Noma dares a new beginning with an exciting concept
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 4 2018)
No other restaurant has influenced the gourmet scene over the last decade as profoundly as René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen. So-called ‘New Nordic Cuisine’ was hyped across the globe as a result of Redzepi’s cooking. Without a doubt, Noma is the embodiment of the current gourmet age and – similar to El Bulli in Spain – has shaped the culinary world to an extraordinary extent. It was all the more devastating when René Redzepi announced the closing of his restaurant in Copenhagen last year, choosing to embark on a world with small pop-up gigs instead. For a few weeks at a time in 2017, there was a Noma in Tokyo, in Sydney and in Tulum, Mexico. Then he opened two further restaurants in Copenhagen, ‘108’ and ‘Barr’. Despite all these activities, Redzepi did not believe that he was done. “The path ahead of us is not paved – we are the ones who are planning to lay the foundation stones.”
And it is precisely these stones that he has now laid for a new Noma. It is located barely a kilometre from the former site, on a deserted plot by the water in so-called Freetown Christiana, Copenhagen’s well-known hippie enclave. This former military warehouse district is called Søminedepotet, which was built in 1917 and served the Royal Danish Navy. Here, René Redzepi was once again able to reset everything to zero and to have a bigger vision for his ‘Noma 2.0’ than ever before.
For this, he joined forces with Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and his company BIG. They were inspired by classical Danish farmhouses when it came to the restaurant’s new structure. But rather than cultivating nature – as is customary on farms – they wanted to integrate it into Noma. This included creating a fermentation laboratory, a roof garden and an outdoor kitchen, which René had learned to appreciate in Tulum.
Historically, Søminedepotet was part of Greenland’s trading territory and had been the export centre for salted fish for almost 200 years. It stands on an artificial mound, part of Copenhagen’s medieval fortified defences and includes an extensive arsenal with buildings constructed during World War Two. When Peter Kreiner, Noma’s CEO, visited the location for the first time, the warehouses had long been abandoned, were covered in graffiti and the place was full of rubbish. Nevertheless, he and René Redzepi instantly fell for the area. “Here, we had nature within close proximity and a place where we could begin the next chapter of Noma”, states Kreiner. “As this area is a listed monument, we were only able to extend Søminedepotet where there had historically been buildings”, explains architect Bjarke Ingels. Adhering strictly to the conditions stipulated by the public authorities, his company BIG restored the warehouses, retaining the historic features in the process. To this end, a community of new buildings was created towards the southern end of the existing barracks. Now, seven detached buildings with a total of eleven rooms are grouped around a newly-constructed kitchen. Bjarke Ingels has known René Redzepi and Peter Kreiner since he held the first board meeting of his company BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) at the former Noma, one of several reasons why he was considered for the new ‘Noma 2.0’ project. His idea for creating a small group of buildings that form a kind of lively village – a ‘Garden Village’ as BIG calls it – beat two competing proposals to be awarded the project. “This vision is the perfect match for Christiana”, explains Redzepi. “Here, everybody builds in a totally chaotic manner. Nevertheless, a wonderful environment is being created.” Each building within the small Noma village is constructed using a different material – depending on its respective purpose. The old arsenal warehouses have been transformed into workspaces, including a fermentation room, the prep kitchen and the staff cafeteria. Three glass structures are now used as a greenhouse, a bakery and a test kitchen respectively. In addition to this, the site has lots of land and open nature that could be turned into an ‘urban farm’ and where up to 15 per cent of ingredients for the kitchen could be grown.
Four years ago, the old Noma reached the very top of the list of the ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ – for the fourth time in just five years! It was opened in 2003 in the semi-derelict Christianshavn district of Copenhagen. The dishes were characterised by local, often self-harvested ingredients and served on hand-crafted crockery in sleek surroundings without any pomp or circumstance. And it was nevertheless soon defining conventional expectations in terms of fine dining. “We were always the eager beavers among the class of fine table cloths and expensive wines”, smirks Redzepi. “And look where we are now, being celebrated for all our experiments.” The new Noma also has a very relaxed atmosphere, more reminiscent of a home than a restaurant. A cobbled path leads diners to a small pavilion by the entrance. “If there is a lot of snow, it looks like you are arriving at an igloo”, explains Bjarke Ingels, talking about the entrance area. A reception area was dispensed with, with the architect preferring a row of closets. There is daylight and a view of the outside wherever customers move within the spaces, enabling them to see nature and the seasons on which the respective menus are based. Noma serves three different menus. There is fish and seafood in winter, an exclusively vegetarian menu in summer and venison and forest specialities dominate in autumn. The large service kitchen is positioned directly opposite the lobby area, the heart and soul of the village. Here, diners can see their food being prepared, experiencing the energy of the kitchen up close and in person. And there is a clear message: the process of creating the dish is just as important as the finished result on the plate.
The restaurant’s main room with its 40 covers is located in the largest building in the village and looks like a barn. It is constructed entirely out of wood, with the walls comprising stacks of thin wooden planks, the raw edges of which are visible both on the inside and outside, hence creating three-dimensional surfaces. 46 cubic metres of wood were used for this purpose, along with more than 250,000 screws. The floor also comprises solid oak planks that are particularly broad and long and were supplied by Dinesen, a company specialising in old woods. The chairs designed especially for the new Noma are also crafted from wood. René Redzepi wanted chairs with a neutral design, although with plenty of personality and, above all, armrests. The resulting chairs look quite sober at first glance, but are extraordinary in appearance due to their organic shape. The individual components meld seamlessly without the use of a single nail.
Around the corner is the ‘private dining room’, completely fitted out in Douglas fir and featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. The focal point is a huge oak table above which hang lamps made from pressed seaweed designed by Jonas Edvard. He and Michael Anker are responsible for the lighting concepts at Noma. Together with Noma’s interior designer David Thulstrup, they also reflect the changing seasons within the buildings. This includes replacing decorative elements and also adapting the lighting to the climatic conditions, for example. This has been made possible as a result of sophisticated technology that permits various digital lighting adjustments – so, warm lighting against an open fireplace in winter and a slightly cooler white in summer. The new restaurant’s entire design concept is once again complemented with hand-crafted tableware, including ceramic crockery by designer Christine Rudolph, who also designed Redzepi’s two cookbooks. In terms of colour and texture, the Noma crockery is oriented – just like the light – on the seasons and the respective menus. To this end, the seafood winter menu is served on blue crockery, while pink and green dominate in summer and earth tones are used in autumn. Consequently, this also means that Noma has three times as much crockery as other restaurants.
Glass artist Nina Nørgaard also had a mammoth task, having to complete a staggering 2,000 glasses in just six months. Each stemmed glass had to be mouth-blown and formed from a single piece of glass. Creating the new Noma has without question demanded everything from everyone involved – whether it be art, ideas, dedication or, above all, time. “What ultimately made the result possible is a love of adventure among all participants, people not afraid to try out new things”, states Peter Kreiner, describing the project. The experience will significantly impact the careers of each and every person who has worked for the new Noma. René Redzepi is absolutely certain about his new home. “We have squeezed every last cent out of it and will be sitting on a pile of debt for a while.” However, he and his team have once again laid the foundations in order to further discover and shape the decades ahead and, as he puts it, “to vanquish caviar with sauerkraut”. They will redefine the world’s view of food. “I believe in this project, this is where we can build something that will last our whole lives.”
Picture credit © Rasmus Hjortshoj/Noma