Postado em quarta-feira, 11 de janeiro de 2023 14:40

Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that helped to define a genre of ultra high-end, locally foraged, and culinarily groundbreaking cuisine, announced that it will close its doors in 2024. No, really: After several announcements over the years that Noma was temporarily closing, opening up pop-up locations in Mexico, Japan, or Australia, becoming a pandemic-era burger joint or otherwise reinventing itself, the renowned restaurant is shutting down regular service. For good this time. Once the restaurant closes its doors, Noma will host occasional pop-ups and transform into a full-time food lab, which essentially means the newest player in the world of direct-to-consumer food products (like Wild Rose Vinegar and Smoked Mushroom Garum) is the world’s most famous restaurant.

In a statement to Bon Appétit, a Noma spokesperson said that they do not consider this a closing of the brand. “To continue being noma, we must change,” reads a statement on the restaurant’s website. “Winter 2024 will be the last season of noma as we know it.” The restaurant is known for fantastical and sometimes eye roll–worthy dishes like Moldy Egg Tart and Reindeer Heart Tartare and garnered three Michelin stars in 2021, as well as several first-place rankings on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. 

Opened in 2003 by Claus Meyer and René Redzepi, Noma and its culinary team pioneered a style of cooking that came to be known as New Nordic, relying on local ingredients that often have to be painstakingly foraged and prepared. These labor-intensive processes and the punishing schedules needed to execute them simply cannot coexist with fair, equitable, and humane work practices, Redzepi told The New York Times. “It’s unsustainable,” he said. “Financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work.”

Across the internet, critics, celebrity chefs, and fans have expressed a mixture of sadness and reverence, along with a healthy dose of skepticism. Padma Lakshmi tweeted that the closure was “Sad, but it makes sense.” Food writer Cathy Erway wondered if this could signal “the death of tweezer cuisine,” and Eater correspondent Jaya Saxena spoke directly to the reservation-chasing Noma nerds, tweeting, “Oh yeah you were absolutely gonna go to Noma until just now.”

Noma’s announcement comes just months after the restaurant began paying its interns. In October of 2021, the restaurant announced that for the first time, its interns, known as stagiaires or stages in the industry, would receive pay. In the world of fine dining, interns are rarely paid, and routinely asked to maintain grueling work hours in exchange for the invaluable “experience” of working at a top restaurant. Because Noma is arguably the most prestigious kitchen in the world, these interns came from around the globe to learn from the most well-regarded chefs in the industry. As The New York Times and the Financial Times report, many did not receive the education they’d expected, or experience the working conditions they hoped for. As Noma prepares to close, here are six allegations about working conditions that some interns faced at Noma.

Many interns found themselves performing menial tasks (producing 120 perfect fruit-leather beetles, for instance) for the duration of their time at Noma, according to The New York Times.

The same Times story quotes an intern who recalls being forbidden from laughing in the kitchen.

A former Noma intern described his time at the restaurant to the Financial Times as akin to being “kidnapped from life,” due to the grueling schedule.

Until just a few months ago, approximately 30 interns were working unpaid 16 hour days, according to the same Financial Times piece.

The Financial Times also mentions one front-of-house intern who allegedly recalls seeing kitchen interns be made to pluck feathers off of ducks outside, in the freezing rain

A former intern interviewed by the Financial Times alleged that the restaurant misled interns about the number of hours they would be working before they arrived.

A Noma spokesperson tells Bon Appétit that after the restaurant's transformation, the intern program will continue. "The transition into noma 3.0 has no correlation to our paid internship program (which will continue for the next two years and onwards)," they said.

Noma representatives responded to the allegations in The New York Times and Financial Times reporting. A spokeswoman for Noma told The New York Times that all restaurant workers are expected to perform repetitive tasks, and that the experience of the intern who produced hundreds of beetles out of fruit and was told not to laugh “does not reflect our workplace or the experience we wish for our interns or anyone on our team.” A spokesperson also disputed the allegations in the Financial Times, saying that “for 20 years, our Noma interns have gained valuable experience and, for many, it has served as a great stepping stone in their career. Achieving a better balance for our team is one of our greatest challenges and something we continuously work to improve.”

The practice of paying Noma interns has added $50,000 in monthly operating expenses to the restaurant’s budget, according to The New York Times. It’s certainly progress for interns in the world of fine dining to make an income, but hard to ignore that the change came amid a flurry of reporting on the unfair working conditions within the world of haute cuisine. If Noma, where diners pay $500 per person, can’t keep its doors open for regular service while paying its workers a wage, then the industry at large has some major restructuring to do. 

As leaders in the culinary world, Redzepi and his team were perhaps best positioned to lead by example and create solutions for a better working environment. Instead, Redzepi seems resigned to the fact that the world of haute cuisine will need reinvention from the ground up—and with someone else at the lead—if it’s to continue. “We have to completely rethink the industry,” he told The New York Times. “This is simply too hard, and we have to work in a different way.”

Noma’s closure brings many of the restaurant industry’s long-standing flaws into sharp focus. The “angry chef” template is familiar to nearly anyone who’s worked in a restaurant kitchen, and Redzepi himself has written about his unacceptable workplace behavior. Despite the therapy he sought to temper his rage in the kitchen, it seems he couldn’t find a middle ground between unpaid 16-hour workdays and the utopian restaurant ideal wherein he pays workers  “enough to afford children, a car and a house in the suburbs,” as he told the Times. Scandals and investigations at top restaurants around the country like Blue Hill, Willows Inn, and Eleven Madison Park make it clear that Redzepi was not the only chef overseeing an untenable workplace for employees. In its current form, much of haute cuisine relies heavily on an unsavory mix of unpaid labor and some level of intimidation.

While Noma—the restaurant—is closing its doors in 2024, the culinary braintrust will be reincarnated in what Redzepi is calling “Noma 3.0.” The Noma test kitchen will develop new products and dishes to sell on an e-commerce platform and occasionally open up as a pop-up restaurant. It’s certainly not the last we’ll be hearing of Redzepi and his team, as they branch out into new-to-them territory. But as Redzepi wrote in the closure announcement, “Serving guests will still be a part of who we are, but being a restaurant will no longer define us.”

Noma will continue to operate as a pop-up restaurant and food lab after it closes for regular service in 2024.


By Sam Stone | Bonappetit