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Noma’s closing: Reckoning with the realities of fine dining

By Sophia Qin Feb. 15, 2023

Boasting three Michelin stars and voted best restaurant in the world five times by The World’s Best 50, vaunted Copenhagen restaurant Noma is known for its New Nordic Manifesto, which features the use of unconventional fermented and foraged ingredients and a commitment to ethical production and high quality. Noma’s innovative approaches have inspired legions of young culinary students, long-established chefs and aspirational restaurateurs alike, many of whom have attempted unsuccessfully to recreate its distinct flair. Consequently, when co-founder and chef René Redzepi suddenly announced on Jan. 9 that the restaurant would be closing in 2024—citing that the long hours and high-pressure workplace culture were unsustainable, the news rocked the culinary world.


Dana Lim Art

In The Atlantic, Rob Anderson, a self-described burned-out chef and owner of Massachusetts-based restaurant The Canteen, shared that while the announcement was shocking, it was long overdue and not unexpected. Noma’s colossal success had been underpinned by unpaid labor from its conception in 2003 until October of last year, when it finally began paying its team of around 30 unpaid interns—which is responsible for completing intricate, painstakingly repetitive tasks. Many of these workers initially hoped to expand their culinary skills and boost their resumes but instead, they found themselves having to contend with a host of systemic problems—that Noma has received repeated backlash for—including sexual and verbal harassment, The New York Times states.


“Noma should compensate its workers for having to work long, grueling hours completing the same task. The work that interns are subject to makes it sound like they are working in a factory, rather than a renowned fine dining restaurant. Usually with internships, you expect to acquire new knowledge and essential skills, but Noma does not provide opportunities for the employees to do that. However, I can see the flip side. Workers know what they are getting into before they start working at Noma; it is up to them to decide how much they are willing to sacrifice for that resume boost,” Senior Kylie Duong said.

The restaurant has grappled with a myriad of other contradictions. Its manifesto champions the values of welfare and sustainability, yet the Financial Review states that Noma employees work an average of 15 to 16 hours per day. Additionally, meals cost around $500, which is nearly a fifth of the global median household income, per Vox.


“High costs are warranted if there is something particularly unique about the food and it incorporates rare and expensive ingredients. Although personally, I would rather stick to home cooking or an affordable meal at a local restaurant—and that would likely be the case for most of the general public,” Junior Medha Nemani said.

Redzepi also shared future plans for Noma in his announcement. According to NPR, he plans to transform it into a food laboratory devoted to developing new flavors and experimenting further with fermentation. Redzepi also plans to establish an online platform, provide cooking classes and periodically host pop-ups.


Moving forward, Noma’s restaurant model may continue to exert sizable influence within the restaurant industry. However, the forthcoming end of its regular service and global media coverage regarding its toxic kitchen environment signals a potential widespread reckoning of fine dining’s unsustainable and unjust practices.


 

About the Contributors

Sophia Qin

school news page editor


Sophia Qin is a sophomore at Leland High School and the School News page editor for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys to stay in bed watching K-dramas with her dog while eating chips, sleeping, and eating more.







Dana Lim

artist


Dana Lim is a sopohmore at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she likes to binge watch tv shows or take naps.

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