I came here for the food. I was wrong.
When I landed dinner reservations for one of the last ever dinner services at Noma in Copenhagen, I wanted the food. I wanted it fucking bad. Whenever you mention Noma to someone, they immediately conjure up fresh scallops or perhaps moss cooked in white chocolate and an aura perfection of dining at the former 4 time reigning World’s Best Restaurant.
On the Uber ride from the airport to the hotel, I asked the driver what the best restaurant in his city was. His one word reply: Noma. The hype in my brain was beyond real right now, and I was ready for Chef René Redzepi to take me to church and deliver me from evil. The night of dinner arrived, and the food was beautiful, innovative, and delicious, as expected. From the radish pie shaped in a dome so impeccably plated it would rival cathedral architecture to the charred greens with scallop paste that tasted so delicious and so much like great BBQ that I forgot I was in fact, eating vegetables, it was everything you’d expect from a great restaurant. I marveled and soaked it all in and took pictures of all the dishes. Three hours later, I departed after the restaurant tour.
The following day, after checking my phone and seeing all the comments on my latest culinary adventure roll in via social media, I stopped myself and asked:
What more do I understand of Noma? What more do I understand of what makes it great?
Did it exist merely as a place for me to take a few pictures at and move on? I saw perhaps the world's greatest restaurant reduced to 32 photos on my phone. Do I get superpowers now?
I was thinking fucking superficially, and that was my problem.
As I said before, I came here for the food, and I was wrong.
Later that week, I headed to a gathering to bid a final farewell to the famed restaurant, as Chef Redzepi was shuttering its doors to reopen Noma in a different location. While enjoying wine and dinner that night, the food took a backseat to the conversation at the table. People from all areas were engaging in conversations about food culture. We not only talked about local ingredients and what food, particularly Noma's, meant to them but also about food as a universal language of the world.
As I walked around the room and talked to more people throughout the night, I glanced around and said to myself, “THIS is Noma. This is fucking it. Right fucking here” It was as if René Redzepi had epitomized in Noma a mindset that he can take anywhere in the world: If you take unique local ingredients from a region, create amazing innovative dishes embodying those ingredients and use those dishes to start a conversation about a place, culture, or movement, then you’ve achieved something that transcends the culinary art form.
By looking beyond a dish, and onto what each individual ingredient represents and seeing its importance, you’re able to understand and gain knowledge about a particular people and region. Noma is successful in the fact that it provokes and challenges you to understand it. It takes these cultures and flavors and forces you to confront them and ask yourself about the individuality of the ingredient. Once it gets you to understand these ingredients and the culture and process behind it, It ceases to be a restaurant. It becomes a teacher, and ultimately, it becomes something greater. In the end, Noma becomes a state of mind.