Text by Anthea Gerrie
For a chef who has built his reputation on serving nothing but local produce, Noma's Rene Redzepi is suddenly singing a distinctly different tune, with the announcement that he will be setting up shop at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo from January 9 through 31, 2015. “I’m not saying I plan to turn Noma into a Japanese restaurant, but Japan is a major part of our three to five-year plan,” confessed the world’s best chef at London’s Guidhall following this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.
Stealing back the crown he held for three years after a 12-month slip to number two was almost less of a shock than the confession that he has been plotting to relocate the Copenhagen restaurant to Tokyo for a full five years. “I’ve been nursing that dream since the Kyoto chef Murata invited me to Japan in 2009,” he confided.
Yet his decision to move Noma lock, stock and barrel for two months next year to gain in-depth knowledge of Japanese ingredients he feels vital for its future development – ‘I’ve eaten some of the greatest food in little Tokyo ramen houses no-one’s ever heard of and if I believed Noma was really the best in the world I’d be a pompous assohole” -is not the first time he’s turned tail on a previous belief. “I don’t feel comfortable about eating very small animals,” he told me during our last interview two years ago – and then within months there he was serving ants to diners at his Claridges pop-up in London.
The decision to take his team en masse to Tokyo uninvited – “it’s something new for us to reach out to a place where we don’t have an offer, and ask: ‘Do you actually want us?’ – is not a total surprise. In that same 2012 interview, Redzepi confessed he could not live without miso paste, sesame seeds and agad seaweed from Hokkaido in his home larder. This was at a time when not so much as a drop of olive oil was making it to the table at Noma because it just wasn’t grown in Scandinavia, although he confessed: “I’m coming round to the idea that if a few drops got into a cucumber vinaigrette it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”
It was that very year he started planned next year’s pop-up in detail, he confesses: “It’s something I’ve been working towards for two years. One of the great joys of Noma is giving each other life-changing experiences, and now I want to see what we can do with tofu, yuzu and other ingredients many of us have never worked with before.”
And he feels the 2015 pop-up at Mandarin Oriental is so important to the future of Noma that absolutely everybody has to make the trip, including the dishwashers. “They’re from Gambia, and it’s proving inordinately difficult to get visas for them, but we have to make sure we do.” And it’s not the only bureaucratic detail he needs to overcome to live the dream: “Five kids are coming with us, and we’ve found a Scandinavian school in Tokyo where we need to get them enrolled.”
Redzepi is only following a new trend with his decision to relocate his entire team half-way round the planet. Another chef who has been voted no. 1 in the world, Britain’s Heston Blumenthal, is leading the way, moving The Fat Duck 10,000 miles from Bray to Australia’s foodie capital, Melbourne, next January. That’s round about the time the Noma team will flee the Copenhagen winter tor the slightly milder Japanese one – and Redzepi is already saying sayonara on his website. www.noma.dk
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