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Why Noma, One of the World’s Best Restaurants, Is Closing Its Doors

After 20 years, René Redzepi is turning his Copenhagen restaurant into a giant test kitchen.

Noma Copenhagen dining room Courtesy Noma

It’s the end of a fine-dining era.

Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant consistently called one of the best in the world—if not the best—announced on Monday that it would be closing at the end of 2024. René Redzepi, whose style of cooking ushered in the New Nordic movement, will turn his focus to food innovation, basically making Noma a giant test kitchen.

“I hope we can prove to the world that you can grow old and be creative and have fun in the industry,” Redzepi told The New York Times. “Instead of hard, grueling, low-paid work under poor management conditions that wears people out.”

Food at Noma
A Noma offering Courtesy Noma

Redzepi opened Noma in 2003 and early on it was a curiosity. The El Bulli alum limited his restaurant to using only Nordic ingredients, which made him and his team delve even deeper into local produce and proteins, going so far as to forage for the ingredients they needed. But not everyone was sure what they were up to.

“Do you remember the opening years of Noma? How few people believed in us?” Redzepi said when the restaurant was crowned World’s Best in 2014. “We were the geeks in the class of linens and fine wine. They gave us funny names. We all remember ‘the seal f*cker.'”

Those detractors would soon grow silent. In its original incarnation Noma topped the World’s 50 Best list four times before closing down and reopening in a new location, where it claimed the No. 1 spot again. For years a third Michelin star evaded the restaurant until in 2021 it finally earned that honor as well. From its techniques to its aesthetics, at Noma’s height it was the most influential restaurant in the world.

“René taught us we should only be cooking of a place, of what grows around us, and we should be discovering those things and finding value in them,” Empellón’s Alex Stupak told Robb Report in 2019. Noma “told people that they could go and cook their own food and look at themselves in the environment they live in and the relationships you can grow to further what you do,” echoed Fabián von Hauske Valtierra of Contra and Wildair.

Rene Redzepi
René Redzepi Courtesy of Laura-Lajh-Prijatelj

But all of Noma’s success came at a price, one that Redzepi has been vocal about in the past and the present. The restaurant’s inventive dishes required long hours to create, with many low-paid employees or unpaid interns doing the work (Noma only began paying its interns in October). The inherent stresses of the kitchen environment were compounded by Redzepi’s verbal and physical abuse, which he admitted to in a 2015 essay. Poor workplace culture has been an endemic problem to fine dining, as exhibited by recent reporting on Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Eleven Madison Park. And across the restaurant business, since the pandemic hit, many employees are no longer willing to endure the environment.

“We have to completely rethink the industry,” Redzepi told the Times. “This is simply too hard, and we have to work in a different way.”

As news of Noma’s announcement spread today, many online wondered if this was the end of fine dining as we know it. But Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas has responded on Twitter, arguing Michelin three-star level dining is still possible, citing how his company offers health insurance, 401K match, family medical leave and paid time off while still being profitable.

That’s not the route Redzepi will take though. Noma 3.0 will be a lab where staff will develop new dishes and products. It’s a bulking up of Noma Projects, which the restaurant launched recently as a platform where it could share its innovations. The restaurant won’t completely stop serving guests—pop-ups and special events will be held in the future—but Noma’s life as we once knew it is over.

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