COPENHAGEN: René Redzepi, chef of noma restaurant in Copenhagen, one of the leading restaurants in the world is working on the assumption that the restaurant will be welcoming between 50% to 75% less guests than two months ago following the COVID-19 crisis.
“I think that when we will reopen we will still be able to have 40 guests seated at the restaurant but we will need to adapt to a new reality. The question I am asking myself is what will the restaurant look like when it reopens. The concept of sitting at table for four to five hours in a fine dining context seems very dated to me despite being just one month old. We might be back there in a few years but this will take time.”
Speaking with Canadian journalist Marie-Claude Lortie on Instagram Live, the Danish chef said he and his team were already thinking about noma 3.0. Marie-Claude interviewed Massimo Bottura on Monday, an interview we unfortunately missed.
“We will need to think very differently about the restaurant experience when we reopen.”
Redzepi believes that there will be many less people travelling to the restaurant over the next few years. “People will be asking questions like can I trust the chef to handle my food. There will be fewer guests than when the restaurant closed because of the crisis. People will be travelling less,” he said.
Redzepi was on a three-month sabbatical with his family when the crisis hit. Now on his return to Copenhagen, he believes he will not be travelling a lot over the coming years. “I am reconsidering everything including travelling. I will not go anywhere because most of the time I will be here to fix problems. It will take us years to fix this financial burden,” he said.
He had planned what to do 10 days before the Danish government locked down the country. “With the restaurant management, we were noticing increased cancellations and from that point onwards we developed a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario plan. We decided that if the restaurant was to close we would pay our staff’s bills and cook for them every day. For example, today we are preparing buttermilk fried chicken for 70 people,” he said.
To date, noma has not fired any person in their staff. “After two weeks, the government introduced measures for restaurants to cover a large part of the salary. It does not cover everything but with our banks, we should be safe till the end of the year,” he said.
Redzepi said that a few weeks into the crisis, the old world has already started to feel strange. “We need to use this opportunity to make things better. The price of food will increase in future but we need to support local farmers and local growers. People may have less money but what we have realised in this crisis is the people who are most valuable in our society are not those we might think of but rather those working in healthcare or those cleaning our streets. We may need to consume differently. We may need to buy less clothes, or not upgrade to the new iPhone. An iPhone costs the same as three months of organic food,” he said.
The chef said that what has been incredible about the crisis is how things have switched overnight. It was as if the earth was smoking 40 cigarettes a day and has now stopped. “We need to reflect on how we can take care of other crisis that are looming such as the environment,” he said. “The main question as a businessman is how to be more productive but also a better citizen.”
He expressed gratitude for his ‘adapted’ home country saying that while the Danes like to complain but it looks like a ‘luxury’ crisis compared to other places in the world where people run out of money within one or two weeks and lost their health insurance or had no food at home.
He said the restaurant trade and hotel business will be among the hardest hit if not the hardest hit after this crisis and fears for his younger colleagues. “Most restaurants operate on very tight margins. It is like walking around on paper. It is incredible how fragile it all is. I worry for the young chefs. I think that big groups will be the winners in this crisis. “They have the cash and they will get everything at half the price. This is discouraging and will lead to a more uniform offering and less diversity,” he said.
He said loss of lives as well as the loss of jobs from the crisis was terrible. But he also looked at the positive side of things. “In the long run, it is good for people to come together as a group, to be closer together, to look each other in the eye knowing that we are all more vulnerable.”
Redzepi and his team are not thinking about the future for the time being. “We are on shutdown except for three people that rotate weekly who come in to prepare food and food boxes for the team.”We will get out of this, it is painful but it is important that we stick together and help the people around us. It is a beautiful moment in a strange way. If we don’t do this, more people will die which is why we are doing this to take care of people,” he said.
Taking time to read
Rene Redzepi said he has read over 10 books over the past three months. “I am making it a point of reading 100 pages a day which is something I would not do otherwise because of lack of time.”
He mentioned three books which he has particularly enjoyed. One is a biography Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly, the other is We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer and the last is The Overstory: a novel, a book about trees which he described as a beautiful book though not easy to read.