In early 2017, Danish fine-dining mecca Noma shut its doors for a complete overhaul. After a few construction hiccups, chef-owner René Redzepi finally reopened Noma 2.0 in February amid much fanfare.
The rebooted space is – dare we say it – an exercise in Scandinavian chic, with plenty of blonde wood and natural light. Menu-wise, it stays true to its predecessor’s roots, celebrating seasonal and hyper-local produce foraged from the surrounding lands and seas.
This distinctive culinary philosophy has influenced chefs worldwide, particularly those who cut their teeth in Noma’s hallowed kitchens. We shine a spotlight on the alumni who have successfully struck out on their own.
Benjamin Greeno, Sydney
British-born Greeno was Redzepi’s first employee when Noma opened in 2003. “I practically lived on René’s sofa during the first three months,” he reminisces. His main takeaways from his time there? “To expect the absolute best from my suppliers and staff, and to organise my time well,” he shares. As the executive chef at Australian hospitality group Merivale, and with five establishments under his care, these lessons have certainly come in handy. One of these venues is the Paddington in Sydney, a contemporary take on the traditional pub. Here, the menu takes centre stage – think rotisserie meats and vegetables in creative dishes like pork belly with grilled peaches.
Sandia Chang & James Knappett, London
For Chang and Knappett, a memorable meal at Noma in 2007 proved life-changing in more ways than one. Inspired by their dining experience, Knappett immediately applied as a chef; Chang came on board a year later as a waiter. In 2012, the husband-and-wife team opened their own dual-concept space in London: Bubbledogs celebrates the unlikely combo of hotdogs and champagne; Kitchen Table, hidden at the back, offers a modern British riff on omakase-style dining. Like Noma, both restaurants pride themselves on staying true to ingredients. “Whether it’s a hot dog or a beautifully plated dish, we champion only the freshest artisanal produce,” Chang declares.
Kristian Baumann, Copenhagen
Can’t score a table at Noma? Try sister restaurant 108 instead. At its helm is Seoul-born Baumann, the 31-year-old protégé handpicked by Redzepi to spearhead the venture. “I’ve always wanted to open my own establishment, and René and I realised we shared the same culinary vision,” he explains. “108 was the natural result.” Like its older sibling, 108 serves exquisite New Nordic cuisine and focuses on fermenting and foraging. However, 108 has its own test kitchen, where Baumann dreams up flavour combinations like brown beech mushrooms with a smoked egg yolk sauce – revelatory dishes that put 108 in a league of its own.
Simon Martin, Manchester
Martin started out at Noma as a fresh-faced intern in 2016. Three months later, he was offered a full-time position. “Working at Noma was amazing,” reflects Martin. “It’s a high-pressure environment, but I learnt so much about the creative process.” The 27-year-old is taking this spirit of innovation to his new restaurant, Mana, which will open in Manchester this summer. “Mana will essentially be British, but we’ll serve food nobody has seen before,” he reveals. “We want to define our own culinary ethos and expand our knowledge of produce – and there’s a lifetime of work to be done on that.”
Mads Refslund, New York
More than a decade after his departure, Refslund – one of the restaurant’s original co-founders – is still inextricably linked to Noma despite breaking away in 2004. “Noma was locked in a dogma of Nordic cuisine, but I wanted to be more experimental,” he explains. Refslund went on to open Michelin-starred Restaurant MR in Copenhagen and revamp New York’s Acme in 2012. His next venture is a yet-to-be-named restaurant, slated to open in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg later this year. It’ll be themed around fire and ice, with “ingredients from New York’s own backyard”, he reveals. Like Noma, the menu will draw heavily on nature; in a sense, then, Refslund will be coming full circle.
Illustration by Chris Malbon
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine.