Twenty builders were still working frantically a few minutes before the opening of the new Noma in Copenhagen on 16 February. For the past weeks, René Redzepi and his staff had to pull up their sleeves, buy safety hats and help the workers with the finishing touches. The creative process had been finalised by then, the menu was ready to serve the first customers but the building works were delayed.
The stress was palpable but there was no time to relax because further delays would have meant bankruptcy as René Redzepi himself told Richard Vines on Bloomberg last month.
Today, just a week after the restaurant opened you would barely notice that this was a construction site until a few days ago. Sure there are still signs as you walk in to the restaurant such as the green houses which are yet to be completed but inside that frantic rush to get the restaurant ready is not visible.
Guests are greeted in the Noma style and the service and the kitchen works like clock-work despite the 80 people working here while needing to get used to the new space which can be a daunting task in itself in normal circumstances.
“Inside we are 95% ready now,” James Spreadbury tells us at table. “It would have been great if we had a few days to get used to the location but things have been running smoothly. I have to admit that I cannot wait till Sunday to get some rest.”
That is understandable given that René, he and the staff had been clocking 18 hours a day, seven days a week trying to get the new Noma, just over 1.5 kilometres away from the old restaurant ready on time for the first serving.
The finding of an old wall threatened to delay the project even further but luckily for René and his team this did not have any significance and therefore the project could carry on even though it suffered delays.
“The menu had been ready for some time,” René told us as we toured the restaurant after a lunch on 23 February. But there was no time to relax, a few minutes before the restaurant opened on February 16, René was busy cleaning the floor of the restaurant.
One thing that he and the staff have to get used to is the long 85 metre corridor which houses a number of rooms from the fermentation lab to staff quarters, the fish section, the mis-en-place section, the meat section – i.e. the heart of the work space.
“If we forget something, we have to walk a lot,” he tells us. “We’ve been walking a lot,” he jokes after a busy service on Friday afternoon.
Why would someone at the top of his game, having been a four-time winner of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant with a restaurant that attracts diners from around the world want to reinvent everything and start from scratch. “When you work in a creative field, routine is your killer. I needed something new, something that would take us to the future,” he said.
The new restaurant has been designed with this in mind. Isn’t the same thing going to happen here. At some point it will become routine again? “We have designed the building with this in mind. The space is designed to be able to change and to handle change.”
The restaurant will definitely change with the seasons. The restaurant is in the Chistianshavn, a historic neighbourhood known outside the country for the Christiania anarchist enclave. But the restaurant site was once a depot for naval mines beside an embankment and overlooking an artificial lake that welcomes thousands of birds. “It is amazing. Sometimes we are here and there are thousands of birds of all kinds,” René said.
The Danish chef has given a lot of attention to detail and particularly to light which he says is essential for him and his team. “We live in Copenhagen where the weather can be bad for 11 out of 12 months so we wanted to ensure that there is as much light coming into the restaurant and the work space as possible.”
The rooms in the restaurant are all connected with glass roof-like panels so it feels as if you are outdoors despite the fact that it is pretty cold outside. René, who is known for his perfection and his attention to detail, said a lot of the ideas for the new restaurant came from their pop-ups in Japan, Australia and Mexico saying that what they have learnt has been transformed into building of the new Noma.
Despite the fact that it is a cloudy morning, there is perfect light in the seating area and also in the kitchen which is the heart of the restaurant. The kitchen is housed in a strategic location overlooking the dining area, the private room as well as the seven non-adjoined rooms that are all connected with the the glass panels to allow light inside.
The physical location of the restaurant has changed but the new building which will also house a small urban farm with green houses, a rooftop herb garden, a barbeque area, a fermentation lab, an ant farm and much more.
The restaurant has started serving its ocean menu following a trip that René and his team took around Scandinavia in search of produce they did not know about. Once such example is the sea cucumber which is fermented at around 60C and then used in a stunning dish.
But the beauty of the place is that you will go to the restaurant in different seasons and experience the location and eat differently in every season. The menu in spring will focus on vegetables while the winter season is focused on game and the forest. Reinvention is not just in changing the location. Reinvention here has not just happened once, it is going to happen every few months.
René is known for being a perfectionist, for giving attention to every detail. It is obvious that René has thought a lot about his well-being and the well-being of his staff. And that is also a reinvention.