- Noma, which is one of the world’s top-rated restaurants, is closing in 2024.
- Insider spoke to seven chefs who shared their thoughts on the closure.
- While some chefs were saddened, others said it wasn’t a sustainable fine-dining model.
Noma, a Danish restaurant that landed at the top of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list five times, announced on Monday that it will be closing its doors in 2024.
The chef and creator, René Redzepi, told The New York Times that he decided to shut down his full-service restaurant due to an unsustainable business model. He said he could not compensate the interns nor the nearly 100 employees fairly for the long hours they put in while also maintaining high standards for the food. Instead, Redzepi will continue operations largely under the premise of research and development for the Noma Projects laboratory and product line.
Representatives for Redzepi and Noma declined to comment when contacted by Insider for this story.
Since its opening in 2003, diners have been able to book tables at the legendary Copenhagen eatery, where they would spend around $500 per person for a seasonal tasting menu that has included dishes of local celeriac shawarma, grilled reindeer heart, and the by-product of kombucha fermentation called scoby.
Insider spoke with seven chefs to get their thoughts on the upcoming closure of this restaurant that has been widely regarded as one that revolutionized fine dining.
Noma’s version of fine dining was never sustainable
Along with accolades, Noma and Redzepi have received criticism for perpetuating a similar toxic work environment — long hours for no pay, strict rules, and sometimes even harassment of employees — to the ones many other fine-dining establishments have been fostering for decades. Redzepi even admitted to bullying his staff in a 2015 essay.
Having worked in fine-dining kitchens earlier in his career, Jae Lee, the chef and owner of Nowon in NYC, told Insider that he “wasn’t surprised at all” by the news that Noma’s restaurant would be closing. He said restaurants are tough to sustain as businesses without even adding the fine-dining layer to it, which he said requires much more physical labor and a larger workforce.
“They tried to sustain the business so that it’s breaking even or at least profits a little bit by cheap labor and volunteer labor, and that’s never sustainable,” he said. Lee added that in his experience, these labor models can lead to lots of turnover, which slows things down and creates roadblocks when you have to take the time to train new staff every few months.
Arjav Ezekiel, the co-owner and wine director at Birdie’s in Austin, Texas, also said that if you’re paying your staff a livable wage, the business model of fine dining is simply too expensive to keep up with.
“Noma’s closing tells me that fine dining’s days are numbered,” he told Insider. “Or at the very least that we need to rethink the entire business model.”
Camari Mick, the executive pastry chef at The Musket Room, shared a similar thought about how the closure makes sense as we change the way we think about these ultra-high-level eating experiences.
“Fine dining has been in the midst of a paradigm shift since before the pandemic, and I think that this latest news is a natural extension of that,” Mick said.
The future of fine dining
Some chefs pointed to ways their own kitchens are already working to simultaneously combat closures and create healthy work environments for staff.
Ezekiel said he thinks “the future of the upper end of fine dining will have to be omakase restaurants or really small and intimate restaurants with streamlined menus.” He added that at Birdie’s, they serve “a fine dining-caliber menu” while keeping labor lean by using counter service. He said they also add a health and wellness charge to each bill, pay team members a flat tip pool, and provide employee benefits, including health insurance, paid parental leave, and paid vacations.
Mick said that at The Musket Room, “we’ve worked really hard to maintain the rigorous culinary standards of a fine-dining restaurant while committing ourselves to a fair, humane, and welcoming work environment.”
“The crazy thing is that it works,” she continued, “and I hope to see more movement in this direction.”
Redzepi’s complicated legacy
Some of the chefs Insider spoke to were saddened by the news but are hopeful for both Redzepi’s future and the future of fine dining.
Rodrigo Fernandini, a chef and partner at Artesano in New York City, told Insider Redzepi served as an inspiration to him throughout his career and he was surprised to find out that Noma is closing its doors.
Fernandini said that chefs, like all people, have “feelings, personal goals,” and a need to take care of their own mental and physical health. “I can only imagine the pressure, expectations, and stress leading one of the best restaurants in the world,” he added.
David Bouhadana, the founder and head chef at NYC’s Sushi by Bou, told Insider he has admired Noma’s operations since his early years as a chef. He said that it’s rare to last two decades in the restaurant business as Noma will have done by the time it closes in 2024. Bouhadana added that he’s “extremely excited” to see what the team will do “now that they have the freedom to explore .”
“Noma inspired a generation of young chefs, myself included, to explore fine dining and pursue careers in this industry,” Cyle Reynolds, the co-owner and chef at Crispy Gài in Portland, Maine, told Insider. “Seeing them (and so many other institutions) closing their doors is heartbreaking.”
Some chefs remain hopeful that Redzepi’s legacy, although complicated, will continue to fuel innovation in the industry on many levels.
“Redzepi set the bar for chefs around the world to aim for the world’s best — or to get close,” Jordan Andino, a chef and the owner of NYC’s Carriage House and Flip Sigi restaurants, told Insider.
Andino said he thinks the chef will continue to innovate and leave an impression on the industry. But he also said the closure sent a “very important message to young chefs, chefs overall, and admirers to set boundaries and know when it’s OK to stop.”
Reynolds, who says he learned invaluable skills while staging (a stage or stagiaire is an unpaid internship in the restaurant industry), hopes the team at Noma continues to push forward innovatively, showing “a younger generation of chefs a new, more sustainable way of doing fine dining.”