Cajun blackening spice. I recall having a distaste for fennel in Italian sausage myself fifty years ago, but then I learned to not overdo the sausage and that used in moderation the strong flavors of the Italian sausage with fennel added a real dimension to pizza and stews. I only began making my own blended spices for blackening thirty years ago and have always kept the fennel to about 5% of the total blended spice mixture.