The world’s best restaurant is unsustainable

Copenhagen’s Noma is closing as its chef says the entire model has become unsustainable.

Personnel of the World class Danish restaurant Noma works in the kichten on May 31, 2021 in Copenhagen. - While the six-month Covid-19 closure has been tough for Noma, consistently ranked as one of the world's top restaurants, it's also been an opportunity to reinvent its cuisine. As it reopened this June, the restaurant has reworked its menu -- in part to take the lack of foreign tourists into account. (Photo by Thibault Savary / AFP) (Photo by THIBAULT SAVARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Copenhagen’s Noma is closing, despite drawing customers willing to fork over $500+ to eat reindeer penis and duck brains.

Noma’s cooking style, using foraged local ingredients, is known as “New Nordic,” and it’s won the establishment three Michelin stars and numerous awards since opening in 2003.

But Chef René Redzepi is calling it quits, per The New York Times.

Why?

Restaurant work is notoriously hard, especially fine dining.

  • A 2022 Financial Times article detailed myriad grueling, sometimes abusive, experiences in Copenhagen’s culinary scene.
  • Noma was criticized for its unpaid internships where aspiring chefs hoped to gain experience (though one said she did nothing but craft beetles out of fruit leather). Paying them added $50k+ to monthly expenses.

Redzepi, who committed to making Noma “the best in terms of workplace” in a 2021 awards acceptance speech, now says paying Noma’s ~100 employees fairly while maintaining acceptable standards and pricing is “unsustainable”  — as is the entire fine-dining model Noma pioneered.

What’s next?

Noma will transform into a test kitchen for Noma Projects — an ecommerce site where you can currently buy smoked mushroom garum — at the end of 2024.

The dining room will only host the occasional pop-up. But whether that model is sustainable remains to be seen.

Meanwhile: Many are drawing comparisons to The Menu, which dropped on HBO Max the day before Noma’s announcement. The thriller features Ralph Fiennes as a famed chef, hosting an, uh, unforgettable tasting menu on a private island.

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