Like many whose Google News “For You” feeds are skewed toward restaurant reviews and the latest TikTok recipe trends, I woke up to the news that Noma is closing next year (to focus on e-commerce and the occasional pop-up). You can read about René Redzepi and his acclaimed hyperlocal, experimental restaurant elsewhere; there will be no shortage of retrospectives on how Noma completely rearranged the conception of what restaurants can do, or how Redzepi was perhaps the most singular influence on a whole generation of chefs. And that’s all right! But let’s be real. You were probably never going to go to Noma.
There is a certain type of restaurant I have classified in my head as “Why Bother.” This has nothing to do with the potential quality of the food or nobility of the mission, but rather the other calculations at play; Noma is the ultimate “Why Bother.” First, it is in Copenhagen, where I do not live. Second, reservations are incredibly hard to come by, with 20,000 people a day attempting to snag one in 2012, and people monitoring Redzepi’s Twitter account for possible last-minute cancellations. And then of course there’s the cost. Dinner with a wine pairing is 5,500 krone (currently nearly $800), which amazingly is not as expensive as some tasting menus in New York, but is still a lot. By the time I even heard about Noma’s five-day residency in Brooklyn last year, it was sold out, and I don’t even have an American Express card to comp my meal.
All of this adds up to precious few being able to experience Noma, and that experience requires so much effort that I can’t help thinking that my personal energy would be better spent elsewhere. Maybe this is sour grapes! Maybe I should have saved my money and used every connection possible to get a reservation and it would have been a singularly transcendent experience. I’ll never know. Which kind of feels like the point — how many people will have ever known?
I cannot bring myself to mourn Noma’s closure, because there is no part of me that feels something is being taken away from me. At this point, you also don’t really have to go to Noma to experience Noma. There are enough Noma alums — and alums of restaurants opened by Noma alums — that Noma is all around us. It’s in every instance a fine dining restaurant cites locally foraged ingredients as the inspiration for a dish, in every goth bird we’re still seeing on tables today, and every high-end restaurant’s experiments with DTC fermented sauces.
I’m glad Noma existed, because now I get to reap the benefits of hundreds of chefs inspired by the innovations of Redzepi’s team. I’m also glad Redzepi realized a restaurant that relies on unpaid labor is not sustainable “financially or emotionally,” as he told the New York Times. And I hope that the next time a place exists that influences global cuisine so much, it is not because of fanaticism around a singular supposed genius, or the rigidity of its philosophy (which one Danish newspaper described as “fascism in avant-garde clothing”), but because it models some sort of real sustainability, both environmentally and in labour.
But I won’t be sad because the window is closing to eat reindeer brain custard while worrying I’d accidentally be too loud and ruin the near-holy experience some guests considered it. Outside the cost and the schlep, Noma always seemed like it was built on the assumption of a diner’s reverence. I’m sure it was great, but so are lots of things. Also, whatever, they’re still doing pop-ups.