Foraging foodies, smoked quail egg aficionados and the culinary-minded Instagram elite were left stunned earlier this week after news broke that lauded Danish chef René Redzepi is shuttering his pioneering Copenhagen eatery, Noma, after a wildly influential 12-year run. Redzepi, a Copenhagen native of Danish and Macedonian extraction, plans to hold his final dinner service on New Year’s Eve 2016.
But before you go crying into your plate of monkfish liver or your adorable felt bread basket, do know that Noma — aka the “best restaurant in the world,” according to Restaurant magazine in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 — is not entirely no more-a and will return at some point in 2017. However, when Noma (a portmanteau of nordisk and mad, the Danish words for “Nordic” and “food,” respectively) does reemerge it will do so as an entirely new creature.
In fact, Noma will be reborn less a standalone restaurant and more as a bustling urban farm situated on an abandoned lot where a decrepit warehouse — like “an auditorium-sized crack den” per the New York Times — currently stands.
The down-and-out parcel itself is located on the edge on Christiania, an autonomous mini-city in the middle of Copenhagen that’s home to biker gangs, feral cats, anarchist squatters, aging hippies and hashish dealers aplenty. Centered around disused military barracks and covered top to bottom with some pretty spectacular graffiti, Christiana, despite its off-the-beaten-track tourist appeal and reputation as a cultural hotspot, isn’t exactly the kind of place you’d expect a two Michelin star fine dining establishment to set up shop. After all, car-free Christiana's main drag is known as Pusher Street — and not because there's a lot of strollers.
Christiana, a ramshackle "free town" within the city of Copenhagen established by squatters in 1971, will be the site of innovative chef Rene Redzepi's new urban farm. (Photo: Denmark'd/flickr)
Yet, colorful Christiana — or the dodgy periphery of it, anyways — will be home to Redzepi’s adventurous urban agriculture operation, an operation — one part adaptive reuse project, one part farm — that will include a rooftop greenhouse and vegetable patches set afloat on rafts on an adjacent lake. A full-time farmer would join the Noma staff.
And, yes, Noma itself, with an entirely new menu with an even greater emphasis on seasonal ingredients, will serve as the centerpiece of Redzepi’s “state-of-the-art urban farm.” Noma is currently tucked away on the ground floor of an 18th century harborside warehouse in Copenhagen's bustling Christianshavn district, not too far from its future home.
"It makes sense to do it here,” Redzepi tells the Times. “It makes sense to have your own farm, as a restaurant of this caliber.”
He adds: It really, really, really, really makes me nervous. I’m not afraid. But it does make me nervous.”
And it’s not like Redzepi's legions of fans and devoted regulars aren’t already used to short-term closures at Noma. In addition to the closing that will proceed the opening of Redzepi’s farm project in Christiana, Noma’s Copenhagen outpost will also be shuttered from the end of this year through next April as Redzepi, ever the restless and wanderlust-stricken innovator, turns his attention to a special pop-up eatery in Sydney, Australia. The entire Noma team, from dishwashers to front of the house staff, will be joining their boss Down Under.
Writes Redzepi on the Noma website:
Since my first trip to Australia several years ago I’ve been wanting to spend more time there— exploring, tasting, and understanding its ingredients. From the tropical fruit in the north, to the native pepper leaf of Tasmania; the pristine fish and shellfish of the very south, and all the new exotic wonders in between. Our research forays will take us into the bush, around every shoreline, weeding our way through Flinders and Kangaroo Island. Somewhere along that course I may even get my first surfing lesson.
Earlier this year, Noma relocated to Japan for a much-hyped and totally sold-out two-month stint at Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel where Redzepi's 16-course tasting menu included (initially distressing) delicacies such as live jumbo prawns covered with ants.
Back in Copenhagen, the Times details how a “reverent adherence to seasonality” would impact the new, farm-bound Noma. Wild game and “foraged autumnal ingredients” would dominate the menu during the fall. In winter, seafood would reign supreme. In spring and summer, “when the world turns green” in the words of Redzepi, Noma would transform into a vegetarian eatery where a majority, if not the entirety, of the menu is sourced from the restaurant’s urban farm.
Presenting the world's fanciest fried egg: Noma's famous "hen and the egg" dish. (Photo: Christoffer Grann/flickr
Nom Nom: Wild rose-topped flatbreads at Noma, Copenhagen. (Photo: stephen velasco/flickr)
Current menu offerings at Noma, a trendsetter in nouveau Nordic cuisine, include “sweet peas, milk curb and sliced kelp,” “pumpkin, rose petals and barley” and “berries and greens soaked in vinegar for one year.” (In addition to entomophagy, foraging and the use of edible flowers, Redzepi has also championed old-world preservation techniques such as fermentation). The wine list is extensive and expensive.
Newsweek lists sorrel leaf and cricket paste along with deep-fried reindeer moss as being amongst Noma’s most memorable dishes. Redzepi's signature offering, however, is "hen and the egg," a patron-prepared dish that's better watched than described with words.
Although not mentioned in the aforementioned New York Times article that details Redzepi’s blight-transforming agrarian ambitions, there are whispers that fellow Danish visionary, globetrotting superstar of sustainable architecture Bjarke Ingels, will be involved in the design of the farm. Neither Redzepi or Ingels have confirmed the rumors.
Sure, it’s hearsay, but pretty damned delicious hearsay.