The most important restaurant in the world right now is Noma, the name being a contraction of the Danish words for 'Nordic' and 'Food'. Charismatic young chef René Redzepi has turned Danish food upside down. Together with his partner at Noma, Claus Meyer, he has practically invented and popularized the idea of Nordic cuisine. And more than anyone else he has taken the path of international gastronomy and flavour creativity away from the artificial and chemically-influenced, where food was increasingly conceived and constructed in quasi-laboratory conditions.
René Redzepi and Noma have reversed the direction of food creativity, insisting that nature, and the exploration of nature should be the foundation of cooking. So much more than “just” a restaurant that has twice been named the best restaurant in the world in The World's 50 Best Restaurants, Noma is at the forefront of gastronomic creativity, fielding a globalized kitchen team, and serving foods that sparkle and reshape the notion of what food is or should be. Foraging is a key activity, where chefs are sent to the woods to gather all the edibles otherwise forgotten by mainstream food culture. Noma delivers a critique of the direction of modern food. René Redzepi often likes to point out how many species are being overlooked by modern agriculture. There are thousands of apple species, hundreds of horseradish and rhubarb species – all of them with different flavour characteristics, but only a few are in production. By showing the diversity of nature he hopes to set an agenda on the need to protect biodiversity and to celebrate the greatness of Nature.
The restaurant itself lives under a rigid dogma, serving only foods from the Nordic countries. Eight years ago, when Noma started out, it was the laughing stock of many international chefs, being teased with an alleged menu of braised beaver and fried whale penis. But the jokes are few and far between these days.
The food on the plate is often playful, with edible flowerpots and munchable moss. There is a relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant. For a kitchen that is world-renowned, possibly the best or most creative of its generation, to many it is a surprise that waiters wear informal brown shirts, there are no white cloths on the wooden tables and men are sometimes handed a traditional Nordic dagger for eating meats. You will find absolutely no imitation of the traditional French way of running a high-end restaurant, and the place is very subtle about its exclusivity. Noma is a carrier of the egalitarian Scandinavian values.
Wild herbs and unusual animals are the basis of many of the dishes, Redzepi often observing the mantra of putting the vegetables centre stage. The food at Noma is not a new conservatism or a Nordic renaissance; the food is not a re-enactment of something forgotten. It is a new, very creative salute to wild Nordic nature, intense, and an environment all its own. All over the planet the dogma of re-exploring the local habitat is being adopted, and shaped to local flora and fauna. Chefs like Ben Shewry in Australia and Daniel Patterson in California are to be included in the same movement of chefs turning their eyes onto their local terrain once again.
Getting a table at Noma is near impossible. Best shot is to call and see if there are cancellations for lunch, the same menu being served day and night.