In the wake of Noma’s shocking announcement to leave the restaurant business, many have been left wondering what it means for the fine dining industry. Particularly the Michelin-starred chefs who’ve dedicated their lives to achieving Noma-level culinary greatness.
Since 2003 head chef René Redzepi’s twenty-course menus have not only earned Noma three of Michelin’s influential stars, but the title of ‘the world’s best restaurant’. Five times over.
So, why throw in the towel?
In Redzepu’s own words, “financially and emotionally, as an employer and as a human being, it just doesn’t work,” so he’ll be transforming the restaurant—and business—into a food laboratory.
Of course, increased food and labor costs are top of mind for everyone at the moment.
After a year of unparalleled food price surges, where the cost of eggs alone was up more than 49 percent year on year, many restaurants simply don’t have the margins to survive.
And fine dining isn’t immune. Even with an $800 tasting menu, rising costs of labor (particularly the kind of ultra-talented labor that such a restaurant requires) kill the margin.
“When it comes to the fine dining scene, the pressure is definitely on but the pressure helps us all to sharpen our minds and focus on doing even better,” says Adam Bennett, chef director of The Cross at Kenilworth (*).
“What René [Redzepi] is doing is an indication of what is going on in the trade but he’s taking this in a different direction. I am sure that the depths that they will take this to will throw up something exciting.”
“I find it really interesting that a restaurant of this caliber can reinvent itself,” adds Peter Sanchez Iglesias, chef-founder Paco Tapas (*).
“The fact that they are closing a restaurant in this way but are able to create a whole new identity is super exciting. Rene Redzepi is a leader of our industry and these kinds of decisions inspire future generations of chefs and it shows us not to be scared of change.”
Still, shutting the door on the style of fine dining he pioneered does come with risks for Redzepi.
With the food laboratory expected to be the development space for Noma Projects (the company’s live e-commerce site), Redzepi is speaking to a different customer.
At the moment, the site sells smoked mushroom garum, wild rose vinegar, and a “forager’s vinaigrette” (a blend of said vinegar and blackcurrant wood oil) and hosts a small library of novice-friendly recipes (designed to highlight Noma Projects’ products, natch).
With this is mind, could Noma’s closure sound the death knell for fine dining altogether?
“The model is flawed and sadly only really works if you charge a fortune, meaning only the very wealthy dine,” says Stacey Sherwood-French, co-owner and director of JÖRO.
While her own restaurant aims to offer a fine dining experience at an accessible price, the team can only offer tables for a strict time and sit two parties per table each service.
“The energy crisis we are now facing affects us through every aspect of the business from staff, restaurant costs and produce and suppliers, which only serves to exacerbate already very tight margins,” Sherwood-French continues.
Ironically, she also launched a retail arm to the business last year, hoping it would diversify her business model and encourage growth within her teams.
As far as these leading chefs are concerned, Noma closing is not the end of fine dining. It’s a new beginning.
“I remember when Marco [Pierre White] handed back his stars once he achieved three stars and this feels the same way, René is at the top of his game and has nothing else to prove,” saysSimon Hulstone, chef owner of The Elephant in Torquay (*).
“Now he and the team can get down to serious development without other distractions and share his knowledge with the up and coming young chefs of the world. I applaud him.”