Opinion | Noma and the Fizzle of Too-Fine Dining

It was at Noma that I ate the most disturbing meal of my life.

I have to say the dish was most disturbing, although the “dish” was not very good, as it wiggled and twitched. “You’ll never taste a fresher shrimp in your life,” the waiter promised me and told me to put it in my mouth. But I was frozen like new.

When he came back a few minutes later, it was still moving – slower. “It will die soon,” he said, in the voice of a priest performing the last rites. “It can also die for its intended purpose.” All these years later, I have a vivid memory of how quickly and hard I chewed it, lest it come out and roll on my tongue. I have no recollection of its taste.

There’s a metaphor here, and it doesn’t just apply to Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that stunned the world this week with the announcement that it would close for regular service late next year, but but also for other famous, coveted food temples around the world who forever strive to dazzle the egotistical epics with new stunts, novel sensations, presentation methods we have never imagined, flora and fauna are rarely pinned to the plate.

Are they talking about so much beyond the fundamentals of dining—things like ingenuity, philosophy, vanity, eccentricity—that they are no longer restaurants in any traditional sense? more traditional and sustainable? Are they performing a rococo play for such a rare audience that they are having borrowed time?

Noma has regularly topped the rankings of the world’s best restaurants since René Redzepi opened its doors two decades ago and began to find, pickle and glaze its way to immense popularity as a restaurant. a chef with extraordinary vision and precise principles. But maintaining the artistic and innovative standards he sets for himself – and the pilgrims to Noma expect – requires complicated work and a huge staff, and Julia Moskin saved meaning in an article in The Times that Noma and similar high-end restaurants are “facing close scrutiny for their treatment of workers, many of whom are underpaid or unpaid.”

Redzepi told Moskin that although a meal at Noma is now at least $500 per person, the numbers don’t add up yet. He plans to turn Noma into a food lab that occasionally offers buffet meals. “We have to completely rethink the industry,” he said. “This is simply too difficult, and we have to work in a different way.”

“Industry” is too broad a term. He’s talking about a small, gilded room of it. And that room is long overdue for a reevaluation – not because it’s not a showcase of extraordinary creativity, not because it’s not a storehouse of remarkable joy, but because it’s gone too far. far from its truest mission to that height. few people can achieve.

I write that as someone with great respect for Redzepi, who i spent time with in and around Copenhagen in 2010. Together we forage in a patch of weeds by the sea. In a restaurant that was cheaper and more accessible than his, we had a lunch of smoked salmon and rye bread. We talk and talk. And I’m in awe of the amount of thought he’s put into what he’s doing — with his determination to show diners that with his knowledge of history, imagination, and enough enterprise, he He can take the finite piece of land where he has found himself and squeeze a seemingly limitless amount of food and flavor from it.

At Noma, almost everything I eat is presented in an odd way – langoustines arrive on a craggy rock, all around them Not crawl – or carefully sourced. Some of them are referred to as a botanical term. There is dried sea buckthorn in the air. There are soaked ramson flowers.

It’s intriguing and fun and I guess it’s delicious, but it adds to the confusion I’ve begun to feel — and never quite cope with — during my time as a restaurant reviewer. The Times from 2004 to 2009. I Can’t Needless to say, when I break into some of the more exclusive sanctuaries, whether I’m there for dinner or to partake in some sort of statement: about the the elegance I was approached with, of the chef’s culinary prudence, of ambition, of experimentation.

I know I’m not alone. Current restaurant critic for The Times, Pete Wells, has completely rethought the question of what kind of establishment deserves attention and praise. In June he gave La Piraña Lechonera three out of four stars, a food cart in the South Bronx that serves Puerto Rican-style roast pork and is open only on Saturdays and Sundays. He writes that it “brings more fun in two days than most restaurants do in a week.”

Pleasure, along with satisfaction: To me, that seems to be the ultimate goal of a restaurant, one that doesn’t require the financial and logistical complications of an extremely tall establishment grants a commitment to fair wages for its employees and has clients who require, or are at least familiar with, the elements of revelation and acrobatic preparation.

Pleasure, along with satisfaction: I got them from that smoked salmon and rye. They didn’t give me bragging rights or a story to tell. But they also don’t ask for much.


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