As one door closes for Noma, another opens
Author: Jeni Porter
Last Saturday night, 25 February, René Redzepi ended an era when he closed the doors on Strandgade 93, the former whaling depot that's been home to Noma for the past 13 years.
It was a long goodbye with each "final" moment - the last pre-service briefing, the final chocolate dessert for table eight, the last team photo with thumbs up, the removal of those four small letters (n, o, m, a) that symbolised an influential culinary movement -captured on social media.
Redzepi locked the doors and led 200 family and friends in a ceremonial procession in the driving rain to the graffiti-covered former arsenal-storage bunker that will become Noma's new home at the end of this year. He and his crew hosted a party that was notable for its generosity - not just seen in the huge platters of steamed Norwegian king crab and egg yolk emulsion straight off the Noma menu washed down with magnums of Tschida Himmel auf Erden, but also in the generosity of spirit.
Redzepi was at times tearful and, unusually, lost for words, as were many of the card-carrying friends of Noma in attendance. Call me biased - I drank the Kool-Aid and it was pretty delicious - but the event was about much more than moving to a new address. It was a celebration and an acknowledgement of a legacy that goes way beyond a way of cooking or rethinking fine dining. It was a testament to the Redzepi you see out of the limelight in his hometown. The prodigiously talented and relentlessly demanding chef who has given a generation of super-talented, super-ambitious people a gift of self-belief and, a greater gift, the knowledge that their tough and fiercely competitive industry does not have to be a zero sum game.
That it's possible to look out for and share in others' successes not just at no cost to your own, but as a benefit to your own is why Copenhagen is different, and why so many of the expats who passed through Noma stayed to open their own places. This community gives them the confidence to pursue their dream knowing that even if critics or locals don't get it, their former colleagues and friends will back them.
In Sydney I've seen civilised successful restaurant folk turn nasty when one of their protégés opens their own place around the corner. In Copenhagen you're more likely to see Redzepi or Matt Orlando of Amass or Christian Puglisi of Relæ helping them fit out their new restaurant and then lining up to be their first guests.
Having lived here for four years and observed this spirit close at hand, I believe it's the key reason Copenhagen went from a second- or third-tier destination to a dining capital in a decade.
Redzepi himself says, "I've said this so many times over the past decade: one of the major things that pushes innovation is that everybody here's in it together. There's competition but it's healthy; it's not built on jealousy. We send guests, we tell our friends and family, you try to help out as much as you can, and it's the only right way to go about it."
And that's why the likes of Fergus and Margot Henderson, Iñaki Aizpitarte, Esben Holmboe Bang, Paul Cunningham, Rasmus Kofoed, and numerous industry people who are stars in their own right, left their restaurants in London, Paris, Oslo, New York, Stockholm, and Copenhagen on a Saturday night to mark the moment that Noma moved into its next generation.