Fine dining has changed since Noma opened two decades ago, with the restaurant serving grilled reindeer heart on a bed of fresh pine and saffron ice cream. A new global class of tourists pay at least $500 per person for a multi-course tasting menu and schedule flights and vacations around it.
René Redzepi, the creator of Noma, has been hailed as the most brilliant and influential chef of his generation.
The New York Times quotes Mr. Redzepi as saying that the restaurant will close 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 occasional pop-ups. He will become more of a chief creative officer than a chef.
The move is likely to shock people. Imagine if Manchester United decided to close the stadium to the fans in order to keep playing.
As Noma and other elite restaurants face scrutiny of their treatment of the workers, many of them pay 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 may be facing a crisis.
According to Mr. Redzepi, the math of paying nearly 100 employees fairly while maintaining high standards is not feasible.
He said that the industry needs to be completely changed. We need to work in a different way.
The chef David Kinch, who last week closed his three-Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif., said that the last 30 years were a golden age when restaurants became less formal and more exciting. He said that fine dining was no longer something he wanted to do himself or to hurt his staff.
He said that fine dining needs to be changed. They do not know how it will come out.
The chef who worked at Noma for four years said that fine dining is often abused.
He said that everything is built on someone else's back.
The founder of a chain of fried-chicken sandwich shops said he values the artistry he learned at Noma. He asked if they wanted to tell people not to have great experiences to just eat potatoes. It's absolutely not. That's the problem.
As the human cost of the industry comes under scrutiny, Mr. Redzepi's headaches have increased, with media reporting and online activism critical of Noma's treatment of foreign workers. Noma added at least $50,000 to its labor costs in October.
In the past two years, Mr. Redzepi and his staff scaled their last remaining mountaintop, receiving a thirdMichelin star, and Noma topped the influential World's 50 Best Restaurants list for the fifth time.
The decision to close Noma's doors was not caused by any of those factors. He said that operating at the highest level that has earned Noma international adulation was no longer feasible. He had never stopped working long enough to question the viability of the business model until the Covid epidemic kept him at home.
For the last decade, Mr. Redzepi, 45, has been on a public spiritual journey, embracing therapy, coaching and walking meditation in order to exorcise the famously rageful, volatile and workaholic young chef he was when he opened Noma in 2004. He said that the process made him break.
He helped create the modern fine-dining model. It just doesn't work as an employer and as a human being.
A new generation of workers has begun using social media to speak out against their employers. Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Eleven Madison Park, two of the top destinations in the country, have been the subject of media investigations into working conditions. The image of armies of harried young chefs silently wielding tweezers in service to a chef-auteur has been popularized by recent films and TV series.
Mr. Redzepi admitted to being a bully in an essay he wrote in 2015.
Employees could work four days a week in an ideal restaurant. The problem is how to make enough money to live in the suburbs.
Mr. Redzepi's reputation was built on his challenges to fine-dining tradition, most famously tossing imported delicacies like French foie gras and Italian truffles in favor of local and foraged ingredients. The New Nordic cooking style swept all of Sweden into a new status as an elite destination for food and drink.
Scores of chefs have moved toDenmark to study Mr. Redzepi's work, then spread his style to other countries. Mr. Redzepi has become a global visionary as a result of his keynote speeches. He was knighted by the queen ofDenmark and published a book on leadership.
The kitchen culture at Noma did not always live up to expectations. In interviews, dozens of people who worked at Noma between 2008 and 2021 said that 16-hour workdays have been a regular part of their job.
A Noma spokeswoman said, "While our industry has been characterized by long working hours, this is something we at Noma continually work to improve."
The internship program has helped Noma shore up its labor force by providing 20 to 30 full-time workers who do a lot of the work.
The program gave only a work visa. Being able to say, "I staged at Noma" is a pricelesscredential. Most of the alumni interviewed said that an internship at Noma is worth the time and money.
When she was chosen as an intern, hegde had just graduated from a cooking school. She didn't know anything about Noma except that it was the best restaurant in the world.
The only job Ms. Hegde had for most of that time was to make fruit-leather beetles. She was taught how to spread the jam evenly, watch the drying process, and use tweezers to assemble her body. Each diner was served a single beetle in a wooden box, until Ms. Hegde had 120 perfect beetles.
She said she was quick, quiet and organized, but little about cooking. She said that she didn't expect that she would only use her knife a couple of times a day.
Ms. Hegde was told to work in silence by the junior chefs she helped, and was forbidden to laugh.
She thought her internship was about learning and helping Noma. I don't think a toxic work environment is needed.
According to the Noma spokeswoman, all restaurant workers are expected to perform repetitive tasks, and that Ms. Hegde's account does not reflect the experience we wish for our interns or anyone on our team.
The fact that exploitation and abuse in kitchens persist, even in protective societies likeDenmark, has recently been highlighted by the activist who has not worked atNoma.
She and a dozen other people said a code of loyalty among Noma alumni made it difficult for workers at those restaurants to speak out about working conditions.
She said that Mr. Redzepi is a Mafia don. No one disobeys him in public or private.
The Noma spokeswoman said that wasn't true. She stated that he has worked to change the problems.
Mr. Redzepi had two decades to do that. She said that he didn't try enough.
What will be the future of Noma?
Mr. Redzepi said his commitment to high-quality ingredients and flawless execution makes him not wealthy. According to public records, he is a majority owner of Noma and part owner of several popular ventures.
Satellite restaurants opening around the world would not solve the problem according to him. I've been offered many blank checks in the country. I don't think it entices me.
Mr. Redzepi has been cooking professionally since he was 15 years old. The change won't take effect for nearly two years because of advance commitments and the construction of a new production facility.
He hopes that we can show the world that you can grow old and have fun in the industry. It's better to work under good management conditions that don't wear people out than it is to work under bad management conditions.
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