Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not About Copenhagen

I can't quite remember the first time I'd heard about noma. I vaguely remember a friend telling me about it, and then I saw interviews with René Redzepi in the movie Three Stars, a documentary about the Michelin Guide and the chefs whose restaurants come in and fall out of that prestigious distinction.

I remember the Redzepi interviews; they stood in stark contrast to the rather hubristic interviews with guide director, Jean-Luc Naret, and apart from the interviews with the other chefs. Redzepi had a realist's approach as a restaurateur, focus on the food, but the bottom line is about booze. He was frank about how success as a chef meant more than cooking, something that some of the other chefs either failed to mention, or didn't know how to articulate.

Fast forward a few years and noma has quickly grown into a global gourmet concern. Redzepi's Alice Waters approach mixed with his entrepreneurism and focus on innovative, maybe controversial, food caught the attention of many food writers, including a staple-favorite, Anthony Bourdain.

Last October I was up late watching an episode of his CNN show, Parts Unknown, where he visits Denmark. But the episode was, "not about Denmark, or Copenhagen," it was about, "one man, and one restaurant." Bourdain hangs out with Redzepi for the day, both exude a certain stylized cool, both carefree but with a underlying seriousness that propels them into the spotlight.

Before his meal at noma, Bourdain wonders if this is going to be a bunch of bullshit. I'm a fan of his low tolerance for bullshit, exemplified in a No Reservations episode in Italy where he gets shit-faced as a result of a tour he's foisted onto where his guides throw frozen seafood into water for the camera.

By the end of his episode on Redzepi and noma, however, he seems genuinely convinced that noma is, in fact, not bullshit. Frankly, I don't identify as a foodie, though I have been accused and labelled as such, but if Anthony Bourdain says it's good, I'd be inclined to believe him.

As the episode runs to the end, Bourdain dines with noma alum and chef, Alessandro Porcelli. Porcelli poignantly points out that Redzepi is out to change the world, but doing it with one restaurant that seats 35 guests at a time is quite a challenge. I thought to myself, I'd like to be one of those 35 guests at a seating so I headed over to noma.dk, and lo and behold, I find reservations for the next season OPEN IN AN HOUR.

So around 2a PST, I sat violently refreshing noma's reservations page until finally I was in. In a matter of minutes it was over. Two entire months worth of seatings were gone, but by some stroke of impulse, luck, and late-night delirium, I had managed to get one of them.

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